Voices of 100%: Louisville’s Clean Energy Pledge Takes On Multiple Crises — Episode 117 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 18 Nov 2020 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Where do local climate and clean energy goals lie in the priority list, when the COVID-19 induced economic crisis and the crisis of racial inequality are so pressing?

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Brandon Coan and Gretchen Milliken. Coan, who helped draft Louisville’s 100% renewable resolution, is a Metro Councilman for the region and Milliken is Director of Advanced Planning and Sustainability. The three met virtually in October to discuss Louisville’s plan for a 100% renewable energy future and how the city’s goal intersects with the fight for racial justice.

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

Brandon CoanObviously, anytime you talk about a, a transformation, like 100% clean energy, community-wide even over the course of 20 years, you know, that obviously is a radically different future than we have now. And something that naturally raises questions from people who support this kind of thing, especially to people who were opposed to this kind of situation and have questions about cost or fears about the future or any other kind of vested interest. In,
John FarrellIn February 2020, the Metro Council of Louisville, Kentucky adopted a pledge to power city buildings with 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and to reach the same goal city-wide by 2040. Getting started on the goal has been challenging in the aftermath of the police killing of Breonna Taylor and the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. In October, 2020, I was joined by Gretchen Milliken, director of advanced planning and sustainability and Brandon Coan, Metro Councilman, to discuss the efforts to get the plan moving amidst of a racial equity and public health crisis. I’m John Farrell, Director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and this is our special Voices of 100 series focused on local leaders and their pursuit of 100% renewable energy. It’s all part of Local Energy Rules, a bi-weekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy.

I feel like it would be odd to jump straight into a conversation about clean energy and Louisville without acknowledging that there’ve been some really momentous recent events – I’m from Minneapolis and George Floyd was killed just a couple of miles from where I live and from where I’m recording this podcast. And so I thought it might be nice to at least acknowledge of course, the death of Breonna Taylor and the fact that it’s generated, obviously, a lot of local and national conversation. There are probably some issues on the mind of many folks in your community about policing that are probably a higher priority, but obviously for a lot of communities, this issue of racial equity has been key to a lot of their a hundred percent renewable energy work as well. And so I guess I’m just curious maybe to start off by asking you, has Louisville had equity as part of its frame around its one hundred percent renewable electricity goal and might recent events have any impact on how you were thinking about that goal?

Gretchen MillikenEquity has been actually a huge part of our more recent planning efforts. And we just recently released a climate adaptation plan called Prepare Louisville and also a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. And both of those equity, inclusion, the issues with climate change and how certain populations are more effected. And this whole equity issue is very much highlighted throughout both of those documents. So this is something that we have before all this has coming down. It’s something that we’ve wanted to address, or we’ve been trying to address, especially around the environment about renewable energy, about the impacts of climate. It’s been very much in the forefront of our planning and how we are addressing the issue as well.

 

