U.S. cities are ramping up their clean energy efforts, notably with stricter energy-saving rules for buildings, but only a few cities appear on track to meet their community-wide climate goals, according to the just-released 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).
The Scorecard, using information collected as of April 1, 2019, ranks cities in five policy areas: Local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.
For buildings policies, Boston ranks first, followed by New York, San José, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These cities have adopted or advocated for stringent building energy codes, devoted resources to building code compliance, and used incentives or requirements to address energy consumption in existing buildings.
For the first time, the ACEEE Scorecard tracks policy efforts to advance renewable energy in addition to energy efficiency, because both are needed to build a clean energy future and address climate change. It is the most comprehensive national report that tracks city progress toward climate goals.
The Scorecard shows that cities took more than 265 initiatives to advance efficiency and renewable energy between January 2017 and April 2019, ranging from modest but practical efforts such as Philadelphia’s teleworking for public employees to cutting-edge policies such as Washington, DC’s new high-performance standards for existing buildings.
Yet the Scorecard also reveals that most cities with climate goals are either not on track to achieve them or are not yet tracking progress. One-third (26) of the 75 cities surveyed have yet to even set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. Of the 49 with targets, 22 are not yet fully tracking their progress. The remaining 27 have data, and of those, 8 are not projected to be close to achieving their targets and 8 are projected to make substantial progress but still fall short. Only 11 are on track to meet their GHG reductions goals.
The Scorecard: Key Findings
Boston retained its first-place ranking in this year’s Scorecard, earning 77.5 out of a possible 100 points. It’s followed by San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, and Portland.
“Nearly three quarters of Boston greenhouse gas emissions comes from our buildings,” commented Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh. “We’re working hard to improve the performance of those buildings and looking at how new ones can be built smarter. If we’re to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, we have to accelerate our actions and lead by example. That’s why we’ve already surpassed our municipal climate goals and reduced emissions by 37 percent. I’m proud of Boston for leading the rankings once again and am inspired by other cities for their bold action.”
This year, Minneapolis adopted policies requiring homes and apartment buildings to disclose their energy use to buyers or renters. New York City recently established programs calling for large buildings that benchmark energy use to post their energy performance ratings.
“In the absence of leadership from the federal government, local governments have had to step up and take the lead on climate policy,” said Minneapolis’ Mayor Jacob Frey. ”Climate action is intrinsically linked to housing and equity, and we will continue to lead on efforts to make Minneapolis the greenest city in America.”
Cincinnati, Hartford, and Providence are on the Cities to Watch list. These cities did not make the top 10. but stand out for adopting several major clean energy policies and programs since early 2017, improving their ranks since the last scorecard. Hartford created an energy improvement district, began converting its streetlights to LEDs, and has taken steps to improve location efficiency through improvements to the zoning code.
Many cities have expanded their efforts to save energy in new and existing buildings. Since 2017, nine cities—Las Vegas, Mesa, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Reno, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Tucson—adopted more-stringent building energy codes and five advocated for their states to do so. In addition, eight cities—Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Reno, Salt Lake City, San José, and Washington, DC—adopted efficiency requirements for existing buildings.
“The effects of climate change are very real, and they are happening right now,” said Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock. “This is a time to lead, and our response must rise to the occasion of this challenge. Progress is being made at the local level, and Denver will continue to step up our efforts to reduce energy waste and pollution, as well as strengthen our resiliency as a community and make bold decisions to transform to a clean energy economy.”
Cities increased their push to reduce GHGs from the transportation sector but not as much as they did with buildings. To slash emissions, they need to accelerate their action. Since 2017, nine cities developed targets to increase public transit, biking, and walking in lieu of driving.
Some cities are engaging with and investing in low-income communities and communities of color. Still, they have significant room for improvement. They can tap planning models—like those used in Minneapolis, Providence, and Seattle—to jumpstart their activities.
“Cities are making impressive clean energy gains—taking big steps to waste less energy and encourage more renewable power. But they have more to do,” said ACEEE senior research manager David Ribeiro, the lead report author. “Cities must continue their push for innovative buildings policies, take greater steps to tackle transportation emissions, and better track progress to know which investments have the greatest impact. With their innovation, ingenuity, and resolve, they can build prosperous and equitable low-carbon communities.”
The 2019 report, ACEEE’s fourth ranking of cities, scores 75 large U.S. cities, 24 more than the previous edition in 2017. It includes all 25 cities participating in Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge, eight of which land on ACEEE’s top 10 list. This expanded Scorecard adds city efforts to encourage renewable energy, the impact of their policies, and their investment in and engagement with low-income communities and communities of color.