How States & Cities Can Unlock Local Clean Energy

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Yesterday’s news about the Paris Climate Accords has provoked a groundswell of commitments for local action on climate change. But what can cities actually do in the absence of federal support?

A lot.

In fact, with the help of states, cities have many avenues to boost their economies and drive down energy costs with local clean power. We’re sharing a preview of our Building Local Power Policy Agenda for energy today, inspired by the outpouring of support in the past 24 hours.

Building Local Power: An Energy Democracy Policy Agenda

This policy agenda highlights rules that can be adopted at the local and state level to capture more of the community’s economic opportunity at home. They’re organized by level of mastery required, so build your local power chops today!

City rules

101 level

  • Adopt a resolution to get your community to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (or sooner)
  • Minimize zoning and permitting costs for renewable energy systems
    • Sample ordinance: Lancaster, CA
    • Examples: [from community power map]
  • Replace all public lighting with LEDs
    • Sample ordinance: New York, NY
    • Examples: Oahu, Sioux Falls, New York
  • Commit to developing local renewable energy to serve local energy needs
    • Sample ordinance: Taos, NM
    • Examples: Taos, NM

201 level

  • Put solar on every possible public building, and maximize energy efficiency of existing and future public buildings
  • Commit to electrification of city fleet vehicles
    • Sample ordinance: Austin, TX
    • Examples: Austin, TX
  • Have the city host community solar projects for residents and businesses
  • Adopt the most efficient building energy code allowed by state law (where allowed)

301 level

  • Study and adopt community choice aggregation
  • Require solar installations on all new buildings
    • Sample ordinance: San Francisco, CA;
    • Examples: Lancaster, CA; San Francisco, CA; Sebastopol, CA
  • Require energy disclosure upon rental or sale of single-family housing
    • Sample ordinance: Austin, TX
    • Examples:
    • Require energy disclosure upon rental or sale of multi-family housing
      • Sample ordinance: Minneapolis, MN
      • Examples: Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Washington, DC
    • Require minimum energy efficiency investment as part of rental licensing
    • Implement or increase utility franchise fee to finance energy savings programs
      • Sample ordinance: Edina, MN
      • Examples: Edina, MN

State rules

For a map showing how states can help or hinder local clean energy action, see our Community Power Map

101 level

  • Create a “stretch” building energy code that allows cities to go beyond the state minimum standard, or grant cities flexibility to set the most aggressive standards
    • Sample law: Massachusetts
    • Examples: Massachusetts, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Idaho

201 level

301 level

  • Adopt community choice aggregation, allow communities to choose their electricity suppliers to save money and obtain more renewable energy
  • Create a community renewable energy policy that allows electric customers to collectively own and share the energy from a renewable energy project
    • Sample law: Minnesota
    • Examples: Minnesota, Maryland, Colorado

For timely updates, follow John Farrell or Karlee Weinmann on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

Photo credit: City of Boulder, CO.

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John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell