This week we’re featuring a special episode brought to you by our Local Energy Rules podcast and their Voices of 100% series. Each episode in the series profiles a city that has committed to 100% renewable energy and showcases how city leaders are implementing these renewable energy commitments. In this episode, host John Farrell chats with Jonathan Koehn, the Regional Sustainability Director for Boulder, CO. Jonathan explains how Boulder plans to get 100% renewable energy by 2030. They also discuss:
- Boulder’s long history of pursuing sustainability, which helped set the stage for the city’s adoption of its 100 percent renewable energy commitment.
- How shifting to a municipally-owned and operated model would give the city freedom to make its own energy decisions.
- Regional advocacy efforts through the Colorado Communities for Climate Action coalition that have given cities like Boulder a seat at the table in state policy discussions on renewable energy.
- How communities can help consumers access clean energy and clean transportation in an affordable way.
- Advice Jonathan has for other cities looking to transition to 100% renewable energy.
“Local government is the place where we interact and interface with our community values. You don’t see that happening at the national level, or the federal level, or the state level. So, we have to react to the needs, and desires, and values of our community.”
|Hibba Meraay:||Hey, everyone, welcome to Building Local Power. This is Hibba, ILSR’s Communications Manager. This week we’re featuring a special episode brought to you by our Local Energy Rules podcast. More specifically, from their Voices of 100% Series. Each episode in the series profiles a city that has committed to 100% renewable energy, and showcases how city leaders are implementing these renewable-energy commitments. In this episode, host John Farrell chats with Jonathan Cohen, the Regional Sustainability Director for Boulder, Colorado. Jonathan explains how Boulder plans to get to 100% renewable energy by 2030, and there’s also this really great discussion about how local government is the level of government where you can most directly interact with community values, much more so than state or federal government, so stay tuned for that.
If you’ve been listening to Building Local Power for a while, you might remember we brought you the story of Georgetown, Texas, and their transition to 100% renewables back in the fall. That was the very first episode in what was initially planned to be a six-part Voices of 100% series. Since then, the series has really taken off and expanded beyond just those six episodes. There really are a lot more than six stories to tell, given that over 100 cities have now committed to 100% renewable energy. So, without further ado, here’s the episode. We hope you enjoy it, and also that you check out the rest of the Voices of 100% series. You can find links on our show page.
|Marie Donahue:||Across the country, more than 100 cities have adopted ambitious goals to transition to 100% renewable power, but how do these cities plan to get there? A small city on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Boulder, Colorado, has long been in the pursuits of clean and renewable energy, and back in 2016 made a community-wide commitment to reach 100% renewable electricity by the year 2030. Our host, John Farrell, caught up with Jonathan Cohen, Boulder’s Regional Sustainability Director, last fall to learn more about what motivated the city to act, and what progress it has made toward reaching its goal. This is an episode of our special Voices of 100% series of Local Energy Rules, where we’re speaking with local leaders from across the country to understand why their city has made such a goal, how their city plans to meet its commitment, and what these visionaries see as the future of local renewable energy.|
|John Farrell:||We’re talking with Jonathan Cohen, Regional Sustainability Director with the city of Boulder, Colorado, which is long in the tooth in pursuit of renewable energy, but also one of the cities that has made this commitment. Jonathan, welcome to the program.|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Hey, John, nice to talk to you.|
|John Farrell:||As I started off with all of our other guests, I just want to start by asking you what is Boulder’s motivation in this pursuit of 100% renewable energy? Why go for this?|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Yeah, well, that’s a good place to start. I would say it’s a fairly complex answer, and let me kind of unpack that for you. Early on, I think Boulder recognized that the transformation of our energy system is essential if we’re going to stop burning fossil fuels, and the reality is is that transition presents an unparalleled opportunity also. So, what started many, many years ago in terms of Boulder’s commitment in terms of sustainability, Boulder was the first city to tax itself for the preservation of open space, we had the first green building requirements, and then in 2005, 2006, we developed our Climate Action Plan, and to pay for those strategies our carbon tax. As we moved forward and thinking about, “Really, what is beneficial to the Boulder community? What aligns with our values as a community?” the idea that renewables is really, I think, a really important catalyst in exploring and opening up all of these opportunities.
