How Cities Can Make the Most of IRA Dollars — Episode 168 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 12 Oct 2022 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Federal lawmakers are getting all the credit, but the real work of the Inflation Reduction Act will be done by federal agencies, private entities, and state and local governments.

For this episode of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell is joined by Amy Turner, Senior Fellow with the Cities Climate Law Initiative at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. They discuss how cities can use Inflation Reduction Act dollars to advance local goals — and should help their residents do the same.

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

Amy Turner: I think we’re in a period of continually learning and appreciating new things about this piece of legislation. So I think that local policy makers should continue reading as much as they can about this law and understand that the guidance may sort of change over time as lawyers, policy makers, technical experts start to understand more and more the potential of this piece of legislation.
John Farrell: When the federal government passed the Inflation Reduction Act in August, 2022, it unleashed a litany of clean energy resources for consumers, states, tribal nations and more. While they were largely unmentioned in the legislation, cities can play an important role in reaching the full potential of the law to reduce energy bill burdens and pollution. Amy Turner, Senior Fellow with the Cities Climate Law Initiative at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, joined me in September 2022 to explain. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is Local Energy Rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy.

Amy, thank you so much for joining me for Local Energy Rules.

Amy Turner: Thank you for having me.
John Farrell: Well, I’d love to start off as I do with a lot of our guests and just ask you what got you motivated to work in this particular area? What motivated you work on clean energy and climate, or, in particular, what has motivated you to focus on cities?
Amy Turner: Well, I spent a long time practicing environmental law at a national law firm and I always just really wanted to work on problems that were closer to home. I think what cities and in particular what communities, what residents within cities do on climate is really some of the most exciting and ambitious climate policy out there. Local governments and communities really understand what’s at stake when it comes to climate change and they have really fascinating policy solutions. One of the quotes that I always keep in mind when I do this work is a quote by Justice Brandeis, a former Supreme Court Justice. He used to talk about how states are laboratories of democracy, so areas in which different kinds of policies can be tried and experimented with and we can sort of see policies jump from one place to another. And I think that’s even more true with respect to cities and is really something that we see in the climate space.
John Farrell: Well, anybody who quotes Brandeis on our podcasts already gets a gold star cause we at ILSR are big fan of his kind of broad idea.
Amy Turner: Well, you invited a lawyer so… <laugh>.
John Farrell: Well, thank you so much for that. I just love to hear kind of like what that interest is and it fits in so nicely with the long time focus that we’ve had on this podcast. We had a whole series that we did called Voices of 100 Percent, where we looked at cities that had made commitments to get to a hundred percent clean energy. Maybe it was clean electricity, sometimes it was an net zero policy. It was a really interesting mix of commitments that they made. And one of the things that we found so often for cities is that the political promises got out a little bit ahead of where the implementation was, which is fine, it’s good to be aspirational, but then a lot of them ran immediately into the issue of, well we don’t really have that much control over that sector.

We don’t run our own utility potentially we don’t have a lot of leverage in that space. Maybe we weren’t thinking about what kind of resources would be available. But the federal government just passed some big legislation that is gonna be offering resources and opportunities across a whole range of clean energy and climate related stuff. And what caught my eye, I think it was on Twitter where I first saw it was your blog post that was talking about what does it mean for cities? What does this inflation reduction act mean for cities? And you mentioned a number of different ways in which there are gonna be resources available to cities, opportunities available to cities. That seems really exciting. And so given that hopefully some of our podcast listeners or folks I know a few of them who are like sustainability officers in cities or elected officials who are really interested in thinking about what can my city do. This seemed like a great opportunity to bring you on and have you talk a little bit about it. So, I don’t know, what’s the most exciting thing? What was like the thing that really jumped at you the most, maybe, about what was in the Inflation Reduction Act that you thought, oh, cities are really gonna be able to take advantage of this?

