University of Wisconsin–Madison


What's the Problem & How are Progressives Addressing It

Energy equity involves equal access to free or cheap energy sources – equitable energy development will involve a transition to a green economy based on existing capacity and investment in sustainable businesses focused on racial and gender equality.

Oil pipelines such as the Keystone Pipeline and shale gas drilling disproportionately impact communities of color, including Native American reservations. Sustainable business investments should target communities historically impacted by energy inequity. Wind, solar and other green energy programs can create jobs for these communities and offer energy independence and carbon footprint reduction for counties and municipalities.

State and local elected officials can take steps to create local Green New Deal elements and transition their jurisdictions to a sustainable and equitable energy economy.

Available Local Levers & Targets of Reforms

Local governments looking to implement a progressive energy policy have numerous local levers available. An important first step is modernizing local utilities and energy consumption, including for the local water system. Relatedly, progressive local governments must take action to ban fracking. To reduce energy consumption, local governments must adopt benchmarking and lead by example. Ideal new initiatives target residential energy reductions and ensure energy investments produce good green jobs.

King County, WA offers an energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction program, while San Francisco passed an ordinance establishing City greenhouse gas emission targets. Local sustainability can be achieved through several policy options, such as Boulder’s climate action plan excise tax- an innovative financing program.

Current Reforms & Tools to Fight for Them

Progressive local energy governance focuses on reducing energy consumption, modernizing utilities, and tackling water issues. Reducing emissions in local utilities and containing overall local energy consumption is crucial. Creating a local clean energy program will transform municipal energy supply and capture energy waste.

Massachusetts’ model municipal zoning ordinance to allow wind energy promotes renewable energy in the local grid, as does the Washington, D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility ordinance, the Austin energy conservation ordinance, the U.S. Department of Energy guide to incorporating solar power for local communities, and the Gainesville, FL residential solar power ordinance.

Reducing emissions must include banning natural gas fracking. Baldwin, PA, and Wales, NY have both passed ordinances to accomplish such a ban. A fracking impact assessment in Carroll County, OH shows the harm done to communities and the environment. The American Sustainable Business Council’s business case against fracking echoes these negative externalities.

Local water infrastructure investment is essential for modernizing energy policy (see Water Roadmap). The Mayors Innovation Project’s guide to local water management, the ACEEE toolkit for efficiency in water and wastewater treatment, and the EPA Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs show the path to progressive policy on water and wastewater treatment. Sheboygan, WI’s modern water treatment plant, Philadelphia’s water sustainability plan, and LA’s Green Retrofit Ordinance made sure to include water-efficient landscaping and irrigation.

Requiring building benchmarking is an important step in generating information on energy use and efficiency. IMT’s model benchmarking law and SWEEP guide to municipal energy benchmarking show how to implement such benchmarking. San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle are among the major metropolitan areas to implement the ordinance.

ACEEE’s guide to local government energy efficiency includes suggestions on how government can lead by example. COWS’ guide to green government through retrofitting also illustrates how officials can act. The Portland, OR sustainable procurement policy, the California Sustainability Alliance green procurement guide and Phoenix’s sustainable purchasing policy all highlight ways for elected officials to reduce the carbon footprint of government, as does New York City’s energy efficiency ordinance greening city buildings.

Taking it to the Next Level

Future green investment should focus on helping residents reduce their climate impact and ensuring local investments in energy are generating good living-wage jobs.

Local governments can require and incentivize the greening of the private commercial, industrial, and residential sectors, particularly through green zoning. Cities looking to adopt green building codes could look to the NEEP guide for establishing a municipal energy rating and disclosure policy. The Boston Building Energy and Water Disclosure Ordinance is an excellent example as is the green building codes from San Francisco, Dallas, Boulder, and San Antonio. COWS’ and Green for All’s guide to residential retrofitting promotes the greening of residential buildings. Portland’s Clean Energy Works program also helps provide energy efficiency upgrades for its residents. Utility-bill financing allows families to make energy-efficiency improvements, and such investments pay off – a report and guide to weatherizing homes for low-income residents show these investments reduce costs over time enough to pay for themselves.

The AFL-CIO’s Apollo Alliance guide focuses on green union jobs, and other policy options for local communities focus on sustainability and green jobs from energy investments. Greening re-industrialization, such as EPI’s guide to renewable energy investments and the Apollo Alliance Ohio’s green manufacturing action plan, is also critical. UC Berkeley Labor Center’s report on how good jobs are being recreated by the state’s investments in a low carbon future and the National League of Cities guide to the link between sustainability and economic development both offer support for messaging green investment. Green energy investment financing examples include Green City Bonds and C40, and The UC Berkeley Labor Center has a great resource to ensure these investments generate green jobs for disadvantaged workers.

Helpers, Allies, and Other Useful Organizations


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