Voices of 100%: Idaho Coalition Crafts a Data-Driven Clean Power Pledge — Episode 151 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 2 Mar 2022 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Amidst the competing challenges of the last two years, communities are still making ambitious plans to ditch fossil fuels. In 2020, Blaine County and Hailey, Idaho joined the now more than 180 cities and towns that have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell talks with Blaine County Sustainability Program Manager Lynne Barker and Community Organizer Scott Runkel. They discuss how a 100 percent renewable energy commitment moved forward amidst a pandemic and the options that Idaho communities have to reach a goal like this.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Lynne Barker: The whole utility industry is in upheaval. I think some utilities are really challenging themselves in terms of what the future or modern utility model is. And then a lot of state public utility commissions are changing the types of regulations that govern how utilities operate to take a look at the broader issues of the full cost of providing energy.
John Farrell: Located in the beautiful Wood River Valley in Idaho, Blaine County and the city of Hailey are one of several Idaho communities to make the commitment to 100% clean energy. Joining me in February, 2022, Sustainability Program Manager Lynne Barker and Community Activist Scott Runkel explain how residents were organized to win adoption of the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and how the community is approaching this ambitious effort. I’m John Farrell, director of Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is a Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy. Scott and Lynne, welcome to Local Energy Rules.
Scott Runkel: It’s great to be here.
John Farrell: I love to start off my podcast conversations to, uh, give our guests a chance to get to know the folks that we’re talking to a little bit better. Lynne, I’m hoping to start with you and just to ask what brought you into work around sustainability and climate change? You know, what has motivated you to work on issues like 100% clean energy?
Lynne Barker: Well, I’ve been doing this work for a really long time. I think I started around 1990 and at that time I was looking for a career change and knew that I wanted to work in an area that was protecting the natural environment. I think I had the really great fortune of having grandparents that were ranchers in Nevada, outside of Carson City and spent summers on the ranch. And then my parents both were outdoors individuals. And so we did a lot of camping and fishing growing up, as children. And so I, I always felt a really strong connection to the environment. And I think growing up in the Pacific Northwest also provided so many opportunities to spend time outdoors. So I think from that experience, I just knew that as I transitioned from not really having a career, but having a bunch of jobs to really trying to focus on what my career was gonna be, I knew that I wanted to focus on something that was gonna protect the environment.
John Farrell: That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. I have to say there have been so many cases of folks that I’ve talked to who have had that kind of upbringing or experience that has connected now into their career path. That’s really been wonderful. So thank you. And Scott, what about you? What, what has brought you into this field? What has gotten you interested in clean energy to be a community activist around it?
Scott Runkel: Yeah, I mean, I think, uh, much like Lynne, I had a deep connection to the natural world as a child and started recognizing as I got older that human activity was affecting the natural world in a negative way. And, and that, that really bothered me and I kind of started with this. Okay, what can I do in my personal life to be, have a lower impact and not be part of the problem. And over time, I started realizing that the scope of the problem is much too vast for individual action at the personal level to solve it. And that kind of in a more recently, over the last 10 years, I started thinking about like, what can I do to have a play a larger role and to motivate larger institutions and organizations and cities and counties to, to start solving the problem and to then have an impact on a scale that actually might help solve the problem this size. So that, so I started getting, finding like-minded people to work with to try of start that process.
John Farrell: Thank you. You know, speaking of collective action, there are over a hundred cities that have made a hundred percent renewable energy commitments like Hailey and Blaine County, Idaho. They all differ kind of in terms of their scope and timeline, they’re all sort of informed by a sense of urgency around climate change with the knowledge that the energy systems that we use often are big contributors to that. Maybe this is a good question for Lynne. Could you explain kind of what Hailey and Blaine County have committed to and by when? How do you define clean electricity, for example, and what’s the nature of the commitment?
Lynne Barker: You know, if you don’t mind, I am actually gonna let Scott take the first stab at answering this because through Scott’s commute activism, his, the organization that he helped found brought a clean energy resolution to the county and the cities and their activism was what led to adoption of our clean energy goals. So Scott, why don’t you talk about that?
Scott Runkel: Perfect. The Climate Action Coalition, which is the group of just citizens of our valley, we were inspired by the Sierra Club’s efforts, their one hundred percent clean energy efforts that they’ve been working, it’s called race to one hundred, that they, they have helped communities all over the U.S. And so we heard a presentation by them and then started thinking about how could we get something similar happening in our community, and at Boise and what they were had committed to, and looked at what already been done in our local community, in terms of commitments by cities to do for their municipal government. They had set some, some goals. And from that, we ended up with these commitments of that 2035 100% clean electricity and 2045, a hundred percent clean energy. And those are in line with both what the science said we needed to accomplish to address climate change effectively and also what was happening in other cities in Idaho, particularly Boise, which we wanted to align with because of the potential of having this synergy of influence, to make this transition actually happen in that manner.
John Farrell: Yeah. That’s great. I’m gonna be interested in talking a little bit more about how you might have at the time and how you might be now working with some of those other communities, but I was hoping to start by just asking you a little bit more about the clean electricity goal by 2035. You’re similar to, I did some interviews with some towns in Western Montana, and what’s interesting for me in talking to them was that a significant portion of their electricity already came from renewable energy, primarily hydro power. And I think it was about the same when I looked it up for Hailey that from its utility company, about 60% of the electricity comes from hydro, wind, or solar, primarily the former. Does that make it feel any easier? I mean, compared to some cities, like, I think there was one in Missouri where it was like, you know, the utility gives like 80% coal power. Does it feel easier somehow to start a place where like 60% is already renewable? Or do you feel like, oh, that last 40% is just as hard as if we started with more to go.
Lynne Barker: I, I might take the first step at answering that question. So the groundwork that Scott and his group of community members laid in terms of getting adoption and clean energy goals led to the county and the city council in partnership establishing the position that I now fill for the sustainability program manager. And so one of my primary responsibilities is to create our clean energy plan. How do we actually achieve these goals? And then on top of trying to establish a roadmap for achieving the goals, I’m also taking a look at how closely the goals align with the Paris climate agreement and the United States… well actually the U.S. has committed to reducing emissions 50%, 50 to 52% by 2030, but there is a new methodology called a science based target, which really takes a look at a fair contribution to our emission reduction target.