Brandon CoanYeah. And then again, as the author of the resolution, we were very intentional about writing in some value statements and some really specific policy goals around environmental and racial justice. In the state of Kentucky, energy and justice are intertwined issues. Whether you’re talking about Appalachia and a just transition for our coal communities to energy future, or whether you’re talking about environmental justice or environmental injustice and sort of a legacy of harmful developments and activities that have taken place in neglected and underserved areas. So if you actually look to the text of our resolution, which I know we’ll discuss at length later and broadly talks about our city’s renewable electricity and renewable energy goals over the next generation, it’s very specific about calling for underserved communities we brought into the political process to develop a more just equitable and sustainable energy systems and to facilitate more democratic ownership for everyone. And we also talk about developing programs that benefit low income residents and create more equity and energy use rates and jobs in the community and in a community like Louisville, that’s still largely segregated. Low income is a proxy for racial segregation as well. So that’s exactly what that means.
Gretchen MillikenI’ll just add, you know, I mean, we’ve been looking at from our redlining maps to our income maps, to where, as Brandon pointed out, you know, we’re a very segregated city – where our black populations are where our low income populations are. And the maps, you just put them on top of each other and they just mirror each other. And it’s no difference when we’ve done, you know, uh, a city-wide heat assessment map and where our hottest areas are, where our most polluted areas are, where climate change is affecting our community the most, where we have the lowest tree canopy, it’s all right on top of each other. I mean, you can see that the trend is across, you know, it’s very clear and we’ve been doing this for, you know, we’ve been looking at these maps for a number of years now, so we are working to address it. We’re we’re, you know, it’s not new. Breonna Taylor didn’t just bring it up like, Oh, you know, geez, we didn’t realize this. It’s just systemic and it takes time. And it’s about changing policies and codes and state legislation and, and all that kind of fun stuff.
Brandon CoanJust to put an exclamation point on it, I would really go so far as to say, and I think I wrote this in a newsletter to constituents, I really think that criminal justice reform and environmental justice are sort of the twin rails that our city needs to ride sort of into the future. So, I mean, they’re really inextricably linked and you make an, a thank you for asking it.
John FarrellYeah, I, you know, it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot in the past few months, because in, we’ve been sort of traveling this journey in our own program work, looking at racial injustice. And I ended up digging up some papers from when I purchased my house. It was sort of this abstract with the history of the property? And there, in one of these like innocuous paragraphs, that had an explicit covenant to not be sold to a nonwhite family, obviously it’s been invalidated by state law, but it just really struck me to realize like, Hey, I’m living in a home, that’s the legacy of racial injustice and that, you know, like you said, Gretchen maps of Minneapolis and many other cities really still reflect that in a lot of these environmental issues as well. So it’s really impressive that you were already been looking at that. Um, that’s not what I’ve heard from every city, frankly, in terms of their approach to these goals. Speaking of the goal, I think it would be helpful to just kind of put some specifics on that. I wanted to confess, first of all, that we have a Metro Council here in the twin cities, which is a regional government. So I got very confused at first, trying to make sure that I understood, like which governing body had passed your goal, but understand that it’s a merge city and County government between Jefferson County and Louisville. There’s now over 150 cities that have made some kind of Ready for 100 commitment. Could you explain the specific commitment, you know, is it electricity or other energy uses and what the timeline is that the city and County have committed to?
