Although many clean energy advocates focus on national debates or state legislatures, the truth is that there are many opportunities to advance renewable energy at home, in cities and local communities. Part of a new interactive feature called the Community Power Toolkit, the following examples highlight the many ways people, acting individually or collectively, can accelerate the transition to 100% renewable energy in their community.

The tools fall into six categories:

  • Community-Owned Renewable Energy
  • Enabling State Policy
  • Ballot Measures
  • Pressuring Utilities
  • City Ordinances
  • Municipal Utilities


Community-Owned Renewable Energy

Organize a project –

Several community-owned solar and wind projects have been formed as private limited liability companies (LLCs), such as University Park Solar in Maryland.

Resource: Beyond Sharing Report

Ask city to host a project –

Cities have ample rooftop space on public buildings that could host solar residents or businesses could buy into.

Resource: Public Rooftop Revolution Report

Organize group purchasing –

There are numerous examples of neighbors banding together to get better bids on solar for their homes, including Solarize or DC SUN or the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood Solar Cooperative.

Resource: Anya Schoolman – Episode 1 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

Create geothermal district energy –

District energy systems typically supply hot or cold water to multiple buildings for heating and cooling. Ground-source geothermal is an economical way to provide this energy.

Resources: West Union, IowaBoise, Idaho; Ball State University – Muncie, Indiana


State Policy

Enable community choice aggregation (CCA) –

Community choice aggregation allows cities, counties, and groups of the same to be the electricity buyer on behalf of small business and residential customers, allowing local authority over the amount of renewable energy supply.

Resource: City Power Play Report

Reduce barriers to municipal utilities –

Many states require cities to pay exorbitant fees to incumbent utilities to cover their lost profits if cities decide to switch to local ownership. New laws could make forming a locally-owned utility easier.

Resource: City Power Play Report

Building Energy Codes –

Building energy codes are a low-cost tool to ensure long-term energy savings, and many are set at the state level. Some states allow cities to go beyond state policy with a “stretch” code, and the rules should change to allow them to.

Resource: City Power Play Report

Let customers choose a B-Corp –

B corporations have a legal obligation to look beyond their shareholders in their business plan. For electric companies granted a government-sanctioned monopoly, should we expect any less?

Resource: What if…Your Electric Utility Was a Benefit Corporation?


Ballot Measure

Fossil fuel extraction –

Local initiative asserts local authority over siting facilities to extract fossil fuels, or natural gas fracking.

Resource: Local Fracking on the Ballot – BallotPedia

100% renewable energy –

Local initiative sets a goal or target to reach 100% renewable electricity or renewable energy.

Resource: Community Power Map


Pressure Utilities

Franchise leverage –

For cities served by a for-profit “investor-owned” utility company, the city may have a “franchise” agreement or contract. Such contracts typically govern utility use of public right of way to deliver electric or gas service, and may include a fee collected on behalf of the city from utility customers. In Boulder, CO, and Minneapolis, MN, the franchise contract expiration was used to negotiate with the utility over meeting clean energy and energy equity goals.

Resource: The History and Hope for a First-in-the-Nation City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership

Clean Energy Partnership –

In Minneapolis, MN, the extensive negotiations over the “franchise” (see separate topic) resulted in the formation of a city-utility Clean Energy Partnership with the gas and electric utilities committed to aiding the city in achieving its Climate Action Plan.

Resource: The History and Hope for a First-in-the-Nation City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership

PUC Comments –

Utility actions typically require approval of the state regulatory agency, typically called a Public Utilities Commission or Public Service Commission. Members of the public can submit comments to shape utility behavior. However, submitting comments tends to work best in concert with grassroots pressure or handled by commenters who are aided by policy experts.

Resource: Improvements Needed to Xcel’s Proposed MN Community Solar Program

On-Bill Repayment –

Many utility companies aid customers in paying for energy efficiency (or even renewable energy) improvements on their property by allowing them to finance the projects through payments on their utility bill. Why not your utility?


Direct purchase of renewable energy –

In several states with competitive markets, cities can directly purchase renewable energy from suppliers. In other states, cities either require utility help, utility permission, or a new policy (often called a “tariff”) allowing them to do so.



City Ordinances

Create energy districts, e.g. Youngstown, Ohio –

Citywide energy supply –

Use your municipal utility:

Most municipal utilities sign contracts for power that allow them to produce at least 5% of their energy locally. Some own their own power plants, and all now have an opportunity to go beyond the limits of their contract.

Resource: Can Other Cities Match Georgetown’s Low-Cost Switch to 100% Wind and Sun?

Form a municipal utility:

A time-consuming and expensive process, forming a municipal utility company that takes over the existing utility company gives a community the maximum decision making authority over its energy future, including supply and services.

Resource: Citizens Give “Going Boulder” a New Meaning – Local Energy Self-Reliance

Form a community choice:

Enabled by a state law, cities in seven states (so far) can then adopt an ordinance to take over electricity purchasing on behalf of residential and small business customers in their community. This authority can also include increasing investment in energy efficiency and growing the supply of renewable energy as a share of electricity purchased, as illustrated by Sonoma Clean Power or Marin Clean Energy.