What I mean by that is it’s not just about greening the electrons, it’s about understanding that energy is so much broader than just electricity. When we talk about energy, we mean electricity, we mean natural gas or alternatives for heating and industrial processing, and of course petroleum for transportation. When you think about energy, or at least as we think about energy, it represents 99% of our emissions, so when we recognize that in that transition to cleaner resources and cleaner alternatives, it also brings forward all of these amazing opportunities in terms of ingenuity and entrepreneurship and new ways to develop and deploy technology, and really support our low-and-fixed income. It is that great kind of coming together of the Venn diagram of the legs of a sustainability model. We talk about, of course, the economic, social, and environmental, but we also talk about equitably and resilience, so it is a way to kind of bring those pieces together. I know that’s a very long answer, but it is what drives our efforts here in Boulder when it comes to climate and energy.
|John Farrell:||Now, one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated with about Boulder has been this long-term commitment now. You know, your first ballot initiatives to approve the city to take over the electric company, to municipalize the utility, was back in 2011. It’s been going on for seven years now, but for a good reason. In a podcast interview I did with your former Mayor, Susan Osborne, in 2013, I cited back to her, the local paper had kind of outlined what this feasibility study had said about this possibility of a city-owned utility, and it said, “We can offer lower rates to customers, not just on day one, but over 20 years. It could maintain or exceed current levels of reliability. It could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% within the first year, and get 50% or more of the electricity from renewables, and you could create a model public utility that could,” as they said, and I quote, “allow for innovation in everything from energy efficiency to customer service.” So, I think it’s pretty clear from that that you saw a lot of value-add in this particular strategy: municipalization.
I just want to ask you because we were chatting before we got online here, before we were recording, about Xcel Energy, so that’s your investor-owned utility company that serves Boulder, and they’ve recently put together a resource plan that pretty much gets them to the level of renewables that five years ago you were talking about a municipal utility could get to. So, does that take away from what you could get by taking this strategy, by looking at having a city-run utility in terms of the 100% goal, but the other goals that the city of Boulder has?
|Jonathan Koehn:||Well, a lot of question there. Let me go back just a little bit and talk just briefly about the intent behind municipalization. Let me begin by saying that we have never demonized Xcel Energy as our investor-owned utility. I think what is really fascinating, as local government, it is the place where we interact and interface with our community values. You don’t see that happening at the national level or the federal level for the state level, so we have to react to the needs and desires and values of our community, and what’s critical about that is we have always thought about our role and job as looking forward in thinking about the health, safety, welfare, economic prosperity, equitability of our community. So, if we’re not really addressing climate issues, if we’re not thinking about the resilience of our energy system, then we’re not doing our job, and so the idea of municipalization is a really clunky and kind of crude way to get to where we want to go. I will just admit that the majority of us in the city are pretty agnostic on how we get there.
We developed a whole series of goals, one of which is access to renewable energy, but there were other commitments that were made and other goals that related to price stability and looking at high levels of reliability, being able to work with entrepreneurs and our local energy companies to test and model some of their devices and technology, and really shifting the notion of what a utility does, and becoming more of a service provider, rather than the seller of the commodity, which is kilowatt hour. There’s been a lot of talk about the utility of the future, not just here in Boulder, but across the country, as markets shift and as desires shift, and as customers become more literate on choice. So, it’s always been our aim to really figure out how a utility functions in a much different way.
Now, you bring up a really critical point, which is we knew Xcel Energy was going to move in the direction that we’ve always hoped they would move in terms of procuring more clean electricity, more green electrons, and offering that to consumers, but it matters how they do it in terms of ownership structure. As we think about a decentralized model, one which everyone has the ability to have a power plant on their roof, have the ability to over-generate and sell or donate excess power, that whole transactive energy concept, how we start to harmonize the components of electrification of our thermal system, electrification of our transportation system, those are really, really cutting-edge things that we all hear about, and the utility plays a central role in that. We’ve always said, “Where we need to go is, one, that a utility is that facilitator, and it enables those kind of … a new marketplace so to speak.”