So for instance, the United States generates, I think we generate, is it 13% of global greenhouse gas emissions? And so since we generate so much, our, our contribution for reduction should be higher than for instance, a developing country. Taking a look at trying to align those two is one of the things that I’m involved with right now, but we are actually following the city of Boise’s lead in really taking a data driven approach to reducing our carbon emissions. The energy that utilities provide is one issue that we have to take a look at, but we also have to take a look at for instance, transportation emissions and in our community, not only our emissions rising dramatically because of the growth, but we also are seeing a very significant increase in transportation related emissions. It’s about 40% of our emissions. And so with the electric grid, we are trying to really understand very clearly what it means in terms of by 2030, which is our one of our first goals, how much of the grid needs to be decarbonized in order for us to achieve our clean energy goals. And then what can we do to also support that through local policy? So for instance, investments in energy efficiency, taking a look at trying to promote building electrification and moving away from natural gas for heating and cooling, and then installing renewable energy systems in our community to help generate energy. So those are the types of strategies we’re looking at.

John Farrell: That’s great. I’m kind of curious when you talk about some of the local strategies like energy efficiency or, you know, the issue about natural gas. I know in some states cities can like set their own building energy codes and others, that’s like kind of set and preempted at the state level. Are there particular where you have some flexibility around buildings or around transportation that you’re able to leverage that maybe are unique to Idaho or, or to states like Idaho?
Lynne Barker: The state of Idaho has preempted local governments – and has a bill before the legislature this year as well to establish the 2018 international energy conservation code as the energy code and preempt local governments from establishing any more rigorous code codes than what the state does adopt. We are, uh, I think that the legislation is gonna allow us to grandfather in our code. So in 2009, we had a build smart, uh, green building code. And we have maintained that code as kind of our energy code. 2012, we did some amendments and adopted the 2012 international energy conservation code. And then we wanted to protect our green building code because it was, has been more rigorous than the international energy conservation code to date. But what we are gonna be looking at is if this state maintains a three year adoption cycle of the IECC, which is the international energy conservation code, the international energy conservation code is a mechanism that I think a lot of organizations across both the United States and globally are looking towards as a pathway to getting to net zero energy buildings. And so from the 2018 to the 2021, we saw almost 10% increase in energy performance, which I think was the largest increase in energy performance from one set to the next since 2012, if my memory is right. So at that point in time, when we are starting to take a look at the 2021, we’re really gonna have to evaluate whether or not our rebuilding standard is, needs to be replaced by that updated code.
John Farrell: Yeah. Thanks. That’s really interesting to see how that is changing, but also how it may change in a good way in the sense that the state is gonna give you a code or is gonna adopt a code that might be rigorous enough to help you get to the goals that you have.
Lynne Barker: Well, we don’t, we don’t know if the state is gonna be on that for your adoptions cycle.
John Farrell: Yeah. We can help fingers crossed.
Lynne Barker: Yeah, we’ll hope.
John Farrell: I’m kind of curious, speaking of, kind of the alignment with other institutions and the news coverage that I read about the, your community’s commitment around clean energy and Idaho Power representative was quoted, you know, suggesting that the utility was gonna be willing to help. And I’m curious about what that’s meant, so, or what you feel it might mean as you proceed with implementation of your plans.
Scott Runkel: Yeah. Well, I can just jump in a little about that. I think I would describe it as cautious optimism. The utility has, every presentation our group made to the city councils throughout our county about adopting this clean energy resolution, a representative from Idaho Power would also be on the agenda to talk about their goals as a company. And they would stress the need to provide reliable, cheap power. And at, at the same time, they would also talk about that they’ve committed to a hundred percent clean electricity by 2045, which is 10 years at after the goals that cities across Idaho have said. But they’ve also said that they’re willing to work with us. And they’re the hope is that they see that there’s a lot of cities and counties that prioritize this and that they’re serving us and that they will work with us.

And that goes down to things that we’re concerned about, like making, not changing rules that make it harder for rooftop solar to be an affordable option for residents, because we need that as a toolbox to get these clean energy goals. Particularly as we start transitioning away from gas and, and get more electric cars and our electric appliances, we need more electricity. And all the research I’ve seen is we’re gonna need the utilities to build renewable energy, large scale, and we’re gonna need rooftop also to be part of that mix if we’re ever gonna achieve these goals. So I’d say my cautious optimism and the hope is that if we get enough cities at the table and we have, having Lynne on board, and that’s something that she’s able to be in conversation with and represent communities in ways that it’s hard for citizens to do. So we’re hoping guess, guess cautious optimism, cuz I think we, it’s gonna be really hard for us to do this without Idaho Power working with us.

John Farrell: I’m curious, there’s a couple of interesting stories I’ve heard from different places. We did a interview with a community in Utah, Moab, Utah, that was just earlier this year. In Utah, they have an interesting program of community choice where the state passed some policy there that was, I guess, in collaboration with the utility, essentially saying, okay, if all these cities, to give the example, if it was in Idaho, you know, if Hailey and Blaine County and, and Ketchum and Boise had all made these commitments to the utility would say, okay, well we’ll, we’ll meet your goal of 2035, zero carbon energy. And we may not be a hundred percent, zero carbon for all the customers we serve, but we’ll at least meet it for your communities, which I think is kind of interesting. And similarly in this community… I can remember the name of the mayor, Mark Gamba… Oh, it’s Milwaukie, that’s right. But their utility was similarly gonna offer them kind of like a hundred percent renewable energy product for customers. And they, I think the idea was it would become the default option for a customer in that town. It was provided by the utility, but customers could opt out if they wanted, if they were worried about the cost, if the cost was too much at the time. They hadn’t implemented it yet. I’m just curious, you know, it sounds like Lynne you’re, you were gonna be on point to some degree to talk to utility the utility about this. Is anything like that on the table at this point? I mean, not to like critique you, obviously this has been all been happening during the pandemic. There’s a lot of things going on, but I’m curious if that’s something that’s come up.
Lynne Barker: Yeah. I would echo what Scott said about cautious optimism around Idaho Power. You know, there’s… the whole utility industry is in upheaval. I think some utilities are really challenging themselves in terms of what the future or modern utility model is. And then a lot of state public utility commissions are changing the types of regulations that govern how utilities operate to take a look at the broader issues of the full cost of providing energy and clean energy and climate goals that states might have. And I think the state of Nevada is a really good example where within about a six year period of time, they went from a regulatory environment very similar to the state of Idaho to a fairly progressive regulatory environment. And that was really due to the type of activism that we saw from both individuals as well as organization, and then the state itself committing to their climate goals.