Resource: Local. 33% Renewable. And Lower Prices. Sonoma Clean Power “CCA” Launches.

Create a Vision –

Climate Action Plan:

A climate action plan is a document that outlines a city’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reasonable levels, usually by 2050. It’s also an opportunity to express principles in this pursuit, including local energy production and widespread economic benefits.

Resource: Minneapolis City Climate Action Goals

100% Renewable Energy:

Cities can adopt ordinances to set goals and targets for 100% renewable electricity or renewable energy (for all uses), both for city buildings or for the entire city.

Resource: Community Power Map

Property market rules –

Building energy grades:

With authority over property, cities can adopt ordinances to require residential and (typically) commercial buildings to publish an energy score informing potential tenants or buyers of the cost of operating the building. The public information can create a more vibrant market for driving down building energy costs.

Resource: City Power Plan Report

Building energy codes:

Enforcement – In nearly every state, cities have authority to enforce building energy codes, guaranteeing a minimum level of energy performance. However, few cities successfully hold builders accountable, resulting in long-term loss of energy and cost savings.

Across the country, a pattern of noncompliance — or a lack of enforcement — restricts the energy and cost savings that should come with building energy codes. Every $1 invested in code enforcement generates $6 in energy savings, a substantial return. In addition, bringing one year’s worth of new residential and commercial construction up to maximum compliance would yield between $63 and $174 million in annual energy cost savings. That translates to $37.1 billion for five years of construction.

Resource: Assessment of Energy Efficiency Achievable from Improved Compliance with U.S. Building Energy Codes – 2013-2030

Adoption – In many states, cities are responsible for setting building energy codes, with the potential to save substantial amounts of energy and money over the lifetime of new buildings.

Resource: City Power Plan Report

Rental licensing:

Cities already have authority over licensing rental properties, and can use that authority to maintain minimum standards, including energy performance.


Solar mandate:

A few cities have required that new properties be “solar ready” or even that developers include a minimum amount of solar energy production per property.

Resource: City Power Plan Report

On-Bill Repayment –


Nearly every city has a municipal water department and nearly every city has a vast majority of property owners who could use a simple tool to finance energy efficiency improvements on their property. As many electric and gas utilities have done, city water utilities could offer on-bill repayment, letting customers finance improvements to their property, to be paid back on the water bill. The program can be structured to give access to customers without access to traditional credit.



One of the most common tools to make on-bill repayment more accessible to all customers is a “loss reserve” that covers lenders in the (unlikely) event of a default on the loan. This “de-risking” tool holds a bank harmless in the event the customer fails to repay their assessment.


Permitting –

Cities typically require permits for major building projects, including replacement of HVAC equipment or installing solar energy. Adopting best practices for these policies can reduce cost for adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Resource: Local Permitting Makes a Bigger Difference as Solar Gets Cheap

Zoning –

Cities can adjust zoning policies to better accommodate energy efficient practices and renewables, namely solar installations. Reworking rules to promote efficiency in new and existing structures advances cities’ overarching energy savings goals and ensures longer-term sustainability.


Energy Funding –

Franchise fee:

Cities with for-profit “investor-owned” utility companies often have franchise contracts governing the use of public property for delivery of energy services (e.g. rules for using alleys to run power lines). Some cities collect a fee from utilities (a pass through to customers) to support this cost, but cities that have not can adopt one and use the money to support energy-based economic development.

Resource: The History and Hope for a First-in-the-Nation City-Utility Clean Energy Partnership


Cities have, at a minimum, property tax authority that can be used in support of clean energy or energy efficiency outcomes. Some cities have created taxes to support energy programs to reduce carbon emissions, others have used voluntary tax assessments to allow property owners to finance energy improvements.

Resource: City Power Plan Report

City Departments –

Numerous city departments oversee important elements of energy use. City Sustainability offices often set priorities for city energy use and development of Climate Action Plans; Public Works departments may oversee infrastructure development, including installation of district energy systems under the street; Regulatory Services can set and enforce minimum energy efficiency requirements for licensed rental properties; Building Permits and Inspections enforces the city or state’s building energy codes.



Municipal Utility

100% renewable contract –

Municipal utilities may own their own power plants, but they can also contract for power generation. Some have already signed contracts for 100% renewable energy, such as Georgetown, TX.

Resource: Can Other Cities Match Georgetown’s Low-Cost Switch to 100% Wind and Sun?

100% renewable commitment –

Some municipal utilities have committed to 100% renewable energy upon expiration of their current power contracts, such as Rochester, MN.

Resource: Community Power Map

Aggregated demand response –

Many utilities use radio controls of large industrial equipment or central air conditioners to reduce power demand at key times. Few utilities have yet to explore how they could connect more similarly use refrigerators or electric vehicles to manage energy demand.


Bulk purchase for customer-owned distributed solar –

City utilities could use their purchasing power to bulk buy solar on behalf of their customers, similar to what the Sacramento, CA, utility did in the late 1990s.

Resource: Two Decades of Solar Pioneers in Sacramento – Episode 27 of Local Energy Rules Podcast