Amy Turner: Well, I think one basic thing to keep in mind about the Inflation Reduction Act or the IRA is that while it is a triumph of federal climate policy making, the law doesn’t do a whole lot in and of itself. It appropriates money for others to do things on climate. So federal agencies, state and local governments, private entities, these are the players that are going to actually be implementing the Inflation Reduction Act. There’s a huge role for local governments to play in achieving the emissions reductions that are contemplated by the Inflation Reduction Act. So as much as this is a federal level law, it is very much a local policy tool. I think there are some really exciting direct funding opportunities for local governments in the IRA. There are also a whole bunch of other ways in which local governments sort of make the best of the inflation reduction act by thinking strategically about how to navigate it.
John Farrell: Amy, could you talk a little bit about knowing that so much of the resources in the Inflation Reduction Act are kind of in the hands of other entities? Like you said, that the law itself doesn’t direct a lot of the work, but it delegates that responsibility in other places. For example, one of the things that you wrote about was that cities could, local governments could draw direct financial support through federal agencies. Could you talk a little bit about like how that’s going to happen? So there presumably needs to be some like rule making and such that’s gonna govern how those dollars are gonna go out, but what’s, what are the steps that are gonna take place here after the passage of the legislation and then how could cities tap into some of those resources?
Amy Turner: Unfortunately we don’t know a whole lot at this point. Each of the agencies, which the money is appropriated under the law itself, will have to develop the programs through which they will then disperse the funding. So in some instances we might see a rule making from an agency like EPA or DOE. In other instances we might see a solicitation for applications or funding proposals. There are a handful of provisions where the relevant agency has a deadline of, you know, the year, three quarters of a year to actually put out that information. There are many other provisions in the IRA in which there is no such deadline. So we are really waiting on the agencies to put out some sort of guidance to help local governments and others who are eligible for the funding understand how they can actually apply to receive it.
John Farrell: I think you did have a list, if I recall, of some of the possible uses of those funds. Can you talk a little bit about, once cities know a little more about the process, which we’re waiting to find out, some of the things they might be able to use those funds for once those programs are established?
Amy Turner: There are a number of programs. There’s a $5 billion program for climate pollution reduction grants. So these are grants that local governments among others can apply for specific projects to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. There’s money to cover the incremental costs of zero emission heavy duty vehicles. So if a local government wanted to switch out its school buses or other large vehicles and its fleet, this money could be used to cover the incremental costs associated with doing that. There’s funding for coastal resiliency in coastal communities, funding for transportation planning, funding for advanced building energy code adoption for local governments that have authority to adopt advanced codes. And then there are some more complicated pots of funding. There are environmental and climate justice block grants. Local governments are eligible to apply for funding from those block grants if they do it with a community partner. And there’s also a greenhouse gas reduction fund pot of money. This is the so-called green bank. And at this point we do not have a lot of visibility into how the green bank will work. Specifically we know that much of the money is designed to leverage private capital, but we don’t really know where exactly the money will go or who will play the role of Green Bank, whether it will be one green bank or many green banks. And there’s quite a number of details to be ironed out there, but that’s also a pot of funding that local governments would ostensibly be eligible for.
John Farrell: The breadth of possibilities here is really quite incredible. I have to say, as soon as you mentioned coastal resiliency, I’m thinking, boy, those communities on the Gulf Coast of Florida, you know, two or three weeks from now when there may be past this initial threat from the hurricane and this might be a good thing to be, keep the tabs on in terms of the development there. Cause could have a really direct benefit for them in terms of the impacts of climate change.
Amy Turner: Absolutely.
John Farrell: Another pot of money that is coming down are some of these like direct to consumer tax credits. So for things like heat pumps or vehicles, those monies aren’t gonna flow through cities. Can you talk a little bit about how cities could take advantage or leverage those in the work that they’re doing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or to accelerate clean energy adoption?
Amy Turner: Yeah, so you’re completely right. There are significant individual facing incentives for things like building electrification and energy efficiency for electric vehicles for distributed solar generation and geothermal. These are obviously not, for the most part, pots of money that local governments are eligible for. But obviously the more residents within a community that take advantage of some of these incentives, the better it is for the community as a whole. Right? Greenhouse gas pollution goes down, local air pollution goes down and so it’s going to be incumbent on local governments to help their residents understand what incentives are available to them. But it’s going to be complicated. The stuff is complicated. There are tax credits for vehicles and there’s tax credits for distributed solar generation and geothermal. There are going to be rebate programs for home electrification and home energy efficiency. Those programs will actually flow through state energy offices.