And so in Idaho, you know, Idaho power is a shareholder driven utility and the regulatory environment has not really evolved in the same way that a lot of other – we’re seeing in a lot of other states. And so given that I think that Idaho power has a couple of really interesting cases coming before the public utility commission, their integrated resource plan, I think is a lot more focused on clean energy than from what I understand talking to people in the industry than people had anticipated. So is a lot of surprise there in terms of really seeing that Idaho Power is really striving to respond to a lot of their large customers interest in clean energy, and then also establishing a roadmap for achieving its own clean energy goals. And then they just are talking about a green tariff program, which gets to exactly what you’re talking about. So I don’t know that the state of Idaho has an opportunity for community choice aggregation, but we, through a green tariff program, you really get the, and so if, for instance, the City and Blaine County negotiated with Idaho Power to provide green or renewable energy for all residents within county, then they would take that commitment to take a look at building a new clean energy project in the state. Hopefully even, maybe even our community. I think there is some really fantastic progress being made in that respect.

John Farrell: Yeah, that’s great. I’ve heard of the green tariff concept and a few other places it’s exciting to hear that may give you a way to meet the community’s goals around electricity.

We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I’ll ask how equity is being incorporated into Hailey’s clean energy goals, explore how the community is collaborating with other cities in Idaho, and ask what advice Scott and Lynne have for leaders in other cities. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules, Voices of 100% podcast with Blaine County Community Activist Scott Runkel and Sustainability Program Manager for Blaine County Lynne Barker.

Hey, thanks for listening to Local Energy Rules. 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. And 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 and ILSR’s other podcasts, Community Broadband Bits and Building Local Power. Thanks again for listening. Now, back to the program.

John Farrell: One of the things I like to ask about is that there’s been, especially in the last few years, really a strong folk focus on the concept of equity, whether that’s energy affordability for low income residents or ensuring that Native American or African American populations that have lived near polluting power plants have a chance to benefit more from the transition to low carbon and clean energy. What’s on the table in your community as part of your goal to make sure that that shift is equitable?
Scott Runkel: I can jump in just to address that a little bit. In the process of putting together the resolution, equity was heart and center of the discussion. The idea we, we didn’t, we felt really important not to create a goal that was going to inordinately affect people who couldn’t handle that change. So the idea, and I think that’s, that actually has continued as the regional climate and sustainability committee that Lynne leads has met that that’s come through loud and clear that how, whatever plan we put in place, we need to have structures in place to make sure that people who maybe can’t afford an increase in energy or already suffering right now because of the price of energy aren’t impacted.

One of the groups that our climate action coalition is working on right now is focusing on weatherization and how can we improve access to federal and utility money to help low income families upgrade their efficiency of their lighting as well as the insulation in their walls to lower energy costs, but also improve the quality of life because if their home is better, has a better envelope and better light. So, I mean, I think that it’s come through front and center and I’m sure Lynne, I think will probably echo that as well.

Lynne Barker: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting project that the Climate Action Coalition has worked on and in their research, they’ve identified some really interesting barriers around expansion of weatherization programs in our community. The state has weatherization funding. Of course the federal government provides funding for weatherization and then Idaho Power does as well. Our problem is that we don’t really have the, the workforce. And so the workforce training needs are really significant in order to get that benefit, that incentive into the hands of low income homeowners or, you know, moderate income homeowners. I think another really interesting thing that they found was even the training itself to get the workforce trained.

There are barriers related to having to leave your home for multiple days, losing out on work in order to get your certification, childcare costs. And so I was talking to a few people in Colorado about their findings and Xcel energy has a really interesting program right now where they are proposing, they’re actually taking to the public utility commission, a proposal that they underwrite the cost to get people, the workforce trained for these types of jobs and help with some supplemental income. So that low-income families who are really trying to take a look at being a part of our clean energy transition and get into a position where they can have a, a good paying job, help them overcome some of those barriers.

Scott Runkel: Yeah, and it kind of is like the, this, when we’ve been talking about this weatherization opportunity, it’s this, it’s kind of a cool situation where you could create green jobs and you could lower people’s energy costs, improve their quality of life. So it’s like that win-win that you always talk about, but it is a hurdle given the job market across the country, they’re just, it’s getting people trained who will then be able to access the money from the government to do it.