Brandon CoanYeah, I’ll take that since I authored the resolution. And you know, when I say I authored it, I ultimately put it together, but I have to first give so much credit to the advocacy community here in Louisville, a group called a Renewable Energy Alliance of Louisville, sort of a loose knit organization of citizens who truly deeply care about this and have been lobbying for an effort like this for years. And I worked with them to sort of rejigger some of their goals and some of our expectations and this sort of top line answer to your question is what are the, what are the, the, the big timeline goals for our community to make a difference in terms of the use of clean and renewable energy. And so broadly, they are 1. by the year 2030 to have 100% clean energy in our Metro government operations by the year 2035 to have 100% clean energy for our Metro government operations. And by the year 2040 to have 100% clean energy community wise. And so I don’t think I need to define clean and renewable electricity for anyone who’s listening to this show, but in our resolution, we talk about defining clean energy as encompassing electricity, transportation buildings, and food systems. And so I just want to basically explain the goals there. You can see the, what we did intentionally was to front-load the responsibility on metrics on the government ourselves. Obviously, anytime you talk about a, a transformation, like 100% clean energy, community-wide even over the course of 20 years, you know, that obviously is a radically different future than we have now. And something that naturally raises questions from people who support this kind of thing, especially to people who are opposed to this kind of situation and have questions about cost or fears about the future or any other kind of vested interest in not supporting this. So we really wanted to load the responsibility on Metro government as one of the biggest energy consumers and biggest energy users in Louisville Jefferson County. And also because we think we have the ability to set an example better than any other entity in our community. And obviously we certainly welcome any other community partner, school systems, universities, large businesses, that want to come along with the ride for us, but we looked, we decided it was most important to look inward and start with ourselves because also that’s what we can control the most.
John FarrellIt sounds like the city quickly announced an audit of municipal energy use, is kind of getting right at what you said in terms of a next step, I also appreciate that the resolution was adopted shortly before the coronavirus epidemic hit. There’s been a lot on the plates of municipal governments. Have there been any other kind of formal steps established at this point? You know, other cities are doing these, for example, like studies, I think St. Louis has like an electricity options study. So they’re kind of looking at how are we going to get there around a hundred percent clean electricity, or is that still kind of a work in progress?
Gretchen MillikenI would say it’s, it’s a work in progress. We have a number of initiatives that kind of work hand in hand with this. One of those is hiring an energy manager and we went out with that job description about a month ago, and we’ve got a really robust applicant pool that we are currently reviewing. And so we haven’t currently had an energy manager before, we do believe that there’s a tremendous amount of savings to be made and just energy efficiency with our buildings and getting everything pooled together. So just kind of immediate work that that energy manager can do and saving us, not just money, but energy production and getting us much more efficient. And I think that’s kind of our first step is understanding what our energy usage actually is, where our issues are, where our problems are, before we even get into the kind of renewable piece of that as well. But then in, in terms of kind of more of the renewable things, we are dealing with a vertical utility company here in Louisville. So, um, we’re a bit limited as to what we can do, just, you know, right off the bat, we have looked into purchasing solar shares from LG&E, which is our utility company, offset some of our carbon emissions and that sort of thing. There’s another program that they have called a green tariff, which is really basically a sleeve PPA – power purchase agreement. And that is a new program for them. They’re just kind of going down the road with their first attempt at that green tariff with Dow Chemical and Toyota. And so we’re kind of waiting to see how that plays out and how that all works out, but that’s something that we’re, we’re researching and looking into. So those are kind of some of the things that we are doing as Brandon mentioned, the group that we’ve been working together that really helped pull this a hundred percent clean energy resolution together have also outlined a kind of implementation plan. And so that is something, Brandon, you can probably talk some more about as well, but something that we want to be working with them and with Metro council and how we can start the implementation piece.

