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Published on September 17th, 2012 | by Andrew


From Local to National, India to the US, Government Action Key to Low-Carbon Green Economic Development

September 17th, 2012 by  

City and local governments are key, pivotal enablers when it comes to making the transition to low-carbon, green economies. Formulating broad-based policy frameworks and tax incentive programs; conducting advanced public and public-private R&D; and building shared information resources are among the critical roles institutions at the international and national levels can provide. The task of following through and enacting them, meanwhile, reaches down to the local level.

Besides being closest to stakeholders and constituencies, city and local governments hold sway over land use, natural resource, and local environmental policies. They hold sway over local power, water, waste and transportation systems, building codes, local taxes, and a host of other laws, regulations, and rules-governing issues that can be of central import when it comes to developing low-carbon sustainable economies, as well as managing what can be extensive. They, and the communities they’re responsible for and represent, may be best-served by initially focusing their sustainable development plans on areas in which they have the greatest control and a direct, vested interest.

And that’s what is happening in cities, towns, and villages (as well as nations) as geographically and culturally separated and diverse as India and the US. Such progress in integrating and coordinating policies and actions from local to national levels, and even to international levels, is a tremendously positive sign.

New Local Solar Initiatives in India, the US…

In India, civil authorities in Kolkata, Howrah, Durgapur, and Siliguri are incorporating requirements that all “multi-storied commercial establishments, including hospitals and five-star hotels” install solar water heaters in local building codes, according to a Times of India report. In the nation’s capital, the government of Delhi intends to expand its solar photovoltaic (PV) installations to include more of the capital’s historic monuments.

Here in the US, the California city of Sebastopol is considering requiring solar PV arrays be installed on new commercial construction, the Press Democrat reports, which would make the northern Californian city one of the few cities in the nation with an outright renewable energy mandate.

“It is something that would work for some cities and be inappropriate for other cities that are not as far along the deployment curve,” Tom Kimbis, vice president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the former director of Solar America, a $4.9 million federal program in which 25 cities, including Sebastopol, developed solar programs, told the Press-Democrat’s Bob Norberg. “Some cities are just installing their first solar panels. Sebastopol is on the other extreme. It could be a model for other cities their size.”

“A solar system on a commercial building could cost $40,000 to $75,000, but with tax incentives and rebates, it could pay for itself in five or six years,” Norberg paraphrased local councilman Patrick Slayter.

Across the country, on the East Coast, Connecticut has launched a “Solarize Connecticut” program that cuts the cost of residential solar PV installations by pooling orders from local home and property owners and sharing the resulting savings, according to a report from Westport Now.

“Solarize Connecticut” is modeled along the lines of neighboring Massachusetts’ “Solarize Massachusetts,” which has proved a great success and is being expanded. Four Connecticut municipalities, including Westport, have been chosen to launch the program, which aims to encourage at least 50 local residents in each muncipality to purchase and have solar PV and/or solar hot water systems installed at below-market rates before Dec. 14.

Dovetail with Those at the National and International Levels

The solar energy initiatives coming from city and local governments and civil authorities in India fall right in line and reinforce the national government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, which has catapulted India into the ranks of the world’s largest solar energy producers.

What’s true at the local government level is also true for the largest property owner and energy consumer in the US — the federal government. The Commerce Dept. and other federal government departments, offices, and agencies are on track to meet the energy use, waste and cost reductions called for by the President in his Executive Order 13514 of 2009.

US government departments, offices, and agencies are also aggressively pursuing achievement of the carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions established by President Obama in an executive order issued on January 29, 2010. That executive order calls for the federal government to reduce its GHG emissions by 28 percent by 2020.

All these are part of a strong, broad, sweeping, and self-reinforcing sustainable development strategy laid out in the Obama administration’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” strategic plan.

“As the largest energy consumer in the United States, we have a responsibility to American citizens to reduce our energy use and become more efficient,” President Obama stated in his GHG reduction executive order of 2010. “Our goal is to lower costs, reduce pollution, and shift Federal energy expenses away from oil and towards local, clean energy.”

The federal government spent more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone. “Achieving the Federal GHG pollution reduction target will reduce Federal energy use by the equivalent of 646 trillion BTUs, equal to 205 million barrels of oil, and taking 17 million cars off the road for one year,” he notes. “This is also equivalent to a cumulative total of $8 to $11 billion in avoided energy costs through 2020,” according to the White House.

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About the Author

I’ve been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.

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