Is Cincinnati the Greenest City in America?

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Cincinnati sustainability
Bridge to a sustainable tomorrow?

Many cities trumpet their sustainability initiatives to claim the title of “greenest” city in America, but it’s hard to argue with the ongoing turnaround from brown to green in Cincinnati.

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Last week, the Queen City announced it had received a winning bid for its solicitation to provide 100 percent renewable electricity. Ohio municipalities are allowed to aggregate their power demand and then leverage it for the best available deal in the state’s competitive electricity market.

While wind farms or solar arrays won’t directly generate all of the city’s power, the deal with FirstEnergy Solutions means energy consumed by up to 53,000 homes and businesses will be offset through renewable energy credits that finance production of wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable resources.

The deal makes Cincinnati the largest city in the U.S. and first city in Ohio to provide an all-renewable electricity supply — a remarkable about-face considering coal currently meets 85 percent of all electricity demand. Most impressive of all, homeowners will save around $133 annually compared to incumbent utility Duke Energy Corp.’s standard service offer for a two-year period.

“This process provided the opportunity to promote renewable energy, and places Cincinnati as a national leader, at the forefront of green energy in this country,” said Milton Donohey, city manager.

But city government isn’t stopping at renewable energy for electricity — it’s also working on a plan to completely remove fossil fuels from all vehicles in the municipal fleet by 2025. The Green Fleet Plan aims to switch the city’s 3,600 vehicles to a combination of alternative-fuel, hybrid-electric, and Zipcar car-sharing vehicles. Cincinnati’s existing fleet consumes more than two million gallons of fuel, with 95 percent coming from gasoline and diesel and a $5.1 million annual price tag.

The city’s public schools system is also contributing to the green shift, recently taking out a $26.8 million low-interest loan to fund energy-efficiency renovations at 28 district schools. The funding will go toward efficient lighting, centralized thermostat controls, motion sensors, and other improvements. School board officials estimate the upgrades will lower energy costs up to 25 percent in each building, and pay for themselves over the 22-year loan payment period.

This holistic approach to sustainable government administration is setting the bar high for other cities, both for Ohio and across the country, according to one policy analyst.

“Cincinnati’s ongoing commitment to protect our environment is saving its residents money, reinvigorating the economy, and raising the bar for communities across the country,” said Brian Kaiser, Director of Green Jobs & Innovation at Ohio Environmental Council, in an email interview. “Gone are the days when decisions like this were put off for future generations — Cincinnati has stepped up to the plate and it’s time for others to do the same.”

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