We have, um, you know, just more on the boots on the ground, done a number of different initiatives for people. We have a cool roof program where we give roof rebates to people putting cool roofs on their houses. And on the whole equity side of that, we have put 70% of that funding in high heat districts, which has also, as I’ve said, it’s our low income, our black communities, our disadvantaged communities. So we’ve been trying to create these incentives and then also focusing those incentives so that they are really hitting the areas where we, where we need the most from impact. So we have a cool roof ,we’re trying to, um, we’re kind of in the works of pulling together a solar incentive program to present to Metro council for next fiscal year, which I think will be really helpful. And people just trying to put solar on their roofs and lower their energy costs and contribute to the, to the renewable movement. And so some of those smaller programs, I think that we can, we can get on, we have an EPAD program, which is basically like our local pace program, and that’s started off kind of slow, but it’s really kind of picked up speed. And we’re partnering with another company called Energize Kentucky. We’ve got a number of projects in the works. One of them is the La Quinta, that they’re putting both wind and solar on this La Quinta hotel. So…

Brandon CoanReally, where is that?

 

Gretchen MillikenIn the Anchorage of course. Oh yeah, no, they have high energy efficiency installation. And then they’ve got wind turbines and solar in the, on the hotel. So that’s kind of exciting. I think the more projects and examples you have in the community, the more houses you see with solar panels on them, it starts the movement. It gets people aware, people start looking at it differently. So that’s kind of the stuff that we can make tangible change on right away. And that’s what we’re also sending some of our energy on, or quite a bit of our energy on.
Brandon CoanYeah, I’ll comment on that briefly, but I want to just sort of go back and touch on what, on one thing Gretchen said, you sort of asked what we’re doing and her first answer was, well, you know, we’re hiring somebody to work on the problem. But I really want to underscore how important that is. Um, we’re hiring an energy manager for the first time in the city’s history and cities that have energy manager, somebody to wake up every day and focus relentlessly on making improvements and savings every day, is critically important. And the reason it’s so important here in Louisville is because I think that over the last 10 years, if we started to address issues of, you know, quote unquote sustainability, that was a big, that meant a lot of things to a lot of different people, including decision makers in this government. And so policies and programs were sort of scattered and unfocused I would say. You know, are we talking about our city’s bike share program? Are we talking about planting trees? Are we talking about buying from local farmers? All good and important things that we support and it certainly fall under a catchall umbrella of sustainability, but I think that shifting our focus to energy consumption and energy conservation and an energy first mindset and address these overall environmental issues is a really fundamental cultural and perspective shift that finally, I think puts us in the right place to be developing the right kinds of tools that we need to get there. So that’s really important. And then just to piggyback on what Gretchen said in terms of some of the implementation issues, one of the things that I’m just particularly interested in is conversion to all led lighting, both our, our streetlights on the city streets that not only are good for energy conservation, but that make the streets safer for traffic and for pedestrians and make you feel safer from crime or a fear of crime or any of that kind of thing. And to learn about really how much you can accomplish just by changing out your light systems is something that I think, something that an energy manager might take on as an early initiative that I think can have a lot of bang for its buck and connect with the community in a tangible way and get us off to a good start. So I’m hoping that’s where our new hire will spend a lot of his or her new time.
John FarrellYeah, that’s great. We have an interactive toolkit on our website where we’ve kind of documented some interesting stories from cities that have kind of started down this journey and LEDs are definitely one of those first places where you not only find a fairly big impact in terms of energy use, but energy savings that pay back in a very short period of time, which, you know, I think it’s great, like a confidence builder too. And like, Hey, some of these steps are not only like relatively straightforward, they also save money and kind of put us in a better position to identify new resources, to move forward.
John FarrellWe’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask if the utility Louisville Gas and Electric has plans to help the city toward its goal, if the city has plans for community engagement around the city strategy, and what advice Gretchen and Brandon have for other Kentucky cities. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules podcast interview with Brandon Coan and Gretchen Milliken about Louisville, Kentucky’s 100% renewable electricity goal brought to you by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

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John FarrellDefinitely great you’re hiring. I, you know, I, I’d never underplay that or underestimate that. Minneapolis actually hired someone in the past year who’s now focused on regulatory work. And so it’s interesting what you mentioned about LGE, I was going to ask you a question about that specifically, and maybe we can get into it a little bit more, but, you know, they were in a similar situation where they don’t own the utility. They don’t control what the utility does. It’s regulated at the state level. So they said, Hey, well, we’re going to have a person that represents the city in that forum so that when the city, you know, utility is they’re talking about its resource plan, we can raise the fact of, Hey, we’ve got this goal at the city level that we’re trying to meet. And we’d really like to see the utility talk in this forum about how it might get there. And I guess that’s one of the things I’m kind of curious about. You mentioned a couple of initiatives that the utility has in terms of renewable energy. I did look at their most recent resource plan. It doesn’t seem like renewable energy is a high priority for them, at least not compared to some other utilities across the country that are making fairly big promises. Were there any, like direct talks with the utility as you were developing your plan, uh, or any plans to have that kind of thing or other conversations that are anticipated?
Brandon CoanYeah, this is coal country. I mean, Kentucky and Minnesota are different in terms of our natural resources and our historic historical economies there. I think the resolution reflects that something like 99% of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, 80 to 90% of it’s still from coal and only 1% from renewables. So our local utility is a good partner on a lot of things, but you know, they’re not predisposed to work on renewables. One of the main issues, and it’s interesting that you said that Minneapolis has hired a sort of a regulatory person as part of your effort. Here in the city government does have a County Attorney’s office that helps negotiate things like new electricity tariffs with the electricity company or with the utilities and with the state’s public service commission. And that’s where we sort of have an opportunity to negotiate some of the things that we want to see in terms of public good.