So, Xcel is moving in the right direction. The question is are they going to get far enough, are they going to get there fast enough? This last round of bids and the selection of their resources and their last ERP just in the past couple weeks really is exciting. It’s exciting to see that the market has responded, and it is now much … it’s actually cheaper to build new wind and include storage than it is to run existing coal plants in the state of Colorado. That is extraordinary, so what does that mean for our efforts in terms of municipalization? It means that the differential between status quo and what we could do on day one may get a little bit smaller, but our goal is to get to 100% by 2030. That is the goal that our community has committed to, it’s the goal of that our city council has codified, and as I said earlier, when I talk about it matters how we do it, we have a goal for local generation as well.
We are looking to get to 100 megawatts of local generation in the city of Boulder by 2030, so you find that pinch point then between a utility that may be installing and owning large, centralized solar and wind plants in the southeast or southwest corners of the state versus distributed generation on our roof tops that adds resilience, adds those benefits back to consumers directly. So, I think we are seeing that the conversation shifts to not, “Are renewables viable and should that be the direction we go?” but, “How do you do it, and what’s the right ownership structure?”
|John Farrell:||I want to just emphasize too on what you’ve said and what I’ve heard. In particular, I really liked what you were saying about local government being this place where it’s the level of government where you can most directly interact with community values, and I think that’s really reflected in what you said before or in what you’re saying now about this municipalization process. It seems it’s sort of a natural continuation, as you said, that the citizens of Boulder have been willing to take on to apply these values locally in a lot of different ways through the power of their city, whether that’s, as you said, green building requirements, taxing themselves for open space, one of the first cities to tax themselves for carbon emissions to help drive forward this goal.
Are there other complementary measures that the city is taking? Municipalization is kind of the headline thing, right? It’s been going on for seven years. It’s this huge undertaking. There have been a couple of points of big opposition, and I’d like to come back to that. What other things is Boulder doing at the city level, at the local level, to help accelerate toward 100%, other than this conversation about the ownership of the system, although that is, obviously, a very important one?
|Jonathan Koehn:||Well, I’m so glad you asked the question because one of the criticisms we hear regularly is that all of our resources, all of our time, has been devoted to, as we said, kind of this crude notion of buying the distribution system and starting up our own electric utility, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is one of our prime focus areas because our community has continued to vote in favor of moving forward until we can’t move forward, but along the way we have continued to implement cutting-edge strategies related to reducing emissions and accessing clean electricity.
So, from the things that are kind of central to our competency as local government, looking at energy or efficiency requirements, not only from our commercial sector but for our rental housing. We were the first community to have rental housing efficiency requirements, which is extraordinary. It’s really dramatically improved the quality of our rental housing in Boulder. We have really taken a different approach in thinking about, as a community, that it isn’t about just one city. If one city is 100% renewable, so what? What really matters is how we share and how we export learning and how we work together and lean on one another in terms of communities, and so the big focus area over the past couple of years has been building out our networks of cities, really relying on one another in terms of going to the state legislature, point to the PUC, looking at the federal level to change policy. We created a couple of coalitions, one is called the Colorado Communities for Climate Action or CC4CA. It’s a coalition of now 22 cities across our jurisdictions. It does include some counties across the state of Colorado, that is acutely focused on policy reform related to climate. We don’t shy away from it. We talk about resilience, we talk about climate. We’ve been incredibly effective at working with the governor’s office and working with state legislators to really remove those restrictions that we bumped into. I think that’s one of the challenges that local communities face. You say… In a regulated state like Colorado, our utility, it’s a regulated monopoly and we say, “Well, we’ll do whatever we can do,” and that really kind of boils down to efficiency or on the customer’s side of the meter.