So that actually adds another layer of complexity here. The local government can both advocate to the state to make sure that it’s putting together a strong rebate program when it applies for the funding from the federal government. And then it can also educate residents, building owners, homeowners, renters about how some of these programs can be used to help improve the building stock within the community. There are a number of good resources beginning to emerge about the breadth of incentives that are out there for individuals. Rewiring America has done some good stuff, Evergreen Action has done some good stuff. I hope that we’ll continue to see very user-friendly manuals for some of these incentives that local governments can use to help spread the word among their residents.

John Farrell: You mentioned about the environmental and climate justice block grants that those are some funds that would be accessible to cities if they have community partners. Are there potential partners or collaborations for cities that might make it easier for them in terms of how they would get access to these? I’m just thinking there’s so many different levels here, right? There are the things going to consumers, like you said, there’s stuff that is going to flow through state energy offices. There are gonna be programs that presumably local governments can apply to themselves and reminds me of with Obamacare, right? There were these navigators basically that the federal government helped to facilitate or even private businesses to help people understand. Are there folks that you’ve seen in that space already or folks that you think are gonna be trying to fulfill that need as we’re looking at implementation of the inflation reduction Act?
Amy Turner: I have to imagine that we’ll see some of that. It’s not my particular area of expertise sort of who works in those spaces, but we’ve certainly seen consultants and others sort of emerge to help local governments and businesses navigate some of the other larger pieces of legislation that we’ve seen over the last 15 or so years. And I have to imagine that’ll happen again here.
John Farrell: I think you already mentioned this in terms of state energy offices, I’m actually not super familiar, you know, I focus a lot on the local level, but state energy offices, what is their scope of the things that they work on now? Like how is this the Inflation Reduction Act resources gonna fit in with kind of the portfolio that they might have now? And then I think we were saying that local governments don’t have to just wait to see what happens at the state level. They can actually advocate now to say, hey, here are some things that we think you should be doing in terms of the design of the rebate programs and the other programs that are related to the IRA.
Amy Turner: Well they can try for sure <laugh>, I’m not sure how successful some of them will be, but so state energy offices are required by the Federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act and they basically carry out some of the federal energy efficiency programs at the state level. So they are specifically tasked here with administering the homes and the HEERA rebate programs. Those are the individual facing home electrification and energy efficiency rebate programs. This is a formula grant, meaning that the amount that each state receives is already determined by a formula. It’s not going to be competitive, but the state energy office still has to put together the program to administer these rebates and then apply for that funding. So there are going to be states where the energy office is all over it, they put together a strong program and apply for that funding as soon as they’re able to, There may be other states that drag their heels to some extent. And so putting the pressure on those state governments really making the point that they’re leaving money on the table by not pursuing these programs as quickly and as forcefully as they can could be a helpful thing.
John Farrell: Is this just, I have no idea if this is an area of your expertise, but I just wanna ask cuz I’m curious, do you know if the formula grants here that would go to state energy offices is this had the potential to be anything like I think there was money at one point from the federal government for like transit under the Obama administration or like the expansion of Medicaid. In some cases it became sort of a political football and there were people burnishing their political credentials by saying we refused that federal money. It seems like a lot of this stuff though is gonna save people money, so it would be really dumb to do that. But on the other hand, I’ve been amazed at what kind of things people will do for politics. Do you anticipate there being any kind of backlash against these kinds of funds or do you just sort of like more or less enthusiasm as opposed to actual backlash?
Amy Turner: <laugh>, you’re making me a bit nervous over here. I’m not a political scientist. I don’t know what will happen. I have read some kind of funny clips from Democrats saying that their Republican colleagues didn’t particularly like the infrastructure bill, but they’re happy to have the funding. Perhaps that’ll happen again here. But you know, I’m that’s, I’m not a political scientist. I won’t make predictions.
John Farrell: Oh but you’re on Twitter and we all can spend time on there about things that we know nothing about. That’s the beauty of the platform.

I appreciate your conservative nature and not making predictions that you’re not confident in. One of the things that is also in the legislation I thought was really interesting had to do with benefits that can apply to utilities and in particular utilities that are not taxable. So municipal utilities, rural electric cooperatives, there’s over 2000 municipal utilities, I can’t remember the number of electric cooperatives, but they serve, you know, like one in three Americans. What’s different for them? How does this help those utilities in terms of clean energy?