The city also does from time to time employ a lobbyist who does some work for us in Washington or Frankfort on various issues that we’re working on, but we recognize, and the resolution recognizes, that regulatory is an important part of what we need in order to accomplish our goal to the things we call on, particularly in that resolution, besides just having the city’s climate action plan to sort of support our, our goals and to develop a roadmap for us is to call for changes to the state building code. Building codes are state law. They’re not city law. And so we want all new construction to require, you know, energy efficiency, conservation, renewable energy applications, that sort of thing. That’s something we can only accomplish at the state level. And then really probably the most important is that the resolution supports the opening of free market pricing for electrical generation and the guarantee of total cost access to the electrical grid. And so that’s another way of saying, we want to break up the monopoly of LG&E’s electricity generation. We understand that it makes sense for a utility to have a monopoly control over the distribution of electricity, but that without democratizing the ability to generate energy, we’re not going to reach our goals. And like so many of our neighboring States and other States across the country have that. So in a state like Kentucky, that is a tough political thing to accomplish. It’s, I’m optimistic, it’s easier in the year 2020 and 2021 and 2025 than it was in 1980 or 1981 or 1985. But there are certainly, there are certainly a ton of work to do in order for us to achieve our big goals in that respect.

Gretchen MillikenYeah. I think, I think Brandon pretty much addressed most of your things, just for some sort of facts. Louisville’s energy mix consists of 60% coal generation, 37% gas generation, and 3% hydro. Our solar or is so little that it doesn’t even show up. It would be included in that hydro generation. It’s point something percent.
Brandon CoanYeah, sorry if I got that, sorry if I got that wrong. I think my numbers were from a few years ago, and obviously your statistics reflect the rise of natural gas, but it I’ll at least sort of stick by my story that underscores the legacy of coal here is to sort of paint a broad political background.
John FarrellYeah. And I know it’s been interesting. We actually just released a new report called Energy Self-Reliance States where we look at the renewable energy resources within each state. And I remember, it is an update that to an edition that we had initially published 10 years ago, and renewables were harder to do 10 years ago. The technology wasn’t as much there, the cost profile was a lot different. It’s one of the things that we’ve heard from some communities as we’ve done interviews is, is that they’ve had a long time interest in renewable energy, but it wasn’t competitive necessarily. And obviously the way that the cost have flipped really opens a new conversation, I think, and even what you said about competition is that, you know, when there’s really nothing else to buy, competition doesn’t seem very interesting. But now that there really is something else out there folks could shop for, it does change this, that conversation in a, in a meaningful way.
Gretchen MillikenI mean, and, and, and to that point, think, you know, we were pretty committed. We really would like to have our renewables. If, you know, in going through a hundred percent, we would really like to have our renewables local. We could go and buy wind power in Wisconsin, or, you know, other States, and get those, um, those RECs and call ourselves a hundred percent renewable. But for Louisville, it’s really important with our air quality, with our heat island effect, with where we are as a, as a city and as a state in our dependency on coal, we would really like to make the impact locally. It’s not just about the numbers and looking good on paper.
Brandon CoanYes. I agree. A hundred percent.
John FarrellLet me talk to you a little bit about kind of the process that you’re going to go through here in pursuing this goal. In St. Louis and some similar cities, there have been some official like advisory groups of citizens and advocates either like helping them, they are doing this studies or just helping through the decision making process. You mentioned this Renewable Energy Alliance that was very involved in the creation of the resolution that the city continues to consult with. Do you have like an official community advisory group that is working with the city on the goal, or like, or would be part of a formal study at some point of how the city is going to get to its renewable energy goals?
