Cities like our hometown of Burlington, Vermont are the front lines of the movement for a renewable energy future. Citizens and leaders in small cities are making progress even when our national leaders won’t. Let’s take a look around the country for inspiration and action. Here are five ways small cities are stepping up to address the factors leading to a warming climate.
1) Burlington, Vermont: Going Renewable Faster Than Anyone Thought
Burlington, Vermont recently attracted a great deal of attention for becoming the first city of its size to go 100% renewable. That’s right, Burlington’s municipal-owned electric provider is now generating or purchasing all of its energy from a mixture of wind, solar, biomass, and hydro-electric power.
2) Eugene, Oregon: Cutting Down on the Need to Drive
Eugene, OR intends to house up to 90 percent of its residents in dense mixed-use communities where daily trips for goods and services are walkable. Emissions from transportation use are already dropping despite population growth, more than 2% since 2010.
3) Knoxville, Tennessee: Getting Experimental Down South
In 2008, Knoxville became one of the Solar Cities of America. In partnership with the US Department of Energy, Knoxville developed the Solar Knoxville Program to help promote renewable technologies through a comprehensive, city-wide approach. Knoxville’s efforts include rooftop solar incentives and installation of electric vehicle charging stations. You may also remember that Knoxville experimented with roving herds of goats to control invasive kudzu on city-owned land.
4) Aspen, Colorado: Giving Wasteful Residents a Reality Check
Over 50 different billionaires reside at least part time in Pitkin County, Colorado. These folks tend to have massive, energy-intensive houses. Aspen decided to do something about it, instituting an ordinance that requires homes over 5,000 square feet to either generate their electricity with on-site renewables or pay a fee. Some homeowners play along installing solar or geothermal systems, others pony up the fee, helping Aspen cover costs of school and civic renewable projects and provide rebates to home and business owners who undertake weatherization projects on their buildings.
5) Newton, MA: Greening the Lights on City Streets
The City of Newton is currently replacing all of its high pressure sodium streetlights with energy efficient LED fixtures. LED fixtures will use about 42% of the energy of their predecessors and will last far longer. The city is expected to save over $3.8 million in energy and maintenance costs over the life of the bulbs, while saving 1,240 metric tons of CO2 each year.
Many small cities benefit from progressive business and civic culture. Local food movements limit the miles food travels to get there, businesses encourage ride-sharing, bicycling, and energy efficiency, local groups advocate for change and voters in many cases demand it. Small cities are usually less co-opted by the big money special interests that have fought climate change science and regulation on bigger stages.
So while we all have to dig in and work hard to move our national policy in the right direction, it’s important to know that small cities are leading the way for now.
What’s your city doing? Find out. Get involved. Your voice as a citizen is still heard loud and clear at city hall.