DC’s Ambitious New Renewable Energy Law: 7 Things You Need to Know
By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member
A lot of frightening environmental news have made headlines lately. But, just before the end of 2018, there was a big positive story that made headlines around the country and happened here in our area. As a DC EcoWoman or supporter, you may have heard that DC’s going to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2032. There’s actually a lot more to this story than just the applaudable headline. Here are seven of the most interesting takeaways.
It’s the most ambitious clean energy transition in the country
The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 mandates DC energy providers to source 100 percent renewable energy by 2032, and replaces a previous target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2032. And before you ask — nuclear energy is not considered a renewable energy in this rule.
Unlike some other cities, DC is legally required to meet the mandate. It is not a voluntary ambition. The law will require its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to be 100 percent renewable by 2032. It means DC will be one of the first large cities to join the 100 percent renewable club, which already includes several smaller cities and towns, and will beat larger areas like California or Hawaii by several years.
DC is able to meet this accelerated timeline because it does not produce much energy within its borders. It relies on electricity generated elsewhere and transmitted in the PJM electrical grid.
Utilities were on board
In a statement, Pepco Holdings called it “an important step toward advancing the cause of clean energy for the benefit of every ward in the District of Columbia.”
Surprised? I wouldn’t blame you. But what’s unique about this law is that utilities will be financially penalized for missing incremental renewable energy targets — fines which will go toward supporting renewable energy development. As GGW puts it:
The burden falls on utility companies to meet benchmarks for renewable electricity—or pay a price. Every year, the city sets renewable energy standards for companies to hit that increase incrementally until they reach 100 percent in 2032. What happens if companies don’t meet those standards? The city requires electricity suppliers to make compliance payments into D.C.’s Renewable Energy Development Fund (REDF).
An important note: If you don’t want to wait until 2032, or if you live outside the District, you can purchase clean energy credits through a provider like Arcadia, Clean Choice, or others. Learn more (PDF)
Solar production will rise to 10 percent by 2045
As of 2015, solar energy only produced about 1 percent of DC’s electricity. That’s not surprising considering the urbanized environment only encompasses 68 square miles. While there’s little potential for large-scale solar farms, there’s still enormous possibility for rooftop solar on buildings, large and small, across the District.
DC already provides subsidized rooftop solar through its Solar for All program. The new law will provide energy bill assistance to support low- and moderate-income residents. Thirty percent of the additional revenue collected will be put aside for programs like weatherization and bill assistance for low-income households, as well as job training in energy efficiency fields. At least $3 million annually will also be allocated toward energy efficiency upgrades in affordable housing buildings. Win-win-win!
Transportation is going renewable, too
Transportation is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in DC (22 percent). Other cities/areas have passed similar laws but gave themselves longer timelines, and/or did not include transportation. What’s particularly exciting about DC’s new law is that by 2045, all public transportation and privately-owned vehicle fleets in DC will not produce GHG emissions. “Privately-owned fleet vehicles” means that if you’re transporting over 50 passengers, it’s got to be zero-emissions.
While ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber are not included, they are required to create a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. Private vehicles, meanwhile, are not covered.
Even existing buildings are included
We now have six years (2012-2017) of energy and water usage for the District’s largest buildings! This helps us compare data to drive energy efficiency of commercial spaces which make up 75% of our total GHG emissions. Interact with @BenchmarkDC data?? https://t.co/4YpOoJNSvJ pic.twitter.com/fVmsuHuKaz — Department of Energy and Environment (@DOEE_DC) January 31, 2019
DC already ranks first for leadership in energy and environmental design… or rather, it would, if it were a state. Buildings, however, are still the largest single source of GHG emissions in the city (74 percent). Major cities have made headlines after encouraging new buildings to include green roofs or rooftop solar. What’s different about DC’s law is that it includes provisions for existing buildings to increase their energy efficiency, rather than placing the impetus on new construction.
In fact, there’s a fantastic resource called Benchmark DC, which displays the energy and water usage and ‘grade’ of major buildings in the District.
It funds DC’s green bank
Today, I signed the Green Finance Establishment Act. By establishing a Green Bank, we will not only build on the progress that helped us become the first LEED Platinum city, but also continue to create high-paying, green jobs for residents in #All8Wards.#GreenBankDC pic.twitter.com/bRoOTHmnfv — Mayor Muriel Bowser (@MayorBowser) July 11, 2018
The new law also helps fund DC’s green financing bank, an important, if not headline-grabbing, way to support renewable energy and other sustainable initiatives. An additional assessment on dirty energy sources like natural gas will fund the green bank with $15 million per year in 2020 and 2021, and $10 million per year for the next 4 years. These funds will go towards financing programs for energy efficiency or renewable energy projects to lower energy costs. This includes anything from roof repairs, insulation, installing new windows, to solar panels for homes.
It’s all part of a bigger picture to address climate change in our backyard
The vision of Sustainable DC 2.0 is to make DC the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States in just 20 years. The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 is just one part of the overall Sustainable DC 2.0 vision, which also has plans of action for nature, transportation, food waste, climate resilience, energy, water, and more, including the recent ban on plastic straws and foam takeout containers.
Some questions still remain
While everything listed above is a positive development, several questions still remain. What exactly will Lyft and Uber do to reduce GHG emissions, and how will they be held accountable? Where does WMATA fit into this — will the Metro also need to be powered by renewables, as it encompasses operations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia and is governed by the WMATA board and not the city council? What will become of the Capitol Power Plant? For some great insight, check out Greater Greater Washington’s recap.
To end on a positive note, an analysis based on a previous version of the bill estimated it would result in a 50 percent reduction of GHGs. A new analysis has not yet been released, but if it’s anywhere close to that, we are on track to meet the recommended reduction in GHGs that climate scientists have recently called for by 2030. To take a closer look at the plan, visit Clean Energy DC’s interactive microsite.
Are you excited about this development, or do you have concerns? Comment below to discuss this topic.
Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.