The other, the other hurdle that’s interesting when you dig into this, is that some of the improvements that are needed don’t fall under the specific guidelines of accessing the weatherization money. So then you need a whole other pot of money available. Maybe there are some infrastructure that needs to be fixed before you can do the weatherization. And so you have to have another pool of money available as well. So it’s just this, it’s very, it’s been a really interesting process to, to learn about the complexity of solving problems like this. You just can’t, that’s just not an easy fix, but there are what I, again, what I find time again, there’s lots of committed people out there who are willing to put in the time to try to get to a solution.

John Farrell: I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about, as we mentioned earlier, there are other communities in Idaho that have made similar commitments. I’m curious how you have been working with them on, on reaching the goal like, and you know, whether it’s sharing knowledge or policy ideas, what’s the nature of collaboration that you might have?
Lynne Barker: Well, in my position, working for the county, one of the first things that I did when I moved here and took the position was reached out to the city of Boise. The city of Boise has longstanding position of leadership around sustainability and issues. And they’ve got a really great clean energy plan in place, but I think they’re updating both their clean energy plan and their climate action plan right now, and using a data driven approach. One of the things that the city of Boise recently did was they established a very informal group called the Idaho Resilient Cities network and had a kind of a kickoff meeting to bring all the cities that were doing work in this area together, just to meet each other, talk about what we’re doing, you know, share with each other.

And right now Boise is kind of leading effort with a consultant to try to figure out, okay, do we actually establish a, a formal network for Idaho cities to really collaborate and support each other and share lessons learned? Which I think is a really helpful way in which to advance or accelerate some of this work. Because one of the things that it does is it helps the individuals working in those cities understand they’re not alone. You know, there are other people in Idaho that are doing this work. You could probably learn something from a person in Moscow, whereas they could learn from somebody in McCall, you know, and really start building on the success of your peers within the state. And so I think that’s really exciting for the, for the state of Idaho and for cities and communities in Idaho, once that gets up and running. But yeah, we really, I’ve just really tried to learn from, from predominantly Boise because they have such a long track record and frankly just emulate what they’re doing to the greatest extent, because they understand the state level, political, you know, kind of framework and what we can do. And we can’t do.

So for instance, in many communities, one of the strategies that is kind of a best practice is, are requiring buildings over a certain size, like 20,000 square feet to benchmark their energy usage. And if they don’t meet a specific level of energy performance, to then over time, invest in energy efficiency improvements. Well, that’s probably not gonna fly in the state of Idaho. I don’t know if the legislature has intentionally cramped needs from doing a benchmarking policy, but to take a look at another approach, try to get at the same outcome, that those are the types of things that, that I can learn as a newcomer to Idaho from the city of Boise and others.

John Farrell: I would love to wrap up just by giving each of your chance to offer what advice that you might have to other communities that are going through the same process. I think Lynne, I’ll you give the last word, so Scott, I’ll go to you first. What would you say to folks who are maybe starting this process or folks who are already in this process, maybe they already have a goal. How can they be more successful?
Scott Runkel: Yeah, I think, you know, what I’ve learned is that showing up to city council and just speak to the leaders about what you’re concerned about and doing that with a group of like-minded people has unbelievable sway. And I can tell you every time we went into a city council presenting the resolution and they received 20, 30 public comments and 50, 75, 100 emails or letters in support, they were blown away. Like people care about this. Like they just wanted to know that people cared about it and that reaffirmed that they cared about it. And it made that made it really easy for them to support taking action on the resolution. So I think I found that time and time again, there’s people out there and are likeminded. You just have to find them and don’t be paralyzed by the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing, cause that doesn’t really matter. You just have to show up, be thoughtful about it and, and people will, you can get a lot done. So that’s kind of my big take.
John Farrell: Lynne, how about you? What would you recommend?
Lynne Barker: Well, I’ve been doing this for a really time and I think one of the things that I found to be really successful is to really engage as many people as you can in the process. So as soon as I landed in Hailey, I ended up, uh, establishing an advisory committee. And right now we’re in the process of expanding that stakeholder engagement to establish a series of task forces that will be working in the industry sector issues. And so the more people you can engage in the process, especially a community like Blaine County, where there’s a lot of very enthusiastic and energetic individuals that are committed to this issue, but the better off you’ll be. And you’ll be amazed at how much individuals and organizations are willing to contribute towards your common or shared goals around these issues. So I would just say, engage your community as much as you can.
John Farrell: Well, Scott and Lynne, thank you so much for joining me for this conversation about the great work that you’re doing in Idaho. I hope it is inspirational to the work that’s being done in other places. And yeah. Thank you for everything that you’ve put into it.
Lynne Barker: Yeah. Thank you for having us.
Scott Runkel: You’re welcome, John.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules with Sustainability Program Manager Lynne Barker and Community Activist Scott Runkel from Haley, Idaho. On the show page, look for links to the city and county’s policy announcement and the local climate action coalition that led to the goals adoption. On our website, you can also find ILSR’s community power map detailing the state policies that gives cities more flexibility and choice over their energy sources, as well as the community power toolkit, an interactive collection of stories of how cities have pursued their clean energy goals. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy with editing provided by Audio Engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.

