Local elections change America’s energy structure: cities promote renewable energy through “community choice” projects

Local elections could dramatically change the way Americans use electricity,media The Verge reported. After Election Day, Columbus, Ohio, and East Brunswick, N.J., are expected to pass measures that would allow local governments, not utilities, to determine the source of electricity for residents.

These “community choice” projects are driving the growth of cheap renewable energy and have pushed investor-owned utilities in places like California to keep a tight grip on the energy market. More and more of these projects are appearing in the states that allow them to appear, and they are expected to grow outside those states in the future.

“We’ve seen grass-roots efforts to push states and countries to take action on climate. At the same time, cities and communities have sought creative ways to make as many changes as possible from the ground up,” Kate Konschnik, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, wrote in an email to The Verge. “Cities are also stepping up demands for cleaner and more local electricity.”

On Tuesday, voters voted for measures in Columbus and East Brunswick that would allow local governments to decide what energy mix to offer residents and use their collective purchasing power to bargain for cheaper prices. Utilities will still be responsible for providing electricity to the population, but where community options have been taken, the ratio of renewable energy to fossil fuels will no longer be determined.

Community selection programs are a way to meet customers’ growing demand for green energy. The East Brunswick ballot describes the energy measures as giving its residents “the opportunity to choose 100 per cent renewable electricity alternatives” by 2030 – and says they are more likely to buy from local sources. According to estimates in a 2017 report by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the U.S. currently plans to purchase about 8.9 million megawatt hours more renewable energy than the national requirements. This shows how important local efforts are in addressing the challenges of climate change, especially as the Trump administration has undermined national and international environmental efforts.

These plans could accelerate the transition to renewable energy for several reasons. Some states have competitive energy markets that allow customers to look around for renewable energy. With the Community Choice Program, individual customers don’t have to do this. These projects can make an immediate change for the entire community. Moreover, unlike utilities that may have long-term contracts or invest in clean energy, the new Community Choice Program does not have that relationship and makes it easier to diversify their energy mix. Moreover, renewable energy is cheaper than ever, even cheaper than fossil fuels in some places. So even cities that are more likely to save costs than save the planet can switch to clean energy through community-selecting projects.

California, in particular, has seen a boom in community choice programs over the past few years. That’s partly because of customer concerns about climate change and frustration with wildfires at the state’s investor-owned utilities and pre-emption blackouts as the state’s new normal. California’s Community Choice Program is shifting to distributed renewable energy sources, such as virtual power plants, that could make the grid more resilient to the threat posed by climate change. Californians in Berkeley and Albany are also waiting for the results of local measures that will raise utility taxes for some customers to raise money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for disasters.

Finally, how much renewable energy these community options can promote depends on what each community chooses to buy. ” (Customers in the Community Choice Program) have a stronger connection with decision makers than with investor-owned utilities buying your supply,” said Jenny Heeter, senior energy analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Illinois has the largest number of such programs, serving more than a third of the state’s customers in 2017. Massachusetts began the trend in 1999 and spread to Illinois, California, Ohio, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. A few states are studying the adoption of state legislation that would also allow communities to choose projects. If some of the new state legislators elected Tuesday make renewable energy a top priority, they will lay the groundwork for other states to join the ranks.