If you had to pick a color for DC, what would it be?
While some US cities balk at action to mitigate global warming, other are embracing carbon reducing strategies – creating jobs and cleaner air for their residents. Often, residents aren’t aware of these changes that are improving the quality of life – for humans and wildlife. DC is a case in point. In January 2019, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018, one of the most ambitious clean energy bills in the US today. The bill sets a mandate of 100% renewable electricity use by 2032.
The Sierra Club DC Chapter is just one group working to ensure that DC meets these goals. Lara Levison, the Chapter’s Clean Energy Committee Chair notes, “This groundbreaking law gives us an enormous boost toward achieving the District’s ambitious but essential climate and clean energy commitments. The Sierra Club DC Chapter is working with the Council and DC agencies to implement these policies and build upon them as we face up to the climate crisis.”
Specific bill goals include:
- Mandating 100% of electricity sold in DC comes from renewable sources.
- Doubling the required amount of solar energy deployed.
- Making improvements to the energy efficiency of large (new and existing) buildings.
- Providing energy efficiency, weatherization, and energy assistance to low/moderate-income residents.
- Requiring all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles to be emissions-free by 2045.
- Funding the DC Green Bank for private investment in clean energy projects.
Despite the pandemic and its economic set-back, DC is making progress on these goals.
Renewable energy options
Solar arrays can be installed on many DC roofs and have a payback period of only four-six years. A number of DC-based companies provide solar array installation services. While homeowners with these solar arrays see an immediate reduction in their electricity bills, income-challenged residents often can’t afford the upfront installation costs. DC’s Solar for All program covers these costs for lower income households. Meanwhile those DC residents who can’t install solar arrays (due to shading or because they don’t own a house) can purchase renewable energy through a renewable energy provider while Pepco continues to deliver electricity to their home. And Pepco itself is slowly getting into the game and will be adding a small percentage of renewable energy to its electricity sources by 2024.
Improving building energy efficiency
The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 also requires that large buildings that currently fall below median energy efficiency increase their efficiency 20% by 2027. DC’s energy efficiency standards will be released in early 2021, and these requirements could pose a challenge to affordable housing units as the energy savings may not entirely cover the cost of the needed investments. To address this issue, the clean energy law sets aside $3 million per year starting in 2022 to assist affordable housing providers and rent-controlled building owners in making these upgrades.
Greening the Fleet
DC is also making investments in a greener fleet. The DC Circulator began purchasing electric buses in 2018. The 3000 Series electric Proterra E2 Catalyst buses are US-manufactured and 100% battery powered. Each of these buses has zero emissions, eliminating thousands of gallons of diesel use while reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and noise pollution. Meanwhile, the District is adding hybrid and hybrid-electric vehicles to its fleet while low/no-carbon transportation options such as Capital Bikeshare, scooters, and mopeds are ever more available in DC neighborhoods.
A Green Bank
Finally, DC’s Green Bank is a reality! This bank will leverage private investment, remove up-front costs, and accelerate energy efficiency improvements that will deploy clean energy in DC. An Executive Director has been hired, and the bank is now in its startup phase.
Tommy Wells, Director of DC’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) is pleased with the District’s progress on these goals, noting, “The Clean Energy DC Act was our down payment on achieving Mayor Bowser’s goal to make DC carbon free by 2050. As of 2018, we have already cut carbon pollution by 27% since 2006 and thanks to policies to save energy in our buildings and transition to cleaner sources of electricity, we are on track to achieve our goals while creating jobs, cutting air pollution, and improving the health of our residents.”
So what color is DC? There are many right answers, but it’s certainly getting greener.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also the Chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, however, perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.