December 20, 2018

DC Council Passes Nation's Most Aggressive 100 Percent Renewable Energy Bill, Mandates Eliminating Fossil Fuels

The Washington, D.C. city council on Tuesday unanimously passed the nation’s most aggressive 100 percent renewable energy bill, in what would be the fastest-acting climate change legislation in the country.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill. If she does, Congress will have 30 days to veto the bill.

The bill would require District utilities to source all electricity from wind and solar by 2032 — up from its current goal of 50 percent renewables in that time — and would set tough new energy efficiency standards for buildings. The bill's authors say it will reduce greenhouse gases in the District 44 percent by 2032.

“This will be the strongest climate law in the country,” Jamie DeMarco, who focuses on state and local policy for Citizens' Climate Lobby, told the Washington Examiner. “The science tells us very clearly we need to reduce emissions more than 40 percent by 2030. D.C. will be the only jurisdiction in the country with a specific binding comprehensive law to help achieve those reductions.”

The bill would also impose a fee on electricity and natural gas consumption that the legislation’s authors say would add $2.10 to D.C. residents’ average monthly gas bills and less than $1 to their average monthly electricity bills. That fee is unrelated to the 100 percent renewable mandate, but instead intended to encourage cleaner energy use in heating homes.

About 20 percent of the money raised from those fees would be used to provide financial help to low-income D.C. ratepayers. The rest would go to local “sustainability” projects used primarily for energy efficiency retrofits.

The Democrat-controlled states of California and Hawaii also have laws mandating 100 percent electricity from carbon-free sources, but those set a later target date than D.C. is proposing — 2045.
The District is already among the cities that has gone the furthest in transitioning away from fossil fuels and conserving energy.

Little coal is consumed in the District, less than in any state other than Vermont or Rhode Island.
The District uses less energy than any state except Vermont, according to the Energy Information Administration.

D.C. currently gets almost half of its electricity from nonemitting sources, a mix that includes nuclear, hydropower, and biomass, along with solar and wind. The rest is mostly natural gas.

D.C. doesn't generate any its own electricity. So, most of the renewables' mandate will be met through out-of-state purchases.

About 74 percent of D.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings.

To address that, the D.C. bill would create energy efficiency standards for existing buildings, both privately-owned ones and those owned by the District, a first-of-its-kind proposal in the nation.

D.C.’s legislation would also allow the district to enact regional agreements with neighboring Virginia and Maryland to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And it would address transportation emissions as well, directing the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue rules incentivizing fuel efficient vehicles, and requiring the city to use 100 percent electric public buses — including school buses — by 2030.

D.C. council members hailed the ambition of their bill, saying it lives up to the urgency of a recent United Nations report that said global emissions should be net zero by midcentury to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change.

But many experts say 100 percent policies must include “clean” energy sources that aren’t renewable for it to be technically feasible, such as nuclear power or carbon, capture, and storage technologies that can collect carbon emissions from coal or natural gas plants and store it underground.

Lawmakers in California recently recognized the limitations of a wind- and solar-only approach, passing a bill this summer to require that 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045 — allowing nonrenewable sources to qualify.

D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh, however, insisted that the more aggressive 100 percent renewable energy target is “not pie in the sky.”

“This bill is historic,” she said. “It will put D.C. at the nation’s forefront on reducing greenhouse gases. In default of the federal government doing what it should be doing, we are doing what we can at the local level to respond to climate change.”

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