Yet the things that are the biggest levers we can pull, we continue to bump into the either regulation or policy that is restrictive. We often throw up our hands and say, “Well Gosh, there’s nothing we can do.” We have turned that around to say, “No, in fact, this coalition represents one seventh of the population of this state. We now have a seat at the table. We are working with our state leadership to really devise and develop new policy that enables really, really aggressive local action that really transforms the benefits that we’ve seen in the past.” We are also strongly, strongly focused on the electrification of our transit system. We’ve just launched a program in the past couple of months around that we call carbon 365, really looking at how do we as a community and community members think about the transition of a natural gas. What does that look like? How do we do that so we don’t create winners and losers?
We’ve done a bunch of pilot projects to figure out how you bundle some of these services and really make this transformational change. We’ve done full neighborhood transformations around natural gas conversion. Just this past week we were so honored to host the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance annual meeting. We had 24 cities from around the globe. These are leaders in the world, really thinking about some of the transformational strategies. We are by far the smallest community, but it really speaks volumes to our commitment in this area. We were able to really work collaboratively with those communities to say, “What are the most effective strategies and how do we really pivot away from just offering energy efficiency services to really thinking about the biggest levers we can pull in each community?”
|John Farrell:||I think if you hear some of the examples, you mentioned for example the local policy of energy efficiency for multifamily residential properties or SmartRegs and that that’s working out well. One question I know I want to ask on behalf of folks here in Minneapolis is how does that affect affordability? And then I’d love to ask you about some of these other specific policies that you’ve been with your coalition advocating for at the state level.|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Sure. To your question around affordability, I think one of the challenges we were facing, and I know this is not so unusual for a lot of communities, particularly those with universities, over 50% of our housing here in Boulder is rental, which is typically the lowest quality, the least efficient. We started thinking about our kind of clean energy future design for new buildings and the redesign on moving towards net zero or net positive buildings and neighborhoods. As we looked at our code, what’s regard to new construction, we don’t have a lot of new construction in Boulder. We are able to address efficiency and energy requirements for remodels and additions. We love to say, well in terms of equitability, who is hit the hardest, and it really is the renters. We work with our rental housing association to say, “How do we kind of ease into this idea of increasing the quality of our housing stock for renters?”
We worked in parallel with our own rental housing association. I would not suggest that it was easy at the beginning, but we are nearing the completion of our compliance period, where we’ve been able to get over 90% of our rental housing compliant with our energy efficiency requirements through SmartRegs. I think the fear at the beginning is that those costs would be really transferred to the renters. We haven’t seen that occur. There’s been some indication that rents in certain areas have increased, but by increasing the literacy of the renters at the same time we’re able to work with the whole system to say, “Oh, what does savings look like and how do you actually transfer the savings to the tenant, not just the cost for the upgrade?” And so, it was a little bit rocky at the beginning, but it really had smoothed out and we have done a number of studies and analysis to show that the benefit has actually been pretty extraordinary in terms of cost saving.
|Marie Donahue:||You’re listening to an interview with Jonathan Cohn from Boulder, Colorado, as part of our Voices of 100% series of Local Energy Rules. Do you know any folks we should interview about 100% renewable energy commitments in their community? If so, please send us an email at email@example.com. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for the rest of this episode after a short message from our energy democracy initiative director John Farrell.|
|John Farrell:||If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously a fan and we could use your help for just two minutes. As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have any corporate sponsors or ads for any of our podcasts. The reason is that our mission at ILSR is to reinvigorate democracy by decentralizing economic power. Instead, we rely on you, our listeners. Your donations not only underwrite this podcast, but also help us produce all of the research and resources that we make available on our website and all of the technical assistance we provide to Grassroots organizations. Every year ILSR’s small staff helps hundreds of communities challenge monopoly power directly and rebuild their local economies. So please take a minute and go to ilsr.org and click on the “donate button”. If making a donation isn’t something you can do, please consider helping us in other ways. You can help other folks find this podcast by telling them about it or by giving it a review on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. The more ratings from listeners like you, the more folks can find this podcast and ILSR’s other podcasts. Thanks again for listening. Now, back to the program.