 


Idaho Organizers Pause, Then Push Forward During Pandemic

Scott Runkel is an organizer with the Wood River Valley Climate Action Coalition. In 2020, the group successfully brought a resolution for 100 percent clean electricity to Blaine County, and soon after, the Hailey City Council. The Coalition was inspired by the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, says Runkel, and the need to take dramatic action to avert climate catastrophe.

The scope of the problem is much too vast for individual action at the personal level to solve it… what can I do to play a larger role, and to motivate larger institutions and organizations and cities and counties to start solving the problem?

— Scott Runkel

Blaine County and Hailey are committed to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Hailey also hired a resilience coordinator and created a resilience committee, which Runkel will be a part of.

Blaine County Sets a Science-Based Target

Thanks in part to the work of the Climate Action Coalition, the county hired Lynne Barker as its sustainability program manager in 2021. She is tasked with creating an implementation plan that aligns with both the Paris Climate Agreement and science based targets.

Barker and Runkel both express the importance of setting a science and data-driven goal. They looked at Boise’s goals as a model, since the state capital leads on sustainability. Plus, by aligning with Boise, they may have more influence over the electric utility that serves them.

Working Within Utility and State Limitations

Idaho has few policy instruments that cities can use to meet their 100 percent goals. For example, some cities set more stringent building energy standards to reduce energy consumption. Idaho, however, does not allow cities to set more stringent building energy codes. Barker hopes that the state may make an exception for Hailey’s green building code.

Idaho Power, the utility serving Hailey and Blaine County, has a goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 — ten years past the community’s goal. Still, Runkel says that the company has indicated a willingness to work with communities. He is “cautiously optimistic” that Idaho Power will help Hailey meet its goal.

The whole utility industry is in upheaval. I think some utilities are really challenging themselves in terms of what the future or modern utility model is. And then a lot of state public utility commissions are changing the types of regulations that govern how utilities operate to take a look at the broader issues of the full cost of providing energy and clean energy and climate goals that states might have.

— Lynn Barker

Barker says that a green tariff program — purchasing renewable electricity from the utility at a premium — may be an option. Milwaukie, Oregon supplies all of its municipal energy load with solar energy from a utility tariff program.

Creating a Plan With and For the Community

In states that allow community choice energy, cities have been able to offer renewable electricity at the same price as the incumbent utility rate. This is because a community choice aggregation is publicly run and has no profit motive. A green tariff from the incumbent utility, in contrast, will cost more than the existing energy supply. Barker and Runkel both express their concern with imposing costs on those who are already struggling to pay their bills.

Whatever plan we put in place, we need to have structures in place to make sure that people who maybe can’t afford an increase in energy, or are already suffering right now because of the price of energy, aren’t impacted.

— Scott Runkel

One way to help those facing energy insecurity is to ‘weatherize’ and better insulate their homes. The federal government provides funding for energy efficiency upgrades and weatherization. To expand local weatherization programs, says Barker, Idaho will need to build a workforce. She is strategizing ways to increase access to job training.

Both Barker and Runkel’s advice to others is to engage the community. On getting started, Runkel says that it is okay to not know what comes next — just gather like-minded people and let leaders know that you care. Barker says to engage as many people as possible through stakeholder sessions, task forces, or other citizen groups.

The more people you can engage in the process… the better off you’ll be. And you’ll be amazed at how much individuals and organizations are willing to contribute towards your common or shared goals.

— Lynne Barker

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how towns and cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 34th episode of our special  Voices of 100%series, and episode 151 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: iStock

Facebooktwitterredditmail
Follow Maria McCoy:
Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.