Opinion: Embracing Our Values and a Clean Energy Economy

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Cities have the power to lead the way on climate action and, on March 8th, Tempe looks to do just that as the City Council votes on whether to be the first city in Arizona to set goals for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% renewable energy in city operations by 2035.

 Transitioning to 100% clean and renewable energy—energy efficiency, wind, solar, and electrified transportation—will protect our kids and families from pollution, create new jobs and local economic opportunities, as well as ensure that ALL people have access to affordable energy.

 With the help of city staff, local environmental groups, utility partners, ASU researchers, students, and all the citizens who spurred us to action*, Tempe has taken a huge step toward adopting these aspirational goals. An earlier Council, under the leadership of Onnie Shekerjian, Shana Ellis, and Mayor Mark Mitchell—along with Environment Arizona, and ASU student leader Will B. Greene (yes, that is his real name!)—set the ball rolling back in 2014 by establishing a 20% renewable energy goal by 2025. Their vision and action enabled city staff to pursue the many rooftop and parking-lot solar projects around the city that launched our trajectory.

 As technology and the energy industry continue to evolve, it has become clear that those distributed-generation (rooftop) projects are not the most cost-effective approach for cities in the near term. I believe the future of renewable energy and climate action must be grounded in solid partnerships between city governments and their local utilities, which is why we worked closely with APS and SRP to consider a larger carbon goal alongside our interest in renewable energy and to look toward investment in larger, utility-scale projects. The proposed goals, as well as the collaborative process used to craft these goals, is a model that other Valley and Arizona cities can emulate.

A few residents have asked why we did not sketch out a year-by-year plan and financing model for our renewable-energy goal. The simple answer is that any such plan could be out of date within the year.  Achieving these targets will play out over many years while new technologies emerge and the industry evolves, and some of the projects we will eventually invest in may rely on technologies that do not yet exist. What we do know is that the industry trend is toward more options and lower costs and city staff believes that Tempe can reach our 100% goal by simply maintaining the annual level of investment we currently make in renewable energy and assertively negotiating for the best deals as they become available. With the vote on March 8th to expand our municipal goal, we can empower our staff to search for larger, utility-scale, investments to bring to Council for consideration.

 

Adopting these new energy targets is the first step in Tempe’s much larger Climate Action Plan, which we will build with community input over the next 18 months.  If cities contribute 70%  of the world’s carbon emissions, then cities need to lead the way in finding solutions. I am grateful to live in a city and serve on a Council that walks the talk when it comes to our values as we face—head-on—the defining challenge of our times.

* Stakeholders in the Process

 
  • City Manager’s Working Group (Mayor Mitchell, Councilmember Randy Keating, Tempe’s Sustainability Manager Braden Kay, Energy Manager Grace Kelly, and support staff)
  • ASU LightWorks 
  • ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability
  • ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society (CM Randy Keating is employed there)
  • Arizona Sustainability Alliance
  • Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter
  • Environment Arizona
  • Faculty members and graduate students from the Fulton School of Engineering and WP Carey School of Business (they conducted a semester-long class focused on ways that the City might achieve this goal). 
  • Arizona Public Service 
  • Salt River Project

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