DC Is a World Leader in Green Cities!

There’s some very good news: The District is being recognized as a world leader for its efforts to ensure that it is a healthy and vibrant place to live and work. The latest greening effort involves a 20-year power-purchase agreement (PPA) for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems on the roofs and parking lots of 34 District-owned facilities. This agreement, coupled with the purchase of wind energy earlier in 2015, means that the District will have enough green power to cover approximately 40 percent of its municipal use – the annual power supply of 44,000 average US homes. DC is one of the few large municipal governments committed to using clean, renewable energy for all of its electricity use, and the two PPAs will go a long way in meeting the District’s pledge to cut 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

DC’s greening efforts are now being recognized on the world stage. On Dec. 3, at a meeting of theC40 Cities Climate Leadership Groupheld in conjunction with the Paris Climate Talks, or COP21, DC won the global award for Green Energy at the 2015 C40 Cities Awards. The District’s Director for the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), Tommy Wells, and Department of General Services (DGS) Associate Director for Sustainability and Energy Mark Chambers accepted the award on behalf of the District.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is pleased with the recognition that the District is garnering. She notes, “This Power Purchase Agreement doubles down on my Administration’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability – using District government assets as staging grounds to capture the sun’s energy and power our building portfolio. Beyond renewable energy and cost savings, this project will elevate the District’s local economy, spur small business development and create jobs.”

People sometimes forget that green energy has important health benefits for residents and workers. As a 2013 Washington Post article reports, the District of Columbia has one of the highest rates of pediatric asthma in the country, and among the highest rates of children who are hospitalized because of an asthma attack. Meanwhile, most of the electricity delivered to DC comes from coal-powered plants emitting greenhouse gases (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide) that contribute to climate change and negatively impact human and wildlife health. DGS Director Chris Weaver notes, “The combined wind and solar power purchases will cut the District’s carbon footprint by 110,000 tons each year.”

There are important economic benefits as well. The wind and solar PPAs combined are estimated to save some $70 million in taxpayer dollars over the 20-year life of the program. The solar PPA will also bring employment opportunities, with the design and construction of the solar photovoltaic arrays estimated to create more than 140 jobs. The installation of the solar photovoltaic arrays should be completed by the end of 2016. According to District officials, neither the wind nor the solar PPA would be impacted should the Pepco merger with Exelon move forward.

The solar and wind PPAs are just part of efforts to improve and green DC. The District is home to more Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and ENERGY STAR-certified buildingsper capita than any other city in the country. Meanwhile the Bag Law enacted in 2009 has generated more than $10 million to clean up and protect the Anacostia River, while DOEE’s RiverSmart Homesprogram offers financial incentives to residents who reduce storm water runoff on their property, and the DC Sustainable Energy Utility provides financial incentives and technical expertise to residents and businesses to reduce and green their energy needs. DC Water is using state-of-the-art, anaerobic digestion technology to capture biogas to generate approximately one-third of the energy needed to operate the Blue Plains water treatment facility.

And greening efforts are continuing. A “foam ban” went into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, making it illegal for local food-based businesses (carry-outs, restaurants, and food trucks) to use polystyrene foam, Styrofoam.  In 2017 these same businesses will be required to use compostable containers.

These initiatives will help the District move toward the goals set out in the Sustainable DC Plan– a collaborative and community effort that began in 2011 and was led by DOEE and the Office of Planning to develop sustainability goals for environment, climate, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, water, and the green economy. DC is proving that green investment is good for the environment and for the quality of life of all District residents!

DOEE Director Tommy Wells and DGS Associate Director for Sustainability and Energy Mark Chambers accept the global award for Green Energy at the 2015 C40 Cities Awards in Paris in December. Photo: C40

Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter @DC_Recycler.