Solving Cities

Texas city's government uses 100% renewable energy

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Earlier this month the city of Austin, Texas made a big green move. And now it's the largest local government to use 100 percent renewable energy to power its municipal buildings.

Earlier this month the city of Austin, Texas made a big green move. The municipal government transitioned all its buildings -- from libraries to fire stations -- to 100 percent renewable energy, making it the largest local government to be powered completely by renewables.

The city will subscribe to about 400 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy through Austin Energy’s GreenChoice renewable energy program. Nearly all of the energy will be produced at a wind farm in West Texas.

The move achieves a major goal in the city's climate action plan that was adopted in 2007 and called for municipal buildings to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2012. It's estimated that the city government will reduce its carbon emissions from 269,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2007 to 50,000 in 2012. The Austin Chronicle reports that the government was previously only purchasing about 20 percent of its electricity from renewables. And while the transition has come at a cost, it's one the city thinks is worth it in the long run.

The city's giant leap forward won't be cheap – about $6.9 million annually. The price alone may explain why City Council passed the budget measure with zero fanfare, but it nevertheless puts Mayor Lee Leffingwell in good stead for his 2012 re-election bid because he was a prominent co-sponsor of the 2007 resolution introduced by then-Mayor Will Wynn. While council as a whole was silent on its full-tilt transition to renewables, Council member and renewable energy ally Chris Riley did not hesitate to applaud the move when asked to comment. "Austin has carved out a role as a worldwide leader in environmental protection, and reducing our emissions is a critical part of that role," said Riley, who was out of town this week and responded by email. "Full participation in GreenChoice sets a positive standard for our community, and keeps us on track toward achieving a 100 percent reduction of our emissions by 2020."

It's a goal the city (the city council, at least) shouldn't be shy about touting.

Photo: hellothomas/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure