Voices of 100%: Can Philadelphia and its Suburbs Revolutionize Their Local Energy System? — Episode 80 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

Date: 3 Jul 2019 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States, Podcast | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

What gives the suburbs of Philadelphia an edge over the central city in making commitments to 100% renewable energy?

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with Meenal Raval, a leader in the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Thanks to organizing from this campaign, 16 suburbs surrounding Philadelphia have made formal, community-wide commitments to transition to 100% renewable energy. Despite its revolutionary roots, however, the core city has not yet set a citywide commitment.

This conversation digs into what actions and policies are needed to implement local clean energy solutions that will help Philadelphia and communities in the larger metropolitan region gain independence from dirty energy and an incumbent, centralized utility model.

Listen to the full episode to learn how Philadelphia and its suburbs are taking action to support local, clean energy, and explore more highlights and resources, below — including a transcript and written summary of the conversation.

Meenal Raval: Having a commitment would mean there’s a shared understanding between the public and the elected rep that we no longer invest in fossil fuel projects.
Marie Donahue: What gives the suburbs of Philadelphia an edge over the central city in making commitments to 100% renewable energy? Meenal Raval is leading the Ready for 100 campaign in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where she and local organizers have secured 100% renewable energy commitments from 16 communities outside of Philadelphia. The core city itself is a holdout, however. Why hasn’t the city jumped on board? What’s special in the suburbs? And what tools have already been deployed to advance communities there toward cleaner energy? Meenal joins us for the latest episode in our Voices of 100% podcast series on communities that are making commitments to 100% renewable energy.

This is Local Energy Rules. A podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy.

John Farrell: Welcome to the program.
Meenal Raval: Hi John. Thank you. Excited to be here.
John Farrell: Well, I’m delighted to have you here. And uh, you know, I think one of the things that was most interesting to me about setting up our conversation is that, you know, we’ve done a lot of interviews for our local energy rules podcast for this voices of 100 series about communities that have already made 100% renewable energy commitments. Uh, but talk about Philadelphia is interesting because it has a goal of 100% renewable electricity just for the city government, not citywide so far. But on the other hand, there are 16 suburbs or other nearby communities that I can see on the Sierra Club’s ready for 100 map that already have 100% renewable energy commitment. So what is it that Haverford town for ship, for example, outside of Philadelphia, has that Philadelphia doesn’t, in terms of an interest in renewable energy?
Meenal Raval: Good question. First of all, Philadelphia doesn’t have a goal. They just have a plan for the municipal energy at that was developed by our office of sustainability. And I sent it because we have an office of sustainability with fulltime plan or is it energy experts that we haven’t passed a resolution. When we approached city council members, they often say, oh, well the office of sustainability has us colored. They’re on the job. Um, whereas people in the suburbs realized they don’t have such an office, they just have a township manager, um, that makes sure that, you know, the trash taken out in the police forces around, um, whatever. Um, and so each of them, they realize the folks in the suburbs realize that each of them needs to work with their neighbors to engage the township official. So that was a difference. Um, we also sense that our city council thinks that they’ve done enough in that we of setting goals.

I mean if they’ve set that they’re still in the Paris accord. Our mayor made an 80 by 50 pledge. He signed the mayors clean energy plus, um, these are all great things, but wait, they’re not quite that 100% renewable energy commitment we’re looking for because we don’t have buy in from city council to work on the transition. So the solutions are coming up with are piecemeal rather than from out seeing where we need to go [inaudible] the issue and make a bigger decision. Another reason is that the suburbs have, EAC is in our area, the environmental advisory committees, they’ve been around for decades and they’ve been working on things like recycling and shade trees. But the same committees are where the leadership is coming from. They’re poised to push for the renewable energy resolution and then once the resolution is passed, they’re working on the transition plan. So that’s the difference. And we need to get our mayor Kenney on board as Mayor Peduto has in Pittsburgh. He got reelected to the second term just because he, his legacy.

John Farrell: One of the things I thought was really interesting learning about some of your background, just the fact that you have an electric bike shop that you run in Philadelphia. I was just curious like how has that impacted your, uh, work around a hundred percent renewable? I mean, I just, I think that’s such a neat thing. I’ve been hearing more about electric bikes. It seems like a really interesting mobility tool. Now. How does that interface with the work that you’re doing? Around a hundred percent renewable energy pledges?
Meenal Raval: Uh, I mean like this, the bike shop, Philly electric wheel started 10 years ago now and we thought we could transformed up transportation scene in the city and we’ve been busy. We’ve had our successes, but I’m afraid it’s still a car centric city. So, um, I, I myself have switched to an electric car. Um, so I, but I realized that in an urban setting, a lot of folks talk along the curbs. So I’m focused on, um, pushes a curbside charging infrastructure and such and you know, electric buses rather than the diesel buses. Um, so yes, I’m still a bicycle advocates, but I think we’re not going to, we still need buses and cars too.
John Farrell: Another northern city resident here in Minneapolis. I’m sympathetic. We have a lot of people who bike and I admire them enormously and try to participate when I can, but I certainly can appreciate as certain weather conditions. That’s nice to have something in close to transit to travel in.
Meenal Raval: Yeah. So, so all of the above all the transportation mode but as long as their non polluting right. That’s what we need to promote, right?
John Farrell: Yes, exactly. So I went back to Philadelphia then, uh, and uh, and they’re ready for 100 work. Um, you know, the city has made one really big stride that was announced relatively recently, this contract to supply almost a quarter of the city governments electricity use from a 70 megawatt solar array. Do you feel like that provides a good example of how the city can get to it’s goal? And I mean, and I guess the other question I might have is, you mentioned earlier that there is, unlike in the suburbs, there’s a big office of sustainability and people have kind of said, oh well they’re taking care of things. Is this an indication as well? That’s Philly’s just gonna you know that the orientation is toward, well, let’s just do some incremental things rather than set a big audacious goal.
Meenal Raval: Everybody in the administration is very proud of this achievement. Basically, I’m, the city can produce electricity from the solar project for the same price that they currently pay for the default grid power. They were amazed that they could accomplish that. I just want to point out that this contract has yet to be signed. Meanwhile, the administration is planning on other contracts similar to this and the looping in other institutional partners like Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and our transit agency set that I think even Comcast are big. Um, you know, everybody knows who problem passes even. Comcast is a possibility. And another little tidbit is that the city’s energy office is switching their procurement, uh, from national RECs to local RECs — renewable energy credits. Um, and they’re slowly considering solar on city buildings, which is what a lot of folks asked when we heard about the offsite solar farm being proposed. Uh, but regrettably the libraries, recreation centers in playgrounds that are getting rebuilt at as part of a city wide initiative called rebuild Philadelphia, they aren’t being considered for solar, um, despite a new roof on many of them. So we haven’t quite cracked that one.
John Farrell: Do you have a sense, it’s curious to me that when you have this opportunity of replacing a roof, it’s such a natural time to consider. It is, it is part of it that the, you know, the groundwork wasn’t laid in terms of folks in the city being aware that solar would be a good opportunity or it wasn’t just integrated with what the city was planning to do. I had, I’m just curious what your perspective is on why the city wouldn’t seize that opportunity.
Meenal Raval: I think it wasn’t considered. Um, and we feel it ought to be cause cause those, um, those are the ideal places to have cooling centers when it’s extreme heat waves. People do flock to the pools, the playgrounds, the rec centers, the libraries. And so even as our own homes aren’t comfortable, we can go to these public places. So to us it’s a logical options when you already investing millions in, uh, in upgrading, you know, neighborhood buildings.
John Farrell: I wanted to ask you a little bit, not as specific about the buildings that I’m interested in coming back a little bit to some of these ways in which the city tend to at least try that you know already is take strides toward the 100% renewable energy goal. Um, one of the things I think is really interesting to talk about though is that the power purchase agreement, which you just, I appreciate you clarifying it hasn’t been signed yet, but this for this big solar array, uh, is an illustration of how unlike a lot of other states, Pennsylvania has a competitive electricity market. So you know, customers can actually choose their electric supplier. And I’m wondering if that, you feel like that’s something that makes it easier or more challenging for communities like Philadelphia or Haverford township or, or these others that are trying to work towards renewable energy goals to reach those goals.
Meenal Raval: From a customer choice perspective, it simply allows you to buy renewable energy credits. And as I see it, those are paper. Yes, they have a value on the market, but it doesn’t really make your electricity emissions free. That’s one technicality. But the other issue with electricity deregulation is, um, our utility can just shrug their shoulders and not feel obligated to any other renewable energy goals other than those set by the state. You know, with the public utility commission. That’s one issue. The good thing is that there is leadership up to increase our renewable energy portfolio. Um, there are about 19 states senators that are trying to increase our targets from 8% to 30% renewables by 2030. That’s the hopeful because that would get the utility to invest in large scale solar farms. There’s also, um, I’ll be able to transition the entire state to renewables. Um, I 20, 50 and there are six other states that have done that that you probably know about, began with Hawaii and California and most recently Nevada. So we’re excited about that bill because again, that will push the mandate down to the utilities and add to the cities saying you need to make the same commitment. So that’s the two signs of hope.
Marie Donahue: You’re listening to an interview with Meenal Raval, leader in Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Ready for 100 campaign, as part of our Voices of 100% series of Local Energy Rules.

Do you know any folks we should interview about 100 percent renewable energy commitments in their community? If so please send us an email at voicesof100@ilsr.org. That’s voices of one zero zero at I-L-S-R dot O-R-G. Stay tuned for the rest of this episode after a short message from our Energy Democracy initiative director John Farrell.

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John Farrell: You know you, you’ve mentioned RECs a couple of times. They’re noble energy credits and you know one in one case about how the city is changing. Its REC procurement instead of looking at the national market till looking local. Is that something that utilities are providing as well in terms of, you know, you have an option, so for say I am picking my electricity supplier, say I want to ask for all of that to come from renewable energy. Is there a way to say I want it to come from renewable energy in southeastern Pennsylvania. I want you to buy that locally? Or is that not generally a choice that customers have in the market?
Meenal Raval: I think it’s national or Pennsylvania. I don’t think it’s close to home.
John Farrell: So the, even though there was this competitive market, there’s not necessarily all of the choices that people might want to have.
Meenal Raval: Correct. And I think, uh, a concept called community solar may offer that Lindsay get that legislation passed where you could invest in a, a share of that solar farm somewhere. So there’s directly something that you can go look at, not just an obtuse things somewhere in Pennsylvania. So we’ll see about that.
John Farrell: So it sounds like you have a lot of bills going right now are what? When is the legislative session in Pennsylvania? Are these things being debated right now? They could pass this year or it’s sort of like these are prospective for the next year or two.
Meenal Raval: Uh, it’s being discussed right now. Like okay, I will having a lobby lobby day for the statewide bill next month.
John Farrell: Great. It’d be, I just thinking that, you know, we’ll have no doubt at some people who are listening to this who are in Pennsylvania might be interested in knowing, you know, how they can be involved in it.
Meenal Raval: I’ll be sharing links to the bills.
John Farrell: Oh, terrific. That would be wonderful. Yeah, and we’ll have those on the show page for the podcast where we also have a summary of our conversation. So you know, we are working with local campaigns to secure this a hundred percent renewable energy commitment is, I just want to back up for a second. You know, we’ve, Philadelphia is this one big beast in southeastern Pennsylvania. You’ve had success and you know, a dozen over a dozen communities already. What’s the motivation behind this? Like what, what is so important about a 100% renewable energy to be trying to get all these city level commitments, uh, to, to set that goal? Uh, you know, like you mentioned, you know, Philadelphia has other climate related commitments that it’s made. What is so important about this one in particular?
Meenal Raval: Well, it’s a positive approach rather than resisting something. So a lot it’s drawn a lot more volunteers than other projects have — people like the good vision around it. People have read enough about what the climate crisis is doing and they’re happy to like latch onto a solution. But we’re also dealing with the public health issue, especially being a fracking state. You need, we’ve seen firsthand, um, our water and our air get, you know, fouled by first by extraction, then my transportation and lastly by combustion. So people have finally made the connection and, and I think actually the suburbs is where the pipeline goes through. I think that could be one reason why they’ve woken up. Also. Um, Pennsylvania is a fracking state and fracked gas is being pushed as it’s benign. And as the cheapest energy option, we know it isn’t benign. Um, the other reason is, um, the times historically low is often used when talking about the price of frack gas.

When you hear historically, no, it sort of means it’s going to go up and some people are betting is going to go up and that is a public, it’s going to be left shouldering, you know, the cost of these investments we’ve made today in gas. So people are waking up to that and seeing the alternatives. Uh, we’ve also read enough reports that, you know, jobs or more jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency. So why don’t we grab that instead of dealing with air and water pollution. And in Philly, most of our grassroots energy spent resisting new fossil fuel projects. So having a commitment would mean there’s a shared understanding between the public and the elected rep that we no longer invest in fossil fuel projects. So that’s why I’m stepping up.

John Farrell: You know, I’m interested in what you said about gas. One of the things that I’ve seen in a lot of states and a lot of conversations about energy system transformation. We have a, in the Sierra Club has had a campaign called beyond call where it’s has been focused on closing coal plants and a lot of that has happened thanks to more competitive options both from renewables and from gas. Um, you know, we’ve in, and I’m just thinking of a specific example of Minnesota. Recently there was a big settlement between some environmental groups and the utility company over buying a gas plant. It’s an existing gas plant. It’s not a new one. Uh, but it’s part of this broader vision that the utility has said, oh, we’re going to be able to become a carbon free utility by 2050, uh, and have significant reductions by 2030. But it really is premised on this notion that gas is a significant lead, better greenhouse for from a greenhouse gas perspective, assembly, lower, uh, lower carbon emitter then call. And I think it’s interesting, you know, you’re in a state where the extraction happens in the transportation. You mentioned that pipeline. Um, do you have a lot of conversation about the fact that yes, when you burn gas as opposed to burning a lump of coal, less carbon emissions come out, but that it can leak along the way and that this methane is much potent greenhouse gas than uh, than the carbon dioxide.

That’s when it’s burned all the time. So many people repeat that at various testimonies and conversations and before people do the Union of concerned scientists page that explains the 86% more potent page. Um, it is, and yet I think our top officials still say gas is clean and we haven’t figured out how to, how to approach them. Um, there’s or not, there was a good discussion about our city owned utility called PGW or Philadelphia gas works and how to transform that into a post carbon utility or something. And, um, the cut the conversation led to not just the methane leaks during transportation, like out in the countryside, but also within the city from aging, um, distribution lines. And one suggestion was to disconnect a segment by segment off the line that, so anyway, that’s related to the initiative.

John Farrell: Yeah. So, you know, we’ve talked about some of the tools that you’ve got in the toolbox. And I think that’s interesting about the conversation of the city gas utility. You’ve got these power purchase agreements, you’ve got this conversation about renewable energy credits and the, and the city looking at buying them locally, which would drive local renewable energy investment. Hopefully, you know, what other tools, you know, other than like power purchase agreements, uh, you know, are, have you and others been thinking of for the city to pursue that would help them to reach or 100% renewable energy goal? And I, and I have, do you have strategies in particular that would help provide clean energy access to low income residents? Are Communities of color that have often really borne the brunt of fossil fuel energy pollution?
Meenal Raval: Right. So the power purchase agreement is one that a city or a larger organization basically commits to buying electricity for many years out and, uh, somebody else up finances. And does the installation with the city’s side would only, you know, would keep paying the monthly cost. So there’s a similar concept with community solar. I mean, um, it’s expected to pass in Pennsylvania this year. I hear his hospital five 31 with about 62 sponsors that, um, would allow residents to basically buy electricity for the same price or less than they currently do and still buy into the solar farm out there somewhere. So that is a sign of hope. Uh, I think it’s a 10% price discount. Um, one concern with community solar that it may or may not pass is that our electric utility may want to take away a net metering as part of the deal, which net metering is how people like me that have rooftop solar get credited for the electricity. We generally then don’t use on a sunny day. So we think we’re helping the grid by investing in this ourselves. So we don’t want that, but we do understand the need for community solar. So that’s going to be a battle to watch out for this summer, I think.
John Farrell: Yeah, it’s a, unfortunately a common thread. It seems like in terms of these negotiations, is, uh, you know, yes, we can win on getting people access through things like community solar and then, but in exchange the utilities looking for some other way to keep people out of the business of generating their own energy.
Meenal Raval: I think Nevada tried something like that and anyway, we have to fight our own site here and see where it ends up on other ways, um, to consider something called community choice aggregation where the, the municipality could have, um, basically one contract for everybody’s electric bill and that that could be helped with the transition. Um, San Diego has tried that I believe, and we’re working with a representative Howe and Stein on this. It hasn’t been introduced yet.
John Farrell: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting notion there that I just wanted to throw out there for folks who aren’t familiar with it, that this, you know, this one city contract has allowed some communities to get much more renewable energy than their, their default utility is providing. So, and, and even in, um, in east, in the East Bay area of California, in Oakland, they’re even focused really strongly on workforce development and, uh, and access to the, to the jobs in particularly the clean energy jobs that’ll be created. But I’m sorry I cut you off about some other things you were just wanted to bring up.
Meenal Raval: That’s fine. Other ways would be, um, actually take on energy efficiency on New York City. And we did that by demanding energy efficiency on all their large commercial buildings. And I learned that there’s a bill to be introduced in Philadelphia City Council to enforce energy efficiency on our largest buildings. It’ll be an expansion on our benchmarking effort. So if you have a large office building or a hospital or a college or schools, these are the kinds of buildings that have the most emissions and still could help tighten some of that. And I recently met an architect from Pittsburgh who said we can retrofit commercial buildings as well as residences to passive house standards. So I think that could have hoped this Philly has a lot of older buildings and um, if you could retro fit them with the, hardly use any energy while then we’ll need a lot less solar won’t.

So those are two hopeful, um, approaches. And I already talked about transportation, but I think many groups are asking for all the electric transit buses by 2050 and um, rapid deployment of curbside eve charging cause people would buy more electric cars if they knew how to charge them. And in a city you don’t have your own driveway or a garage. So we need the city’s help with curb side. The city is currently focusing, focused on the left to find their own fleet so that the public is like waiting for curbside chose. Right. Those are some ideas.

John Farrell: Have you found out of curiosity with the electric vehicle charging, are the electric utilities that serve customers in interested in partnering with the city or had seen us as though, uh, when, when possibility for them in terms of helping to deploy infrastructure to allow people to do electric vehicles, but then also getting to sell more electricity.
Meenal Raval: Oh, that is a great idea. And I believe our utility is interested in this, in the conversation with the city,
John Farrell: Meenal, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me this morning. I was just wanting to wrap up by asking you a, given all of the work that you’ve been doing in southeastern Pennsylvania with Philadelphia, some big cities, some small cities, what advice would you have for, for folks who were organizing in their community around 100% renewable energy, uh, to move forward? You know, what lessons have you learned that you think other folks could really benefit from?
Meenal Raval: Well, personally I would say persistence. Um, go to as many things as you can, speak for the climate at each one. Come prepared with examples from other places you can speak on whatever I’m calls to you, whether it was public health or clean energy or future generations. Keep at it up on the other side. Many elected officials already get it, but they need someone, they need the public to show them public support, to show them, you know, proof and examples saying it is possible and we will back you. Here’s the roadmap. And when you do that, um, many will take the ball and run with it. So here’s to that.
John Farrell: That’s great. Thank you so much. So, uh, as you mentioned before, we’ll make sure that some of the resources that you talked about, some of the legislation that’s going on in Pennsylvania and other things are up on the show page, but me and I’ll thank you so much for your work and for taking the time to talk with me today.
Meenal Raval: Thanks John.
John Farrell: Alright, take care.
Marie Donahue: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of our Voices of 100% series, where our host, John Farrell was speaking with Meenal Raval, organizer with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Ready for 100 campaign about their work getting communities to sign on to a 100% renewable energy future. You can hear about the successes and struggles fighting for local, clean energy in other cities in earlier podcast episodes produced by ILSR and specifically check out other Voices of 100% episodes in this series to learn more about how cities plan to meet their renewable energy ambitions. While you’re on our website — that is I-L-S-R-dot-O-R-G — you can find more than 75 past episodes of the Local Energy Rules podcast — with new episodes every two weeks. You can also sign up for one of our newsletters and connect with us on social media.

Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.

How Suburbs Can Lead on Clean Energy

While more than 100 diverse communities of all sizes have set goals to pursue 100 percent renewable energy, suburbs can get written off in conversations about sustainability or clean energy. That hasn’t been the case in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia’s suburbs and township managers of these communities have been taking the lead to set ambitious goals and make transition plans for clean energy. Meanwhile, leaders in the central city itself have made excuses, or think “that they’ve done enough,” Raval notes.

So what gives the suburbs an edge in setting and pursuing their goals?

“The folks in the suburbs realize that each of them needs to work with their neighbors to engage the township official,” Raval says, describing the success of organizing efforts in suburban Philadelphia communities.

In addition to organized community members, Raval points out that a unique structure of having environmental advisory committees in the suburbs — which have been “around for decades” — have also helped nurture local leadership in the fight for clean energy.

“The same committees are where the leadership is coming from. They’re poised to push for the renewable energy resolution and then once the resolution is passed, they’re working on the transition plan,” Raval explains.

Piecemeal Clean Energy Solutions in Philadelphia

While Philadelphia has signed onto the Paris Climate Accord and its mayor appears supportive of clean energy, Raval describes how there is not enough “buy-in from city council to work on the transition” and that the city’s clean energy investments have been “piecemeal” as a result.

One of these solutions includes a power purchase agreement with the developer of a nearby 70 megawatt solar array being constructed near Gettysburg, Pa. This investment will cost-effectively supply almost a quarter of the city government’s electricity use once it goes into effect. While Raval notes the agreement has yet to be officially signed, she hopes it will spark other similar investments. The city is now working with other institutional partners to explore and negotiate such contracts.

“The city can produce electricity from the solar project for the same price that they currently pay for the default grid power. They were amazed that they could accomplish that,” Raval explains.

The city is also switching its national renewable energy credits (or RECs) to those from local sources and “slowly considering solar on city buildings,” Raval notes.

For more on the benefits of putting solar on municipal buildings, how to remove barriers to making more of these investments, and examples of cities making municipal rooftop solar a priority, dig into our 2015 report, “Public Rooftop Revolution.”

In addition, Raval shares other strategies that Philadelphia could take — but isn’t yet — that include installing solar on libraries and recreation centers that the city plans to retrofit anyway, which is otherwise a missed opportunity. A large-scale energy efficiency retrofit program for commercial buildings, like New York City is doing, could be another important local step. She also notes ways to transform the city’s transportation system — pushing for electric buses, installing curbside electric vehicle charging infrastructure, or advocating for bicycling.

Pennsylvania Policy Can Enable Local Clean Energy

Because the state of Pennsylvania has a competitive electricity market, it allows for customers to ask for power purchase agreements — like the solar array contract the city of Philadelphia is pursuing. However, one downside to the state’s electricity market structure is that utilities “can just shrug their shoulders and not feel obligated to any other renewable energy goals, other than those set by the state,” Raval notes.

This makes state policy all the more important for enabling local, clean energy. Raval is hopeful about the state senators who are pushing to increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard from 8 to 30 percent by 2030––although this 2030 goal would be less aggressive than existing standards in Minnesota, Colorado, and Oregon––and about the prospect of Pennsylvania following the lead of a growing number of other states that have committed to 100 percent renewable energy.

Raval also notes other encouraging policy proposals during the course of the conversation, including a statewide community solar program. If the community solar bill is successful, Pennsylvania would join more than 15 states that have passed similar shared renewable programs.

For more on why state policies matter when it comes to supporting local, renewable energy, explore our 2019 Community Power Scorecard and companion article about Why ILSR’s 2019 Community Power Scorecard Matters.


Another proposal Farrell and Raval discuss has not yet been introduced, but would allow for community choice aggregation in the state. This gives communities new options to get “much more renewable energy than their default utility is providing,” Farrell explains.

While negotiations among state legislators and investor-owned utilities can set states back on their path to clean energy, such as rolling back net metering in exchange for community solar, Raval remains hopeful. She thinks a number of clean energy measures — linked to below in the Episode Notes — could pass the state’s legislature and help shape the future of local, renewable energy for communities across the state. An upcoming clean energy and climate lobby day will ensure legislators hear from community members who support these efforts.

Setting a Positive Clean Energy Vision in a Fracking State

Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign in Southeastern Pennsylvania has seen success, Raval believes, because of its positive approach — instead of just resisting something negative. As a result of its solutions-oriented vision, she says that the campaign has “drawn a lot more volunteers than other projects have.”

The promise of green job opportunities in clean energy and energy efficiency, while reducing air and water pollution in a state known for fracking, is another benefit.

“We’ve seen firsthand our water and our air get fouled by first by extraction, then by transportation and lastly by combustion,” Raval explains of the state’s history with fracked gas and fossil fuels. “So, people have finally made the connection and… the suburbs are where the pipeline goes through — I think that could be one reason why they’ve woken up.”

Indeed, communities that have seen these costs of fossil fuels are demanding their local elected officials help invest in alternatives.

“Having a commitment would mean there’s a shared understanding between the public and the elected rep that we no longer invest in fossil fuel projects,” Raval explains.

With commitments to transition from fossil fuels and to 100 percent renewable energy, a next step for many communities will be how to shift away from gas for cooking, heating, and other uses. Raval explains how some in Philadelphia are beginning to explore how to shift the city-owned Philadelphia Gas Works utility into a “post carbon utility” and disconnect its gas service, in order to reduce both demand for and leakage from fracked gas.

Advice for Others Organizing for 100 Percent Renewable Energy

In reflecting on the lessons she has learned from being an organizer in the campaign for 100 percent renewable energy, Raval encourages community members to give their elected officials public support and to show them examples — a “roadmap” — of what is possible.  “Many will take the ball and run with it,” she says. For such examples or inspiration, ILSR created its Community Power Toolkit, to illustrate how cities across the country can invest in local, renewable energy.

Find inspiration from cities across the country with examples and roadmaps for transforming the local energy system and investing in clean energy in the Institute’s Community Power Toolkit.


Raval concludes the interview with some words of encouragement, emphasizing the need for persistence in this work:

“I would say persistence. Go to as many things as you can, speak for the climate at each one. Come prepared with examples from other places. You can speak on whatever calls to you, whether it was public health or clean energy or future generations. Keep at it,” Raval recommends.

Want to hear other stories of how communities are building local power and supporting renewable energy?

Stay-tuned for future episodes of the Local Energy Rules podcast now every two weeks, including our next episode featuring a recent interview with Soulardarity, an organization working to build energy democracy in Highland Park, Michigan.

Episode Notes

Raval and Farrell discussed a number of measures being considered by the Pennsylvania State Legislature this session to advance clean and renewable energy. Details and links to these bills with additional notes from Raval follow:

  • Increase the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) — Currently, Pennsylvania requires its utilities generate only 8 percent of electricity from renewables by 2021. There is leadership by Senators Haywood and 18 others to increase this requirement. Their Senate Bill, SB 600, would raise the renewable energy targets in from 8 to 30 percent by 2030. In the House, Representatives Comitta and 37 others have introduced a companion bill, HB 1195.
  • State-Level Commitment to 100% Renewable — Rep. Rabb and 68 others re-introduced HB 2145 from last session, as HB 1425. This is a state-level commitment to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Six other states, districts, or territories have passed such commitments to-date (Hawaii, California, Washington D.C., New Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Nevada).
  • Community Solar Legislation — This is expected to pass this year, and the current HB 531 bill has 62 sponsors to-date.
  • Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) — Raval notes that her team of volunteers and leaders are working with Rep. Hohenstein to get a CCA bill introduced in the legislature.

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 11th episode of our special Voices of 100% series, and 80th of Local Energy Rulesan 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.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell or Marie Donahue on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update. Research Associate Maria McCoy assisted with editing the summary post for this episode.

Featured Photo Credit: rdphotography via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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Marie Donahue

Marie Donahue was a Research Associate with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Energy Democracy and Independent Business Initiatives in 2018-2019. She analyzed and wrote about the implications of corporate concentration and monopoly in these sectors.

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John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.