US cities are ramping up their clean energy efforts, notably with stricter energy-saving rules for buildings, but only a few cities appear on track to meet their community-wide climate goals, according to the 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard, released today by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
For the first time, the ACEEE Scorecard tracks policy efforts to advance renewable energy in addition to energy efficiency, because both are needed to build a clean energy future and address climate change. It is the most comprehensive national report that tracks city progress toward climate goals.
The Scorecard shows that cities took more than 265 initiatives to advance efficiency and renewable energy between January 2017 and April 2019, ranging from modest but practical efforts such as Philadelphia’s teleworking for public employees to cutting-edge policies such as Washington, DC’s new high-performance standards for existing buildings.
Yet the Scorecard also reveals that most cities with climate goals are either not on track to achieve them or are not yet tracking progress. One-third (26) of the 75 cities surveyed have yet to even set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. Of the 49 with targets, 22 are not yet fully tracking their progress. The remaining 27 have data, and of those, 8 are not projected to be close to achieving their targets and 8 are projected to make substantial progress but still fall short. Only 11 are on track to meet their GHG reductions goals.
Cities vary widely in their policies and performance. The scorecard, which ranks cities on more than 50 metrics, has these key findings:
- Boston retains its first-place ranking, earning 77.5 out of a possible 100 points. It’s followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, and Portland. This year, Minneapolis adopted policies requiring homes and apartment buildings to disclose their energy use to buyers or renters. New York City recently established programs calling for large buildings that benchmark energy use to post their energy performance ratings.
- Cincinnati, Hartford, and Providence are Cities to Watch. They did not make the top 10 but stand out for adopting several major clean energy policies and programs since early 2017, improving their ranks since the last scorecard. Hartford created an energy improvement district, began converting its streetlights to LEDs, and has taken steps to improve location efficiency through improvements to the zoning code.
Cities expanded efforts to save energy in new and existing buildings. Since 2017, nine cities—Las Vegas, Mesa, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Reno, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Tucson—adopted more-stringent building energy codes and five advocated for their states to do so. In addition, eight cities—Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Reno, Salt Lake City, San José, and Washington, DC—adopted efficiency requirements for existing buildings.
Cities increased their push to reduce GHGs from the transportation sector but not as much as they did with buildings. To slash emissions, they need to accelerate their action. Since 2017, nine cities developed targets to increase public transit, biking, and walking in lieu of driving.
Some cities are engaging with and investing in low-income communities and communities of color. Still, they have significant room for improvement. They can tap planning models—like those used in Minneapolis, Providence, and Seattle—to jumpstart their activities.
"Cities are making impressive clean energy gains—taking big steps to waste less energy and encourage more renewable power. But they have more to do,” said ACEEE senior research manager David Ribeiro, the lead report author. “Cities must continue their push for innovative buildings policies, take greater steps to tackle transportation emissions, and better track progress to know which investments have the greatest impact. With their innovation, ingenuity, and resolve, they can build prosperous and equitable low-carbon communities.”
Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh said: “Nearly three quarters of Boston greenhouse gas emissions comes from our buildings. We’re working hard to improve the performance of those buildings and looking at how new ones can be built smarter. If we’re to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we have to accelerate our actions and lead by example. That’s why we’ve already surpassed our municipal climate goals and reduced emissions by 37 percent. I’m proud of Boston for leading the rankings once again and am inspired by other cities for their bold action.”
Minneapolis’ Mayor Jacob Frey: “In the absence of leadership from the federal government, local governments have had to step up and take the lead on climate policy. Climate action is intrinsically linked to housing and equity, and we will continue to lead on efforts to make Minneapolis the greenest city in America.”
Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock: “The effects of climate change are very real, and they are happening right now. This is a time to lead, and our response must rise to the occasion of this challenge. Progress is being made at the local level, and Denver will continue to step up our efforts to reduce energy waste and pollution, as well as strengthen our resiliency as a community and make bold decisions to transform to a clean energy economy.”
The 2019 report, our fourth ranking of cities, scores 75 large US cities, 24 more than our previous edition in 2017. It includes all 25 cities participating in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge, eight of which land on ACEEE’s top 10 list. This expanded Scorecard adds city efforts to encourage renewable energy, the impact of their policies, and their investment in and engagement with low-income communities and communities of color. Because of these extensive changes, we caution against simple comparisons to past scores and ranks.
The Scorecard, using information collected as of April 1, 2019, ranks cities in five policy areas:
Local government operations. Austin, Boston, and Orlando tie for first place in this area. They have policies to increase efficiency in city government, procurement, and asset management.
Community-wide initiatives. Washington, DC takes top honors, followed by Seattle. They have GHG reduction goals, strategies to mitigate urban heat islands, and policies or programs to plan for distributed energy systems such as on-site renewables.
Buildings policies. Boston ranks first, followed by New York, San José, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These cities have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to building code compliance, and used incentives or requirements to address energy consumption in existing buildings.
Energy and water utilities. San Diego stars in this category, followed by Los Angeles, Boston, Chula Vista, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. Their energy utilities have efficiency programs delivering significant savings, and the cities and utilities are working together to increase their use of renewable energy.
Transportation policies. San Francisco takes the top spot, followed by Washington, DC, Boston, Portland, and Seattle. These cities promote public transit, efficient vehicles and vehicle infrastructure, and freight system efficiency.
“Year after year it is tremendous to see cities from every corner of the country ramp up their efforts to reduce climate pollution and improve lives for urban communities,” said Antha Williams, Environment Programs Lead at Bloomberg Philanthropies, a major funder of the ACEEE report. “The Scorecard documents the incredible growth of the field and Bloomberg is proud to support these efforts through initiatives like the American Cities Climate Challenge.”
Lois DeBacker, managing director of The Kresge Foundation’s Environment Program, also a major Scorecard funder, said: "It is vital that cities move quickly to reduce their carbon emissions and that they do so in ways that engage and benefit all residents, including low-income communities and communities of color. ACEEE's City Clean Energy Scorecard offers a clear guide for local leaders to learn from one another how to transition to clean energy in an equitable manner."
This article was originally published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)