Solar panels located on a sunny urban rooftop
Fulfilling America’s Pledge
Buckeye Cities Blaze a Path for Renewables
This blog originally appeared on the blog of the America’s Pledge website.
This blog post is the fourth in a series explaining how U.S. city, state and business leaders are working together to fulfill America’s Pledge on climate change through win-win solutions that are good for the climate, for the economy and for people’s lives and livelihoods. Learn more about America’s Pledge.
Cities across the U.S. are leading the way when it comes to renewable energy procurement, and for good reason. Not only are renewable energy technologies cost competitive with traditional fossil fuel sources, but they also boast significant environmental and health benefits for local communities. And while the thought of renewables may conjure images of places like sunny California or windy Texas, two of the nation’s leading cities call the Buckeye State home. That’s no surprise when you consider a recent poll that found that 70% of conservatives in Ohio want a majority of their energy to come from renewable sources. Cincinnati and Columbus are working to make that dream a reality.
The Green Cincinnati Plan, adopted by City Council in May 2018, is Cincinnati’s roadmap towards a more sustainable City. This comprehensive plan includes 80 recommendations across 8 different topic areas. Two of the goals focus on increasing renewable energy for both government and community electricity use—namely, to power the government using 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2035 and to triple renewable energy generation for residents and businesses.
To meet this ambitious goal Cincinnati is currently in the process of developing a 25 megawatts (MW) of solar—enough to power 3,000 homes or a little over 18% of the government’s usage. This will be a huge expansion from the city’s current renewable energy production at city facilities, totaling approximately 1.8 MW. They’re also working to reduce demand by investing in energy efficiency in all facilities and constructing extremely energy efficient buildings, like the District 3 Police headquarters, which is a LEED Platinum and Net Zero Energy facility—the first of its kind in the nation.
The city is also working to clean up its residential and commercial electricity use. Although community solar is prohibited by the Public Utilizes Commission of Ohio’s regulation of virtual net metering, Cincinnati is making progress using the tools it has available. For example, the City, in partnership with the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA), offers the Solarize Cincy program to help promote affordable solar-power solutions for homes. The program, which began in 2016, educates homeowners about the ease and affordability of solar installations, helps them navigate the process, and even offers bulk-purchase discounts, allowing residents to save between five and 20% over the normal cost
of solar installations. It also helps homeowners leverage tax incentives and access financing options. Solarize Cincy has already tripled the number of locally installed solar projects over the last few years—with over 100 now in the city—an impressive achievement that has helped Cincinnati to be recognized as one of the top five solar cities in the Midwest.
Though not everyone can or wants to install solar on their roof. For those residents and businesses, Cincinnati also offers a REC-backed aggregation program that offers customers 100% carbon free energy for both natural gas and electricity. Through the program, which accounts for the city’s largest carbon reduction, more than 80% of residents are powering their homes with 100% renewable energy while also saving money. In 2018, program participants saved over $3.4 million, an average savings of more than 8% on their utility bills. As Mayor John Cranley explains solar investment, “When it’s literally cheaper to do a renewable source and is better for the environment, it’s almost unforgivable not to do it.”
One hundred miles northeast, Columbus is also pursuing additional renewable resources. There, the City is focused on leading by example and addressing their own energy use first, with a goal to increase renewables’ proportion of their electricity mix to 10% by 2020. To this end, Columbus works with multiple city departments to increase the percentage of renewables used to power city-owned facilities. For example, construction on the O’Shaughnessy Hydro Dam, which is expected to generate over 10,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of hydro energy per year, will begin in 2020, thereby supplying clean, fossil fuel-free power to the grid.
The City is also siting renewable installations on its own facilities. In 2013, Columbus installed its first large scale solar energy system, covering the roof of its fleet facility with 2,650 solar panels expected to produce almost half of the building’s electricity needs—equivalent to powering 85 homes for a year. This system is the largest municipal roof-mounted system in Ohio and allows the City to not only reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 566 tons, but also to reduce its energy costs.
More recently, the City’s Recreation and Parks department constructed a new, 5,800 ft2 building for its outdoor education program. The Wyandot Lodge, opened in 2017, was designed as one of the first net zero buildings in Ohio, meaning that it captures as much energy as the occupants use over the course of a year—in this case, via geothermal wells and a 22.8 kW solar system made up of 80 photovoltaic (PV) panels.
The City of Columbus is also evaluating the feasibility of using biogas from its two wastewater treatment plants as fuel for combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, to offset approximately half of the energy needed by the plants—roughly 45, 537 MWh per year.
The City also recently contracted with an Owner’s Representative to assist in the procurement of on-site renewable energy installations to serve the City’s electricity load. Go Sustainable Energy was selected through an RFP process to serve as the City’s agent and assist in conducting site evaluations, preparing future renewable energy procurement documents, evaluating proposals, verifying technical/fiscal engineering, and negotiating ownership structure, financing, and legal contracts with vendors and/or utilities.
Yet similar to Cincinnati, on-site renewables installations won’t be able to generate enough power to cover all the energy used by the City’s facilities. With this in mind, the Columbus Division of Power (DOP) offers customers an EcoSmart Choice program that allows them to purchase RECs at $0.003 per kWh for up the 100% of their electricity usage. All city facilities served by DOP have been enrolled in the program and have since accumulated over 111,037,000 kWh of RECs. Recently, the City increased its participation in the program to purchase 50% of the electricity for the City’s facilities, purchase 20% of the electricity for non-City customers, and offer customers the choice to purchase up to 100% of their electricity usage from RECs. In total, this green power purchase equates to approximately 180,000 MWh of renewable energy.
As the local electric grid gets greener and greener, other climate actions strategies, such as electric vehicle (EV) adoption become more and more attractive. This helps the City achieve the goals found in its Green Fleet Action Plan. Columbus is well on its way to achieving its fleet goals, with 93 electric vehicles already procured against its goal of 200 by 2020. An additional 32 EVs are expected to be added to the municipal fleet by year end.
Columbus does not yet offer an aggregation program to its residents, but it has been inspired by Cincinnati’s progress in this area and is interested in pursuing a similar program in the future.
“Climate change is a social justice issue that disproportionately affects our most vulnerable residents. Columbus must protect natural resources, reduce waste, embrace renewable energy, and be a leader in the sustainability movement,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.
Representatives from both cities will be participating in the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator this week. The Renewables Accelerator helps U.S. cities meet—or beat—their renewable energy goals by helping them procure large-scale, off-site renewable energy; deploy renewables locally; and navigate regulatory, policy and institutional barriers by engaging with utilities and policymakers. Cincinnati and Columbus look forward to learning from and sharing best practices with their peers in order to unlock further greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
To learn more about how your city can participate in the Renewables Accelerator, a Bloomberg Philanthropies program in partnership with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and World Resources Institute (WRI), email Ali Rotatori (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Celina Bonugli (email@example.com), or visit www.cityrenewables.org for details on how the program is helping cities advance ambitious renewable energy goals.