On average, low-income households must put 7.2 percent of their money toward energy


As has been well-documented, some urban neighborhoods and ethnic groups in the United States (especially African-Americans and Latinos that rent rather than own their domiciles) must pay a disproportionately high percentage of their incomes toward energy costs. On average, low-income households must put 7.2 percent of their money toward that expense. That makes the decision this week by the nation’s largest municipal power and water utility in Los Angeles to invest $100 million in energy efficiency measures for lower-income rental housing over the next five years a very powerful statement indeed.

That makes the decision this week by the nation’s largest municipal power and water utility in Los Angeles to invest $100 million in energy efficiency measures for lower-income rental housing over the next five years a very powerful statement indeed.

As the NRDC’s Maria Stamas writes, these investments could result in savings of up to $130 million for 45,000 households. It could also create hundreds of jobs, in service careers devoted to energy efficiency. The issue, it seems, has been that many of the existing initiatives catered primarily to higher-income Angelenos. It’s a reminder that well-intentioned programs sometimes have unintended consequences.

  • Which energy storage technologies present the most practical investment opportunities for commercial and industrial applications? (Does ice storage make sense, especially in light of the $40 million in new funding that Ice Energy snagged this week?)
  • What will it take to start transitioning more industrial energy demand — such as the steam needed to run boilers or clean and sanitize production lines — to low-carbon alternatives? (In fact, it’s the theme of this week’s featured story below!)
  • For that matter, which building heating and cooling loads will be the quickest to electrify? (See RMI’s new report for some of the economics involved, at least for the residential sector.)
  • And, which technologies will be instrumental in moving to a resilient, intelligent, distributed electrical grid?

Atlanta Charts a Path to 100 Percent Renewable Electricity: A City Council committee is considering three proposals. The goals: Make this Southern city a leader in renewable power and fight climate change.

By James Bruggers, Inside Climate News 26 June 2018

If Atlanta can get to 100 percent clean electricity, then any city can, Al Gore said. Now that signature Southern city in a deep red state has a plan to do just that.  On Tuesday, city officials took their new road map for a greener future to the Atlanta City Council, outlining options they say can fight climate change, improve health and bolster the economy all at once.

They initially planned to recommend giving the city until 2050 to meet the goals. That would have been 15 years slower than the pace the council agreed to a year ago, but city officials wanted more time to make the kinds of changes needed for a homegrown energy transformation, rather than relying on buying credits from wind farms beyond Georgia’s borders.  At Tuesday’s council committee meeting, they shifted their recommendation back to 2035, after what a spokeswoman described as further review and consultation.

“While ambitious, we are confident this target can be achieved through ongoing clean energy policy development and implementation from the city and its partners,” said Jordan Johnson, communications manager for Atlanta’s Office of Resilience. She said the committee plans to study it over the coming weeks before voting on whether to send it to the full City Council.

Atlanta is among more than 70 U.S. cities that have adopted a 100 percent renewable electricity goal, according to a tally by the Sierra Club. That number has more than doubled in the last year as mayors and cities have reacted to President Donald Trump‘s announcement that he was pulling the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

“It’s encouraging to see this, and it provides an opportunity for hope,” said John C. Dernbach, a professor at Widener University Commonwealth Law School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and an expert in the legal aspects of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables such as wind and solar. “The more cities that do this and the more aggressively they do it, the faster we are going to get a tipping point on the economics and technology and, frankly, the politics.”

Other cities that have pledged to get all their electricity from renewable sources include Salt Lake City, San Diego, St. Louis and Orlando.

‘Cities Must—and Can—Lead the Way’

Atlanta, which last year became the largest city in the South to make the pledge, is among the first to develop a blueprint showing how to get there, said Sierra Club’s Georgia director, Ted Terry. The plan was drawn up by the city’s Office of Resilience after an extensive public outreach effort and has the blessing of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

“Cities must—and can—lead the way in accelerating this critical transition to clean and renewable energy sources,” she wrote in a message that was included in the plan, noting the oversized roles that cities play in the global economy. “We not only have the capacity to act; it is morally incumbent that we do so.”

The council had instructed the city staff to develop a plan to meet the clean power goal for city buildings and operations, including the world’s busiest airport, by 2025, and then community-wide by 2035. (The airport accounts for nearly half of the local government’s electric consumption.) City officials recommended 2035 for both goals.

The plan says its goals could indeed be achieved in such a short time, but largely through purchasing renewable energy credits outside of the Georgia Power service area. Instead, it suggested taking longer and doing the harder and more locally beneficial work of improving energy efficiency in Atlanta and growing renewable electricity generation closer to home.  “That’s a reasonable compromise,” said Jennette Gayer, director of Environment Georgia, an environmental group that advocated for the plan. “They have some pretty big expectations of what they are going to need to roll out.”

Atlanta’s Blueprint: 3 Pathways

The plan shows that Democratic Atlanta has a long way to go and is going to need help from Republicans who dominate statewide politics and tend to be less concerned about climate change. Clean sources like solar and hydropower make up 6 percent of Atlanta’s total electricity supply now and that’s expected to reach only 7 percent in the next three to five years, according to the plan.

It identified three pathways to 100 percent clean power, assuming no change in local regulations—an important caveat:

  • Purchase renewable energy credits, such as from out-of-state windfarms, to offset the city’s power consumption. This would cost the least but also provide fewer local benefits.
  • Meet half the city’s electricity through efficiency and rooftop solar in Atlanta and larger-scale solar elsewhere in Georgia. The rest would be through the purchase of renewable energy credits.
  • Maximize the city’s local clean energy potential, adding all possible local clean energy, resulting in even more economic and health benefits. Officials estimate it could bring 8,000 new jobs through 2035.