I wanted to get into some of these other policy concepts that you were talking about in this coalition work that you’re doing at the state level, you mentioned kind of bumping into restrictive policies, whether that’s the fact that it’s electric utilities are regulated monopolies, gas utilities are regulated monopolies. It’s something that’s true over 30 states. What are some of those things that you’re asking for when you go to state leaders, state legislators that would give the local community more power to address those issues of climate and energy?
|Jonathan Koehn:||Yeah, so that’s an interesting one. If you… Anyone can take a look at our website, which is, you can just type in CC number four CA, CC4CA, and on the website we have our policy agenda that was not a small feat, trying to get a couple of dozen communities and jurisdictions to agree on a policy agenda. But we were able to get there and the purpose is to identify and really think broadly, but also give specific examples of where do we run into these kind of barriers that either restrict local jurisdictions from going farther faster or policies that would really shift the entire state. Now I should say that not every community represented is actually in the regulated service territory. Xcel Energy is essentially the owned investor and utility, but there are a number of municipal utilities, there are co-ops and rural electric utilities that are also represented with CC4CA.
We try to balance our ask between those that are specific to regulation, versus those that are more widespread in terms of policy or legislation. Some examples, the state of Colorado, sure we have… Our governor Hickenlooper has signed an executive order related to climate and set some high level goals, but we don’t have an updated inventory. We don’t have an agency within state government that is actually monitoring and measuring progress, so that’s an area that we’ve been focused on pretty heavily. Clean cars standards, of course, zero emission vehicles, making sure that that’s included in our state plan. Looking at the transition as we think about decommissioning coal and natural gas. To my earlier comment, it does matter how it’s done, so we are looking at things like increasing the size limitation on qualified facilities, looking at ways to remove some restrictions on sizing distributed generation in our communities.
So the 120% rule is a perfect example of that, where it was a fine intention when it was developed years ago with regard to access to the incentives by the utility, yet the unintended consequences, now as we think about solar as a tool for longterm affordability, as we think about solar as a tool for energy resilience in our communities, as we think about the integration of storage in our communities, we run into interconnect requirements and sizing limitations. It’s our goal and our aim to go to the code where those restrictions exist and get sponsorship to relax or remove some of those restrictions. Because, I don’t think that the legislature contemplated that it would be affordable and advantageous for community members to start looking at residential storage, neighborhood scale storage and how that gets deployed within a community. Those are some examples of what we’re really focused on in this upcoming session.
|John Farrell:||One of the other things say know that either Boulder or Boulder County had done that I thought was pretty impressive and it was covered in a product that we call it a Community Power Toolkit, it’s kind of an interactive tool for looking at ways that communities can take action. Boulder’s featured in many number of places in there for some examples. But I thought it was really interesting how they were helping organize bulk purchasing of solar panels and electric vehicles, and then also now I believe electric bikes, and kind of helping people on the consumer side of things. On the one hand you’ve been doing these really cool policy ideas for how you can make it easier for cities to address climate, to get to clean energy. But then on the other hand, helping consumers actually access that in affordable way.|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Yeah, and that’s been one of the, I think, the benefits of working collaboratively. We work really closely with Boulder County and some of the other communities within Boulder County. And so the bulk purchasing was intended to, just as you describe, how do you perhaps drive down the cost even further. We have local sales tax and rebates, along with the utility rebates. All good stuff, but the performance based incentive offered by the utility, at least on residential systems, is really not the driver of new solar installation. We are starting to look at how do we get… How do we start to shift and really think about the future of solar, how it can be used a little bit differently. How do you pair it with storage? How do you bundle it with efficiency, an electric vehicle and look at the affordability? And also including that transition when I talked about natural gas a bit earlier.
Looking at how we work with our local manufacturer… Excuse me, our local distributor of electric vehicles. And trying to answer that question, the role of local government, what should we be focused on? Is this a deployment of charging infrastructure? Is it looking at rebates and incentives to get more vehicles on the road? Is it to really think about the future of charging infrastructure and where that will head? Does it make sense to really focus on level two charging or should we figure out how to get more DC fast charging? How do we look at shared lead opportunities between our governmental agencies looking at autonomous vehicles?