Amy Turner: Yeah, so this could be particularly interesting, especially for local governments that have municipal utilities. So in the past when the federal government has offered tax incentives for renewable energy development or other things that it would like to incentivize development of, it’s a tax credit. Meaning that it’s only good if the person claiming the tax credit has a tax liability. Local governments, nonprofit, municipally owned utilities do not have a federal tax liability and therefore a tax credit is not valuable to them. What’s different about the IRA is that there’s a direct payment option, meaning that non tax paying entities, rather than forgoing the tax credit or trying to do some sort of complicated financial maneuver to transfer the tax credit to someone else, they can take that money as a direct payment. So it makes the incentive much more valuable to non-tax payment entities. I think that could be a game changer for municipal utilities who have perhaps not had the economics work out for them to develop renewable energy resources. It’s possible, although probably far more complicated for local governments without municipal utilities to also take advantage of this direct payment option if they were to participate in developing a wind farm for example. So that’s basically the difference is that local governments among other tax paying, non-tax paying entities can take what would otherwise be a tax credit as a direct lump sum payment.
John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask Amy about whether local governments can take advantage of the direct pay provisions for the solar tax credits, how the law can benefit communities living near polluting ports, and some of the numerous other resources of the Sabin Center. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules podcast with Amy Turner, senior fellow at the Cities Climate Law Initiative at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

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John Farrell: I remember we did a report like a decade ago on how some local governments were trying to sort of lead by example with solar on municipal buildings. Is there like any kind of scale limitation? Could a local government, for example, now be able to take a tax credit on solar on municipal buildings? Or is it really more directed at utilities and not at local governments?
Amy Turner: I’m gonna defer on that question. I’m not totally sure. There are, I think a few places in the law where local governments could take advantage of tax credits for upgrades to their municipally buildings. For example, there’s a commercial building retrofit tax credit in the IRA that local governments can transfer to the developer since they don’t have tax liability themselves or to the contractor. And I think there are ways for local governments to tap into this renewable energy tax credit regime. I just, I’m not a tax lawyer and I’m, I’m not exactly sure of those pieces will fit together.
John Farrell: That’s interesting. I know there is, one of the things that we’ve been following was this issue of, I guess they call it transferability and maybe this is kind of what you were getting at there, but for some community based or nonprofit entities getting the investment tax credit, um, so we’re not talking here now about cities per se or even municipal utilities, but just even nonprofit entities that previously couldn’t get the tax credit. I imagine that that transferability provision could be used by a local government even if they can’t use the direct pay option that’s been targeted at utilities.
Amy Turner: That’s right. Basically there’s a lot more flexibility for how local governments and other non-tax paying entities can take advantage of the tax credits that are offered in the IRA. Some of that would be through direct payment, others might be through the transferability of that tax credit, which is now far easier to do than it would have been without these particular changes.
John Farrell: I’d like to ask you about a couple other things that you had in your blog post about the benefits and to me they sort of intersect. One was about this concept of energy communities and you reference earlier that there are funds targeting kind of marginalized communities. You also mentioned communities that have ports. A lot of the impacts of ports are often on marginalized communities that happen to live near them. So I’ll just throw both of them at you at the same time. Take a moment, whichever order you prefer. What are the benefits that the IRA is bringing here and how can cities tap into them?
Amy Turner: Yeah, so the IRA does a few things with respect to disadvantaged communities and that that term is not one that’s used necessarily super consistently across the IRA. But we’re talking generally about communities that are low or perhaps low and moderate income that have experienced significant impacts of climate change. In some instances, the IRA uses the term energy community, which describes the community in which there have been certain levels of unemployment or in which a coal plant or a coal mine has closed within the last certain number of years. So these are communities that have been impacted through the energy transition by both extraction and the transition. And there are a number of ways in which the IRA offers extra funding for these communities or for projects that take place in these communities. So there are enhanced tax credits for some projects that take place in either disadvantaged communities or energy communities.