The plan envisions moving to electric vehicles for the government’s fleets, including buses, and encouraging businesses to do the same, but it doesn’t address the kind of wholesale shift to EV’s by the public that would make a big dent in tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases.

Electricity is responsible for the majority of carbon emissions in Atlanta, according to the plan, so it says “focusing first on electricity through this plan is a logical first step.” 

Georgia Power Has a Key Role to Play

Atlanta’s biggest challenge, Terry said, is one shared by other communities across the country that are served by monopoly energy companies.

To reach its goal, the city will need to work with Georgia Power, the utility that serves Atlanta and all but four Georgia counties, as well as the Georgia Public Service Commission, which regulates Georgia Power, and the politically conservative state legislature. The commission in the last five years has required the electric utility to boost large-scale solar farms, helping to make Georgia a top-10 solar state, but it sees a strong role for fossil fuels and nuclear power for years to come.

The Atlanta plan does not envision nuclear power as part of its clean-energy future, even though nuclear power is a low-carbon form of energy, and Georgia Power, part of Southern Company, is doubling down on nuclear power with the over-budget expansion of its Vogtle nuclear power plant. Atlanta residents are concerned about the Plant Vogtle costs and nuclear’s heavy water consumption in a state that’s experienced water shortages, according to the plan.  “Georgia Power has met with the city several times to discuss their clean energy goal,” Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said in a written statement. “As their energy provider, we will continue to engage, advise and provide resources to help them develop and refine their plan to meet their renewable energy needs.”

Starting with ‘the Low-Hanging Fruit’

The plan relies heavily at first on boosting energy efficiency and expanding rooftop solar, and it calls for new ways to finance them. One example described by Terry would allow Georgia Power customers to pay off loans for green energy projects through their electric bills, with the obligation potentially carrying over to future customers in those homes and businesses.

Cities can start with “the low-hanging fruit,” which means solar on top of existing buildings and energy efficiency, like Atlanta is proposing to do, said Dernbach, co-editor of the forthcoming book, Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States.

He predicted, as a recent projection by Bloomberg New Energy Finance did, that the emerging combination of increasingly cheap batteries to back up solar or wind power will make a huge difference for expanding renewable energy sources.

Even if a city falls short of it goals, it will be in a better place—cleaner, healthier and more attractive to the next generation, he said.

That’s what Atlanta is banking on in addition to helping to curb climate change.

“Increasing energy efficiency and moving electricity generation towards renewable sources can reduce and avoid damage caused by dirty energy,” the plan concludes. “The choices we make now can serve as a stimulus to advance equity, create jobs, improve public health, and slash Atlanta’s contribution to climate change.”


In November, the Environmental Law Institute will publish Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (Michael B. Gerrard & John C. Dernbach eds.). The book is a playbook of state, local, federal, and private legal pathways for enabling the United States to address what is perhaps the greatest problem facing this country and the rest of humanity.

Over 35 separate chapters, it identifies hundreds of legal options for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.  It builds on the U.S. work of the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, and has been prepared in collaboration with that organization.

Many of the chapters in this book have been, or soon will be, published as articles in the Environmental Law Reporter. Here is a list of those chapters, with links:

Introduction, by John Dernbach, here

Ch. 3 – Individual and household behavior, by Michael P. Vandenbergh and Paul C. Stern, here

Ch. 9 – Energy efficiency, by Kit Kennedy, here

Ch. 10 – New buildings, by Lee Paddock and Caitlin McCoy, here

Ch. 14 – Light-duty vehicles, by Amy L. Stein and Joshua Fershée, here

Ch. 18 – Utility-scale renewables, by Michael B. Gerrard, here

Ch. 20 – Electric transmission and distribution grid, by Alexandra B. Klass, here

Ch. 21 – Nuclear energy, by David A. Repka and Tyson R. Smith, here

Ch. 22 – Hydropower, by Charles R. Sensiba, Michael A. Swiger, Sharon L, White, here

Ch. 28 – Carbon capture and sequestration, by Wendy B. Jacobs and Michael Craig, here

Ch. 29 – Negative emissions technologies and direct air capture, by Tracy Hester, here

Ch. 30 – Carbon-neutral agriculture, by Peter Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg, here 

Expanding the U.S. Electric Transmission and Distribution Grid to Meet Deep Decarbonization Goals by  Alexandra B. Klass, University of Minnesota Law School

In Michael B. Gerrard & John Dernbach, eds., Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (2018 from ELI), Environmental Law Reporter, Vol. 47, 2017

This Article, excerpted from Michael B. Gerrard & John Dernbach, eds., Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (forthcoming in 2018 from ELI), addresses the critical role of the electric transmission and distribution grid in achieving deep decarbonization, and discusses the primary federal and state laws that govern expanding the grid. Although significant legal and political barriers exist to creating the new transmission necessary to meet deep decarbonization goals, there are public law and nonpublic law tools available to surmount these barriers. Moreover, technology developments in energy storage, demand response, distributed energy resources, and the smart grid can both improve the existing grid and reduce the extent of grid expansion required for deep decarbonization.

Keywords: electric transmission lines, climate change, decarbonization, deep decarbonization, land use, public utility commissions, federal power act, federal energy regulatory commission, eminent domain, takings, land use, electric grid, wind energy, energy storage, public lands, electric utilities, departme

Klass, Alexandra B., Expanding the U.S. Electric Transmission and Distribution Grid to Meet Deep Decarbonization Goals (September 6, 2017). Michael B. Gerrard & John Dernbach, eds., Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States (2018 from ELI) Forthcoming; Environmental Law Reporter, Vol. 47, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3033829or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3033829