Cities moving toward 100 percent renewable energy face political and economic challenges more than technological ones.
Solar panels won't do it alone, but recent studies have shown moving toward 100 percent renewable energy is more a political and economic than technological challenge. Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Just in time for President Trump’s 'Energy Week.’

In the tradition of Infrastructure Week (and the even-more-obscure Tech Week), Monday kicks off Energy Week at the White House: five days of events focused on America’s quest for “energy dominance.” That’s code for lifting caps on pumping and burning fossil fuels, based on President Trump’s policies to date—e.g., dismantling the Clean Power Plan, repealing regulations on mountaintop removal mining and marine drilling, and backing out of the Paris climate accord.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the country is focused intently on the healthcare showdown on Congress (or on the Supreme Court’s travel ban decision), cities are swinging back at Trump’s oil and gas-fueled vision for the future. Today, the U.S. Conference of Mayors officially endorsed local-level progress toward 100-percent clean and renewable energy sources. Leaders from more than 250 cities approved a resolution supporting a transition to wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power by 2035, with an eye on job creation and environmental justice. Remarkably, in addition to calling out fossil fuels, the resolution specifically excludes coal plants, nuclear power, and dams.

Introduced by “Mayors For 100% Clean Energy,” an initiative led by the co-chairs of the Sierra Club’s renewable energy campaign and a small, bipartisan group of mayors, the resolution doesn’t mean that all 1,408 cities represented by the USCM are officially swearing off natural gas and coal (as 36 have pledged to do through the Sierra Club platform).

But it does layer on support, and pressure, for them to work in that direction. The resolution also establishes a powerful ally in the USCM: a lobbying group, for all intents and purposes, that advocates for the collective interests of local leaders. Not every mayor can be politically comfortable aligning themselves with a green group like the Sierra Club, but support of the “official non-partisan organization of cities with a population of 30,000 or larger” could lubricate the maneuvering required to move to renewable energy.  

Trump’s regressive stance on climate change has had an galvanizing effect on Democratic and Republican mayors alike. For example, nearly 300 have now vowed to defy the president and uphold the emissions targets established by the Paris accord. Pivoting rapidly toward renewable energy would play a huge role in accomplishing that ambitious pledge. According to a new Sierra Club analysis, if every city belonging to the U.S. Conference of Mayors transitioned to 100 percent clean and renewable electricity sources by 2025, “the total electric sector carbon pollution reductions would fill anywhere from 87 percent to 110 percent of the remaining reductions the United States would need to achieve in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

The challenge of moving toward 100 percent renewable energy is no longer technological in nature; it is political and economic. Organized, disciplined coordination between cities will be key if they intend to shoulder climate commitments sized for an entire country—and that’s where groups like USCM could come in.

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