One of the projects that I’m really proud of, we use some of our Department of Energy Ready Grant, which is really focused on reliability and resilience, and using some of those dollars to partner with a local transit authority to help them purchase their solar, to put in some storage. But also, this great forward thinking idea of electrifying their bus system, and then looking at charging those buses with solar, and then looking at some autonomous routes on the CU campus. So there’s this vision of where we want to go and these projects are more than just these one off projects. We’re also looking at a micro grid on the CU campus, but not just because we can do a micro grid, but what’s the purpose. What are we trying to, what problem are we trying to fix, what questions are we trying to answer? So we have this great benefit of having the federal labs here, having the university and its research applications to really say what do we need to do as a community, how do we establish a a real clear understanding of roles and competencies of all of the players. And that’s been a really exciting I think over the past year or so, and it’s been a transition.
Now back to your earlier question, all of this is in parallel with our work around municipalization. We know what we can get to if we don’t municipalize, and how far and fast we can go, and we know if we are not a regulated utility, the role of that electric utility shifts pretty dramatically, and it becomes a much stronger player in all of this transition.
|John Farrell:||Actually I’m glad that you brought it back to municipalization, because I did have a followup question. You mentioned earlier that Xcel Energy, the incumbent utility and investor in utility, has been presented in its resource planning with all of these really low cost renewable options that are even cheaper than some of their already built coal plants. They’re obviously moving toward renewable energy. How have they been responding to the municipalization campaign? And I say this with a little tongue in cheek. Obviously at the beginning they were strongly opposed, they threw a lot of resources into fighting to stop the city from municipalizing. They’re now faced with the cost effectiveness of renewables. They’re moving in that direction. Have they been responsive on some of the other things that Boulder’s interested in, like a 100 megawatts of local energy, or this notion of resiliency and removing limits from the size of solar arrays?|
|Jonathan Koehn:||You know, let me just … I want to put a very fine point on this comment, which is Xcel Energy is a for profit entity, and their business model is one that perhaps is one that just does not align with the values of our community. And so yes, I have to give them a huge amount of credit, and I won’t debate whether that’s being driven by the market or by the fact that it is the culture of the company that perhaps is shifting. That really doesn’t matter. I think what it shows up as is that they are moving in the direction that we as a community hoped they would move. I don’t know how far and fast they’ll be able to go in terms of really starting to look at customer choice opportunities, looking at ways for consumers, customers and cities to have more control and more choice over their energy needs and services. They’ve not shown at least a willingness that I have seen yet to to look at some of these more, I’ll call them provocative solutions.
Yet, it does create a good starting place for us to think about new ways to partner with the utility. I remain hugely optimistic and open to the fact that we could still work out some type of deal between the city of Boulder and Xcel Energy. I think that they recognize the benefit and the shift in this utility landscape. When we look at utilities that are really doing great things, Xcel as typically towards the top of the list. But at the end of the day we as a community have been tasked by our community to really figure out how do we get to our goals related to energy, how do we get to 100% renewable electricity, how do we get to 100 megawatts of local generation? And I have not seen the pathway yet with Xcel. But again, I remain hopeful. They are doing what they have been required to do by our public utilities commission. After we finalized our transfer of assets of proceeding at the PUC, we have been working with him pretty closely on the completion of our required contracts to move into the transition that allows us to go into the condemnation action.
I can’t say with any amount of certainty that we will create an electric utility, but what I think is important is that we are able to look back and say it’s been worth it. And right now I can say that the work that we have done, we have learned so much in the past eight years about our energy system, about the needs and desires of our community, about the role that resilience truly plays, and how energy and electricity really fit into our overall objectives to decarbonize our energy supply.
|John Farrell:||Well, it’s such a beautiful way to bring me to my last question, which is in that eight years of learning about this process, what advice do you have for other cities that have made this kind of commitment? I mean, there are now over 70 US cities that have publicly committed to 100% renewable energy. I think few of them with the pedigree and history that Boulder has had, even before making that kind of commitment. What would you suggest that they do if they look to how to achieve this goal?|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Well, so yeah, I mean, I would not suggest that that we are experts on this at all. But I would say that there are complexities and complications for cities that are thinking about a pretty ambitious goal related to electricity or energy. And that actually is my first point. I think it begins with clearly distinguishing between renewable electricity and renewable energy. The former of course is a smaller subset. The latter also includes transportation and heat energy. I think that’s an important one. A lot of cities get hung up on whether or not they should declare some 100% renewable goal without actually having the roadmap to get there.