There’s, as you mentioned, specific funding for port decarbonization and of course ports are quite industrial places and folks who live near them are heavily impacted by local air pollutions are often disadvantaged communities. It’s really quite complicated the way some of these things are woven in throughout the IRA. In some places there are buckets of funding within an appropriation that is set aside specifically for disadvantaged communities. So there might be X large amount for a certain kind of appropriation in total and then a certain amount of that can be used for any community of any kind and a certain amount of it can only be used in a disadvantaged community or whatever other parameters have been put around that funding. There are also income limitations for some of the individual facing incentives. If you make more than a certain amount, you can’t qualify for an EV credit, you can’t qualify for the home electrification or home energy efficiency rebates.

So there are ways in which many of these programs are targeted specifically at low and moderate income people, even if they’re not specifically targeted at disadvantaged communities. You could talk to others about how well the priorities of disadvantaged communities are reflected in the IRA. Certainly there have been a number of analyses that suggest that the spending on disadvantaged communities within the IRA is not anywhere near the 40% threshold that President Biden set in his Justice 40 commitment. But there are complicated ways in which various enhanced financial incentives, enhanced tax credits, increased rebates kind of, and specific pots of funding the interplay with disadvantaged communities throughout the law.

John Farrell: Given how Senator Manchin interfaced with a lot of the negotiations around the climate bill, I wouldn’t be surprised if he took any number that Biden provided him, whether it was $1 trillion on the original proposal or Justice 40 and he just cut it in half. So now it’s just 20.

I am actually kind of fascinated by what you said in terms of like the inconsistency across the law. Do you think it is something where it’s going to just simply add complexity in terms of, hey, maybe a local government figures out different programs that it wants to support and now they have to do a little more legwork figuring out, okay, well the income qualification in this program is kind of what they mean by a disadvantaged community in this program. It’s actually more about proximity to a polluting source or a closed energy facility. Are there any ways in which it could potentially create legal problems for cities trying to do implementation? Or is it really just more that it’s complex because the definitions aren’t consistent and it’s gonna require a little more legwork to understand how different pots of money can be used?

Amy Turner: I think it’s more the latter. It’ll take a careful reading of any particular provision that you’re applying for money for to make sure that the project you’re proposing really does qualify under both the terms of the law and any additional rule making or guidance that comes from particular agency.
John Farrell: Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that either that you wrote about in there or things that you’ve learned since then where it’s like, oh you think this should be really helpful for folks who are focused on city level or local climate and clean energy work ought to know about?
Amy Turner: I think we’re in a period of continually learning and appreciating new things about this piece of legislation. So I think that local policy makers should continue reading as much as they can about this law and understand that the guidance may sort of change over time as lawyers policy makers, technical experts start to understand more and more the potential of this piece of legislation. And so it’s gonna be a little bit like, you know, building the plane while we’re flying it. We’re going to have to learn what is possible in this law and start putting together solid funding proposals under many of these appropriations. It’s gonna be a bit of an iterative process to figure out how to make the most of some of some of these provisions.

But a couple of things in particular, I think that the IRA can really be used as an advocacy tool in a couple of different ways. One is that if you have, let’s say state policy makers that are climate skeptics or unfriendly to ambitious climate action, you can point to specific ways that they’re leaving money on the table if they don’t pursue more ambitious action. For example, there’s money in the IRA specifically to help jurisdictions, states, tribes, local governments adopt the most advanced building energy codes. If a local government or if a state government doesn’t do that, they’re leaving that money on the table. And so I would hope to see local governments who would like to push their states to adopt these more advanced codes really use that sort of like, look at this funding that’s here for you if you do this kind of arguments. At the same time we’re talking about how it might be complex for a local policy maker to navigate some of these provisions of the IRA and make sure they’re complying and making the most of their opportunity.

Think about how much harder it is for an individual resident to navigate some of this stuff. And so local governments can really play a role in helping residents and businesses and community groups understand what funding is available to them and how to access it easily. So I think you can sort of use the inflation reduction act as a bit of a roadmap for, you know, going to others whether it’s residents or states or businesses or whoever it is and saying, look, here’s how we do this. Here’s where the money is. Let’s all band together and get this money out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our community.