Gretchen MillikenAs I said, this is this, I mean, we passed this resolution in, in February, 2020 right before COVID. So where this might’ve been something that we would have dove into with a lot more energy and enthusiasm, we’re not, by any chance putting it on the back burner. We’ve just been a little bit preoccupied with COVID and racial justice of late. And again, those are interwoven. And so, as I said, it’s not on the back burner Key, as we said, is, is getting the energy manager on board. And then I think, and part of that plan too, is having some sort of steering committee or group that is responsible for and helping to implement this plan and getting us on track. I think that would be, once we have the energy manager on board, that would be kind of one of our next steps and then really kind of laying out a plan of how we are going to get from where we are now to these goals. Pretty, you know, aggressive goals in 2030, 2035 and 2040.
Brandon CoanAnd, uh, and I will just add that, you know, whether there’s a formal bilateral relationship with any one group or not, the city of Louisville has for years and years had a number of very active, very hardworking and influential grassroots groups ranging from the real group. I mentioned to local chapters of the Sierra Club. We have a group called the Louisville Sustainability Council who just celebrated, I think their 10th anniversary earlier this year and has taken on a real leadership role on sustainability issues broadly, but including energy. So, um, you know, I think Louisville is the kind of community where we want to create opportunities for all of those groups and people to be part of, sort of the process going forward.
John FarrellSo far, Louisville is the only Kentucky city that’s made a 100% commitment. What advice might you offer to other cities in Kentucky considering to make a similar pledge or thinking about the steps that they would need to take in order to meet it?
Gretchen MillikenI mean, it would be great if we had every sort of large city in Kentucky on board and making this pledge as well, because I think now LG&E is not the energy provider for all of Kentucky. So each city in Kentucky has their own issues and relationship with LG&E or KU or another utility provider. So, so it’s very different. You can’t just kind of look at the state as a whole, but it’s something that we would very much encourage. As Brandon said, we are a coal state. There are still, especially in Eastern Kentucky, a lot of support for coal and reluctance to disinvest from coal, just because that has been the economic driver in a lot of these communities. It’s a political question as well, but it’s something we would welcome and we would very much want to work with other partners, whether it’s Lexington or Owensboro or Paducah or whoever.
Brandon CoanI think naturally Lexington would be the natural next partner for us. And that’s something, I actually am leaving office at the end of the year, 2020, but I’ve been active in the city of Lexington before, too. That’s where I went to law school and I have friends there and I’ve done some other work with their city government. So I’m going to add that to my to-do list in terms of having some discussions with the city of Lexington, there’s a natural partner, I say, because they’re the city second largest, the state’s second largest city. Uh, there’s a real drop-off in terms of Metro areas after between Louisville and Lexington, then Lexington and the next largest city. It’s also where the University of Kentucky, the state’s land grant institution is based. And as Gretchen mentioned, she said, KU, that’s Kentucky utilities. It’s the, it’s another subsidiary of the same multinational energy company that owns Louisville – LG&E, our local utility company. So it obviously makes sense to have some, to share some goals in terms of negotiating with the joint LG&E, KU entity.
John FarrellWell, Brandon and Gretchen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about Louisville, its goals around a hundred percent clean energy and your advice for the community. So really appreciate it.
Gretchen MillikenNo problem
Brandon CoanThanks so much.
John FarrellThank you so much for listening to this episode of our Voices of 100% podcast series with Metro Councilman Brandon Coan and Louisville Director of Advanced Planning and Sustainability Gretchen Millikan recorded in October, 2020. On the show page, look for links to the city’s 100% resolution and the current energy mix of its fossil fuel reliant utility, Louisville Gas and Electric. To learn about other cities pursuing 100% renewable energy, check out over two dozen additional Voices of 100% interviews on the Local Energy Rules podcast, including leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, and Abita Springs, Louisiana. Look up the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign page to see more cities and their clean energy goals. Back on the website of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, you can also find the entire list of 100% cities on our community power map and click through an interactive community power toolkit for stories on how cities have advanced toward their 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.


How do Cities Handle Multiple Crises?

As communities rise up for racial justice and as coronavirus infection rates peak yet again, cities have a lot on their plates. Louisville, Ky., has been specifically targeted by demands for justice after the police killed Breonna Taylor in March. How do city leaders implement clean energy plans to mitigate climate change when additional crises are so urgent?