What I would say to that is, whether it’s symbolic or not, I think it sends a very strong signal to the marketplace. I think it sends a strong signal that we as communities are going to stand up straight, and we are going to make our voices heard in terms of where we want to go. And that’s really, really important. As I look across the state of Colorado, we have a handful of communities, some of which you would never expect to establish 100% goals. And it is extraordinary because they are looking at it from the perspective of protecting their customers, protecting their most vulnerable population, looking at the fact that using renewables to stabilize the cost of electricity, to understand the health implications of burning fossil fuels, it is totally shifting the narrative around what communities can and should be doing.
I would also say that it’s disingenuous and patently false to say that no one entity can go 100% renewable. I think the science indicates in getting the grid to 80% would be relatively easy, but that last 20% would be tough. And no one denies the physics. That’s not the issue. The issue is that when a city’s run on 100% renewable energy, that’s an accounting reality, not a physics reality. And I think that’s really exciting. So don’t get hung up on someone claiming, “Well, you’re never going to get to 100%.” Looking five years back, we would never have thought that wind would be at price parity, much less solar, be at price parity. Never in a million years would we thought that storage would be a potential dispatchable resource for utilities. But here we are.
When you think about establishing a target for 2030, much is going to happen between now and 2030, much will happen in the next 30 to 50 years. So I would say to any community that’s contemplating this, be bold, recognize the benefit, and recognize that energy is at the center of this sustainability challenge, and it’s also an indispensable ingredient of our modern economic life.
The last piece is that, bringing it back to the idea of climate, we don’t have to talk about energy and 100% renewable energy as the biggest lever around climate change. We can talk about resilience. Because it’s equally important. But the reality is climate change carries serious consequences for us as humans and for ecosystems. And it’s a crisis that’s going to affect our food, our national security, our water, our ability to live where we choose, and basic human needs, et cetera. And we see it every day when we look at our windows here in Colorado.
It is extraordinary, it is incredibly hopeful when we see communities across this state declare their intention to go to a 100% renewables for whatever reason. So again, it is a movement. It’s a movement that I think we’re going to see continue, and it’s going to greatly expand in the coming years.
|John Farrell:||Jonathan, thank you so much for taking the time to share what terrific work that you’re up to in Boulder to advance clean local energy for your community. And to reach that 100% goal, that also many of those other important goals that the city has had for itself. It’s helpful for other communities to be able to hear what the opportunities are more broadly than just around climate and energy, and I think you guys have been doing that very well.|
|Jonathan Koehn:||Well, thanks very much. I think the strength of our efforts are the fact that it is really driven from our community, and really honored to be doing the work on their behalf. So, always fun to talk to you.|
|John Farrell:||You too, Jonathan, take care.|
|Marie Donahue:||Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Our Voices of 100% series, where our host John Farrell was speaking with Jonathan Cohen about how far the city of Boulder, Colorado has come in its efforts to build a 100% local renewable energy future.|
|Lisa Gonzalez:||Thank you for tuning into this episode of Building Local Power. You can find links to what was discussed today by going to our website, ilsr.org, and clicking on the show page for this episode. That’s ilsr.org. While you’re there, you can sign up for one of our newsletters and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. If you like this podcast, please consider sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. The show is edited by me, Lisa Gonzalez, and I also produce the show along with Hibba Meraay and Zach Freed. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction Al. Please join us again in two weeks for the next episode of Building Local Power from the Institute for Local Self Reliance.|
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Photo Credit: Flickr via National Renewable Energy Lab