US Cities’ Renewable Energy Targets, Rhetoric or Reality

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John Wargo
Essay Abstract: 
More than 61 U.S. cities have announced seemingly ambitious renewable energy commitments. Are the headlines just noise, or could they offer a significant new source of demand for renewable energy developers and their project investors? Cities have been making – and in some cases, meeting – renewable energy commitments for years, but the frequency of new announcements and the attention their gaining in the public sphere has increased following the 2016 election.3 In the absence of legal coercion or clear economic incentives these cities’ behaviours represent a highly unusual example of volunteerism. Regardless of the motives driving each individual city, the result is significant new demand for renewables spurring out of a popular movement to reduce each communities’ influence on the planet. To get a realistic sense for the market opportunity created by the recent surge in municipal renewable energy commitments, this study analyzes the demand profiles of 93 U.S. cities: 61 actively pursuing targets, 18 that have achieved their targets, and 14 cities that are procuring renewable electricity as if they had formal targets. The goal of this analysis is to quantify the amount of new demand for renewable energy at the city level driven by the 61 cities actively pursuing commitments with deadlines in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, this paper also examines how cities plan to procure renewables in compliance with their targets – whether it be through on-site generation, offsite or virtual power purchase agreements, or less direct methods such as purchasing renewable energy credits. The options available to cities for achieving their renewable energy commitments are highly dependent on their utility type and the surrounding regulatory landscape.