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Cities doing the most for a clean energy future

  • Cities doing the most for a clean energy future

    Kermit the Frog once famously opined, “It’s not easy being green.” But despite the amphibious Muppet’s lamentations, many pockets of the United States are now continuously looking for ways to become more “green” with energy use. Examples can be found in Atlanta, where electric scooters dot the city’s sidewalks. New York, despite its public transportation headaches, has some of the cleanest tap water. No matter where you travel, new buildings from skyscrapers to schools are being constructed with cutting-edge green technologies.

    The 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked 75 American cities on their local policies in five areas: local government, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation. Stacker includes the top 50 locales from the ACEEE report to rank the cities doing the most to bring America into a clean energy future.

    While reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and usage of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are seemingly standard steps any city can take to go green, there are many more layered actions to truly make a noticeable green footprint. For example, making more environmentally friendly transportation systems is only one part of increasing a city’s efficiency—ensuring those methods are widely available to low-income neighborhoods also has a strong impact on a city’s function. Silver or Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is prevalent in most new buildings, and efforts to retrofit and update older facilities with greener functions are also en vogue.

    The list is ranked by overall score with data from July 2019. Some of America’s major metropolises are among its most green locales, while upstart smaller cities like Bridgeport, Riverside, and Providence are making their presences known, too. Click through to see if your hometown is among the leaders of our country’s green movement.

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  • #50. Indianapolis, IN

    - Overall score: 24 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3.5 (out of 9; 0 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 6 (out of 16; 1.5 points above national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 3 (out of 30; 6 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 5 (out of 15; 0.5 points below national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 6.5 (out of 30; 2 points below national median)

    Indianapolis has renewable electricity and reduction of GHG emissions targets but is not expected to reach its current goals, according to ACEEE. One simple solution would be converting all street lights to LEDs. Thrive Indianapolis is an initiative the city uses to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy with its utility companies.

  • #49. Bakersfield, CA

    - Overall score: 24.5 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 1 (out of 9; 2.5 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 1 (out of 16; 3.5 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 12 (out of 30; 3 points above national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 8 (out of 15; 2.5 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 2.5 (out of 30; 6 points below national median)

    Aside from converting its street lights to LEDs, Bakersfield has much room for improvement in lowering GHGs. Utility providers offer inexpensive programs for low-income and multifamily households, but few sustainable transportation policies keep its score relatively low.

  • #47. Honolulu, Hawaii (tie)

    - Overall score: 26 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3.5 (out of 9; 0 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 2 (out of 16; 2.5 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 2 (out of 30; 7 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 7 (out of 15; 1.5 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 11.5 (out of 30; 3 points above national median)

    Honolulu thrives with its transportation efforts, from bike-share programs to a statewide partnership with Nissan to offer incentives for electric vehicles (EVs). Building policies could improve, with suggestions such as developing an equitable clean energy workforce. Honolulu has made a decent push of late to encourage decarbonization.

  • #47. Nashville, TN (tie)

    - Overall score: 26 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 4 (out of 9; 0.5 points above national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 8.5 (out of 16; 4 points above national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 4.5 (out of 30; 4.5 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 2.5 (out of 15; 3 points below national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 6.5 (out of 30; 2 points below national median)

    Nashville is more than a city for good country music and barbecue. In 2017, Nashville leased a landfill for free to be repurposed as a community solar farm. However, more could be done to make transit available in low-income areas, and the city could pass more policies requiring energy actions.

  • #44. Fort Worth, Texas (tie)

    - Overall score: 26.5 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 1.5 (out of 9; 2 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 1.5 (out of 16; 3 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 9 (out of 30; 0 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 7.5 (out of 15; 2 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 7 (out of 30; 1.5 points below national median)

    Fort Worth could drastically reduce GHG emissions. This Texas hot spot also has room for improvement in transportation; Fort Worth’s transit system is underfunded and not as accessible as it might be. Fort Worth has shown marked improvement in efficient drinking water and wastewater services.

  • #44. Milwaukee, WI (tie)

    - Overall score: 26.5 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3 (out of 9; 0.5 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 3 (out of 16; 1.5 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 4 (out of 30; 5 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 8 (out of 15; 2.5 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 8.5 (out of 30; 0 points below national median)

    Milwaukee has seen gains with a Complete Streets ordinance introduced in 2018, but data shows an underfunded transit system. Revising zoning regulations should help fix the transit dilemma. Elsewhere, this large Wisconsin city could do well in creating a GHG emissions reduction goal.

  • #44. Raleigh, NC (tie)

    - Overall score: 26.5 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 5 (out of 9; 1.5 points above national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 2 (out of 16; 2.5 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 8 (out of 30; 1 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 3.5 (out of 15; 2 points below national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 8 (out of 30; 0.5 points below national median)

    Raleigh has new green building requirements and sees gains in tracking energy use in municipal buildings. Existing buildings could see improvement with a benchmarking and transparency ordinance. Incentives for construction of new distributed solar or wind systems would also benefit this bustling North Carolina locale.

  • #42. Bridgeport, CT (tie)

    - Overall score: 27 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3 (out of 9; 0.5 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 5 (out of 16; 0.5 points above national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 7 (out of 30; 2 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 5 (out of 15; 0.5 points below national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 7 (out of 30; 1.5 points below national median)

    Bridgeport, once a heavily industrialized city, is taking steps to establish energy efficiency and renewable energy goals for local government operations. Community-wide renewable energy goals and energy-savings goals will further boost Bridgeport’s score. Its transit system needs to improve accessibility, though.

  • #42. Knoxville, TN (tie)

    - Overall score: 27 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3.5 (out of 9; 8.5 points above national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 2.5 (out of 16; 0.5 points above national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 7.5 (out of 30; 3 points above national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 3.5 (out of 15; 0.5 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 10 (out of 30; 5 points above national median)

    Knoxville scores points for establishing a fund to increase affordable rental properties near transit-heavy areas. This Tennessee city could still do more, though, to incorporate fuel-efficient vehicles. ACEEE also recommends doing away with minimum parking requirements around the city.

  • #40. Buffalo, NY (tie)

    - Overall score: 28 (out of 100 points)
    - Local government score: 3 (out of 9; 0.5 points below national median)
    - Community-wide initiatives score: 2 (out of 16; 2.5 points below national median)
    - Buildings policies score: 5.5 (out of 30; 3.5 points below national median)
    - Energy & water utilities score: 6.5 (out of 15; 1 points above national median)
    - Transportation policies score: 11 (out of 30; 2.5 points above national median)

    Buffalo will soon convert all street lights to LEDs and has a tree protection ordinance. Solar training programs also boost its reputation, but there’s also room for improvement in offering incentives for compact and mixed-use development.

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