Brandon Coan and Gretchen Milliken hope their clean energy work in Louisville can also address inequality and injustice.

In the state of Kentucky, energy and justice are intertwined issues. Whether you’re talking about Appalachia and a just transition for our coal communities to the energy future, or whether you’re talking about environmental injustice and a legacy of harmful developments and activities that have taken place in neglected and underserved areas.

– Brandon Coan

Coan assures that all of the city’s planning, both in the resolution itself and the implementation plans, acknowledge and address the unequal impacts climate change has on marginalized communities. This includes the 2020 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan and the Prepare Louisville Climate Adaptation Plan (still in development). Both plans were released in April 2020.

We’re not, by any chance, putting it on the back burner. We’ve just been a little bit preoccupied with COVID and racial justice of late — and again, those are interwoven.

  – Gretchen Milliken

Louisville’s First Steps

Louisville’s 100% renewable energy resolution passed last February. Coan, who drafted the resolution, acknowledges the work that Renewable Energy Alliance of Louisville put into the initiative. The following are the targets set by the resolution:

  • 100% clean electricity in the Louisville Metro government by 2030
  • 100% clean energy in Louisville Metro government operations by 2035
  • 100% clean energy community wide by 2040

In summary, Coan hoped to “frontload the responsibility on the government,” since it is one of the biggest energy users and has the power to set an example.

We decided it was most important to look inward and start with ourselves, because also that’s what we can control the most.

– Brandon Coan

Though the implementation plan is still a work in progress, Louisville is already working to hire an energy manager. Milliken hopes that the person filling this role will map out the city’s energy use and find areas to reduce it with greater efficiency. Converting to LED streetlights, suggests Coan, are one potential way to reduce city energy consumption.

Supporting Renewable, Local, and Distributed Energy

Louisville plans to acquire renewable energy, but Milliken expects incumbent utility Louisville Gas & Electric (a subsidiary of a larger investor-owned energy corporation) to be a limiting factor. She is willing to purchase renewable energy credits or buy into a utility green tariff program, but ultimately hopes to stimulate local renewable energy development.

For Louisville, it’s really important with our air quality, with our heat island effect, with where we are as a city and as a state in our dependency on coal, we would really like to make the impact locally. It’s not just about the numbers and looking good on paper.

– Gretchen Milliken

Before the 100% resolution, Louisville had implemented some progressive clean energy and efficiency programs. Milliken describes the city’s cool roof rebate program, which has 70% of its funding allotted to homes in high heat districts. There is also an active PACE financing program through Energize Kentucky.

I think the more projects and examples you have in the community, the more houses you see with solar panels on them, it starts the movement. It gets people aware, people start looking at it differently”

– Gretchen Milliken


Find out more about PACE financing and the states that allow it in our Community Power Map.


The Lingering Legacy of Coal

Both Coan and Milliken describe Kentucky as “coal country” and the numbers support this characterization: 60 percent of Louisville’s electricity mix comes from coal. Another 37 percent comes from fossil gas, leaving only 3 percent of Louisville’s electricity to be sourced from renewable resources. Milliken says that the city’s renewable energy is almost entirely hydroelectric.

Because of coal’s traditional importance to the state’s economy and its current contribution to electricity power, Coan says that Louisville Gas & Electric is “not predisposed to work on renewables.” Still, Louisville often negotiates with the utility and the state public service commission and hopes to make progress with the utility.

We understand that it makes sense for a utility to have a monopoly control over the distribution of electricity, but that without democratizing the ability to generate energy, we’re not going to reach our goals.

– Brandon Coan

Action Beyond Louisville

The legacy of coal in Louisville makes for more work than many cities with 100% renewable goals, but leaders in Louisville seem determined to get it done — and even partner with other cities to achieve their goals as well.

It would be great if we had every sort of large city in Kentucky on board and making this pledge as well… it’s something we would welcome and we would very much want to work with other partners.

– Gretchen Milliken


Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how 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 26th episode of our special  Voices of 100% series, and episode 117 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: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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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.