Wanted: Low-Carbon Leaders

May 9, 2012 | 5:55 pm
Jeff Deyette
Director of State Policy and Analysis

Cincinnati, Ohio recently became the first major city in America to offer residents the chance to purchase a 100 percent renewable electricity supply. The effort showcases a central theme of our new book, Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living: how citizen action and community leadership can promote innovative energy policies to lead us toward a low-carbon future.

Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon LivingThis is part of a series on Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living.

Take the 20% challenge at CoolerSmarter.org


As part of the book’s release, my co-authors and I have blogged the past few weeks about the most effective steps people can take to reduce their personal carbon emissions 20 percent this year. And while individual consumer decisions can lead to meaningful progress in combating global warming, government policies and programs are essential for overcoming the entrenched market barriers that currently impede our progress. A single community, state, or federal clean-energy policy can lock in enormous reductions in carbon emissions, far beyond what any of us can hope to accomplish on our own.

That’s why it is so important to not only take charge of your personal carbon emissions, but also to get involved in formulating and implementing government policies on energy use and global warming. By becoming a low-carbon leader, you can increase your impact many thousands of times over.

Taking Charge in Cincinnati

Solar PV array at Cincinnati zoo

Solar PV installation at Cincinnati zoo (Source: SolarWorld)

The effort in Cincinnati offers a great example. Groups there, such as Ohio Citizen Action, began working with local residents to convince the city council to allow a ballot measure last November creating a program that allowed the city to buy electricity in bulk. That way, Cincinnati could negotiate lower power costs and influence the source of the electricity in the process. Voters approved the new system, but the City Manager’s decision to go with a 100 percent renewable energy provider came after a series of public hearings where residents and business owners voiced strong support for a cleaner, more sustainable power supply.

The important point is this: the actions of one local group of committed low carbon leaders created a policy that will now allow up to 52,000 homes and small businesses to be powered by renewable energy at a savings of about $133 for the average household. Now, that is what we mean by being cooler and smarter!

Opportunities For Action

Cincinnati offers a great case of one city taking action, but there are many exciting opportunities to advance clean energy policies at the state and federal level too. For example, many states have adopted renewable electricity standards (RES) that require utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable power sources by a specific date. Since the late 1990s, clean energy groups across the country have worked with state legislators to pass these standards, and today 29 states have mandatory programs. By requiring a clear and firm target date, this bipartisan and market-friendly policy offers certainty to investors and developers of renewables while helping utilities move away from older, carbon-intensive sources of energy. Vocal support from citizens to our elected officials is critical for adopting new state RES policies as well as defending and strengthening existing ones.

Tatanka Wind Energy, North Dakota

Federal tax credits for wind power are set to expire at the end of the year. (Source: Todd Spink, NREL)

On the federal level, citizen action can make a big difference too. One important job right now is the need for vocal support for tax incentives to speed the development of more clean renewable sources of energy. One of the primary drivers of the growth in zero-carbon wind energy, for instance, is something called the production tax credit, a federal policy that gives developers a tax break when they generate renewable energy. Tax credits help defray the upfront costs of installing renewable energy technologies and help level the playing field with fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, which historically have received much greater tax subsidies. Unfortunately, the federal tax credit for wind power is set to expire at the end of the year. Here again, low carbon citizen leaders can make the difference. Contact your members of congress today and urge them to support permanent, aggressive tax incentives to speed the development of more renewable generating capacity.

Cooler Smarter shows how each of our individual actions and choices can make a difference in driving down carbon emissions. But we can’t stop there. We need more citizens like those in Cincinnati to become low carbon leaders and help push government action along too. Only then can we be truly successful in making the transition to a low-carbon society.