Communities undergo local energy initiatives

Recent federal government policies have increased dependence on fossil fuels

Nearly every community and state in our country sees its economic future linked to internationally successful businesses. Political and economic leaders are convinced that each community must create a favorable business climate to compete in the global marketplace.

Not only must communities get government off the backs of private enterprise, they must also attract private investment through incentives and subsidies. Despite subsidies, a business is free to leave the community to reduce labor costs, increase profits and lower costs to consumers.

Subsidies also involve state and federal government policies. The entire system is dependent on abundant, inexpensive reliable energy supplies. Recent federal energy policies assure our continued dependence on fossil fuels and undercut efforts to substantially increase efficiency and renewable energy sources.

Some communities are beginning to doubt the wisdom of continued reliance on global energy supplies controlled by government and corporate bureaucrats scattered around the world. Some are using local dollars to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, which will save money and provide secure power. While these investments are modest, they provide some local protection against the vagaries of the global marketplace. They also provide local jobs.

A recent report by Segue Energy Consulting highlights efforts of local government and utility leaders to increase the use of solar energy in their communities. These efforts are described as a response to rising costs of electricity, environmental concerns, electrical grid security and preparation for natural or human-induced disasters.

Some of the local initiatives encourage residents, businesses and developers to install renewable energy systems. Local governments are also making commitments to use renewable energy for a portion of their own energy needs, either through green purchasing provisions or by installing renewable energy systems on public buildings.

Chicago’s franchise agreement commits Commonwealth Edison to spend $100 million on renewables and efficiency. Another $12 million has been set aside to fund pv projects on public buildings. Additional state support supplements the program.

The Austin, Texas, City Council recently passed a strategic plan, that calls for 20 percent of their energy from solar sources by 2020. The 100 megawatts of electric power will provide energy for 14,000 homes. The commitment represents nearly half of all the solar electricity currently produced within the United States. Austin already uses 100 MW of power from wind farms located outside the city. Their commitment could result in a big payoff, as solar electricity gains market acceptance.

New Haven, Conn., has made a commitment to purchase 20 percent of its electrical needs from renewable sources by 2010. The state recently made a similar commitment for its buildings based on a concern for curtailing air pollution and reducing its dependence on imported oil.

Even county governments are making commitments to renewable energy.

Dutchess County, N.Y., has agreed to purchase 10 percent of its electrical needs from wind power at an additional cost of up to 1.9 cents per kilowatt.

This past week, San Francisco declared its intent to develop 350 MW of photovoltaic, wind, energy efficiency, fuel cells and hydrogen energy sources to produce 40 percent of its peak power. They want to protect their community from volatile natural gas prices, close power plants that cause cancer and asthma and meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. They are confident they can implement the program without raising electrical rates. In a sense, they have declared “energy independence” from federal energy policies that are too “fossilized” for a sustainable energy future.

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