John Farrell: Just outta curiosity, do cities, is there an opportunity to get money for that role of like playing navigator or communicating about the benefits or could you foresee that being a thing the city could ask for money for like through a competitive solicitation or a state energy office program?
Amy Turner: It’s possible. I’d have to read through it again. I mean the, the climate justice and environmental justice block grants are quite flexible. A local government would need to have a community group partner, but they can fund things like community air monitoring. Yeah, community air monitor monitoring and remediation investments in low income and zero emission technologies, urban heat island mitigation, extreme heat, reducing indoor air pollution, climate resilience and adaptation and facilitating engagement of disadvantaged communities in state and federal advisory groups. So all of those things, particularly the last one. But all of those things could involve some level of education, outreach, technical capacity building and that local governments with their partners could play a role in without sort of looking more closely at the text of all of the other pots of money for which local governments are eligible. I would think that there’s certainly room in many of them for local governments to play this outreach and education role.
John Farrell: One other question I wanted to ask you, I mean just because I came across you in a tweet and I’ve read so far only one thing that you’ve written. What else do you work on for the Cities Climate Law Initiative? How else are you helping cities navigate this?
Amy Turner: Yeah, so I help cities understand the legal frameworks within which their greenhouse gas reducing policies operate. So when you think about how our legal system works, we have 50 different states, which means that we have more than 50 sets of applicable law. And so what a city in California can do is not necessarily the same thing as what a city in Massachusetts can do. Two climate progressive states. But local governments have very different grants of authority from those states. And so I help local governments understand their legal authority and the legal restrictions and opportunities that apply to them in their specific jurisdiction as they are trying to advance climate policy. It’s actually really exciting. We haven’t had a whole lot in the way of positive enabling federal law to help local governments advance their climate policies in recent years. A lot of my work is around advising local governments on what state and federal laws might preempt the things they want to do, what might kind of slap them down and keep them from advancing this more ambitious policy. And so it’s been actually really fun for me to <laugh> to take a little bit of a different posture in, in this thought exercise of what positive things can the federal government do here? What opportunities are there for local governments when they’re navigating federal law?
John Farrell: Yeah, that’s terrific. Have you ever worked on, or been asked about, for example, city utility franchise agreements? That’s something that’s come up a lot in the work that I’ve done when cities are kind of asking like, what are the limits of the authority that we have? I see you nodding your head, which of course our podcast listeners can’t see. So I’d love to hear more about what you’ve learned in looking into that.
Amy Turner: Yeah, so <laugh> city utility franchise agreements are a fantastic example of how the applicable law really differs from place to place around the country. So state law can set parameters or what around what a franchise might say, but then individual municipalities have entered into all of these different agreements with their utilities that set in some cases terms about a whole lot of things that maybe seemed less consequential 20, 30, 50 years ago when they entered into these franchise agreements and yet are still law in the sense that they are a legally binding contract between the city and the utility. But yes, local governments are thinking a lot more about creative ways that they might perhaps use negotiation leverage when renegotiating a franchise if they have that opportunity available to them. Some local governments are locked into their franchise agreements for years to come. Others, you know, their franchises are coming up within the next five years or so. And so they may have an opportunity to bring the utility to the table.

I would say results have been pretty mixed. Certainly there have been a couple places in the country where the city tried to bring the utility to the table so to speak because the franchise was running out and they weren’t able to reach a new agreement. Eugene, Oregon comes to mind as sort of, you know, long ongoing saga. Others have been marginally more successful. So I think Minneapolis is sort of the prime example of a local government that brought its utility to the table and they didn’t put climate provisions into the franchise itself because of limitations of Minnesota state law, but they did get this side agreement through which the utility there has promised to do a whole bunch of things relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy. So it’s, it’s pretty early days and I think in terms of understanding the potential of franchise agreements, but it is very much a case by case. You’ve gotta actually pull out the franchise, read it, understand the state law that’s at play in the background to understand what the potential might be.

John Farrell: I think my favorite anecdote about franchises as I was working with somebody, I don’t remember where they were anymore, but you know, they were local activists had a number of other advocates were just interested in kind of what tools for leverage they had. I mentioned, hey, you know, I was actually involved in the Minneapolis franchise negotiation, it was part of the local group here that was pushing for more scrutiny of that document and they went to their city council member and their city council member was like, Well I asked around and nobody even knows where it is. We know we have one but we don’t, can’t find the copy of it. And so it’s just sort of like you said that thing of like it was sometimes these were signed a long time ago, none of the people who were involved in that signing even work in city government anymore. It’s gonna file cabinet somewhere in a hard drive somewhere, but really interesting the kind of results that you can get from them.
Amy Turner: Yeah, it’s totally crazy when you think about how consequential these agreements and how in some instances, like you said, the city of staff literally can’t, can’t find the piece of paper <laugh>. It’s pretty amazing.
John Farrell: Well great. I could probably nerd out for quite a long time asking you more about franchise agreements in particular, but to spare our listeners that, and maybe we’ll do a whole different podcast on it. Where are some of the resources that you talked about, the things that you’re doing to help cities understand the legal framework online, where can they go to learn more about it?
Amy Turner: Yes, so I wrote a blog post in the days following the Inflation Reduction Acts signing into law called Cities and the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s on the Sabin Center’s Climate Law blog. It really goes through six broad ways that local governments can navigate the IRA. We’ve talked about most of them, somewhat circuitously here. But you know, everything from direct funding opportunities to advocating at the state level to helping residents understand incentives. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network has taken some of the content in that blog post and really beefed it up with a lot more information on some of these individual incentive programs. So that’s a great resource for local government policy makers as well. There’s also a really nice new report from the Americas All In coalitions specifically about building decarbonization in the IRA. And of course buildings are an area where local governments have a lot of potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And so it can be particularly useful in that way.

And the last thing I would point out is there is the Harvard Environmental and Energy Law Project has put together a list of all of the environmental justice applicable provisions of the IRA. It’s kind of in a chart, so you, you’ve gotta kind of go back and find the provision, but it can help folks who are trying to understand what’s in the IRA for environmental justice. That’s a great place to start. And I guess just one more, I also recently read this fantastic report from the Justice Solutions Collective. It’s an analysis of the money in the IRA that will flow to disadvantaged communities. Really fascinating report that finds a far lower level of spending in the IRA for disadvantaged communities than has been commonly touted.

John Farrell: Well, Amy, thank you again so much for taking the time on a random email from a Twitter post about your blog post. It is so great to get this overview of how the IRA can be a resource for local governments. And so great to hear that instead of having to tell them ways that they are getting blocked by state and federal policy, that they’re getting a lift for a change.
Amy Turner: Exactly. Well, thank you for having me. This has been a really fun conversation.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Local Energy Rules discussing the role of cities and tapping the benefits of the Federal Inflation Reduction Act with Amy Turner. On the show page, look for links to the many resources that Amy shared during our conversation, including her original article, The Urban Sustainability Directors Network Mini Guide on the IRA, the Harvard Electricity Law Projects Overview on Environmental Justice in the IRA, and more. On the website of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, you can also find our interactive community power toolkit that highlights ways cities can act to advance local renewable energy as well as many interviews with city leaders and our Voices of 100% series exploring how cities can reach their ambitious 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.


The Real Work of “Inflation Reduction” is Just Beginning

President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) on August 16, 2022. Though it does not hold everything advocates hoped for, it allocates a historic $369 billion dollars toward climate change mitigation and environmental justice. Still, many questions remain on how the funds will end up in the hands of those that need them.

While it is a triumph of federal climate policy making, the law doesn’t do a whole lot in and of itself… federal agencies, state and local governments, private entities, these are the players that are going to actually be implementing the Inflation Reduction Act.

Local governments can help individuals and groups understand the law. They can also apply for some funding themselves.

Opportunities for Cities in the Inflation Reduction Act

Amy Turner wrote a blog on Cities and the Inflation Reduction Act for the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. She lists seven opportunities for cities to secure IRA dollars: climate pollution reduction, zero emission large vehicles, coastal resilience, transportation planning, building energy code adoption (for cities in eligible states), block grants, and the greenhouse gas reduction fund (green bank).

There are enhanced tax credits and additional funds for ports, low-income communities, and those who face the disproportionate effects of climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

Along with reading her August blog post, Turner recommends several resources for more detail:

Local policy makers should continue reading as much as they can about this law and understand that the guidance may change over time as lawyers, policy makers, technical experts start to understand more and more.

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 168th episode 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 For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

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Maria McCoy

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