As the Trump administration lurches from failure to incompetence to disaster and back again, it’s important to keep pointing out that there is progress still happening in this country—it’s just not originating from Congress or the White House. And a lot of the best news continues to be about renewable energy—and I don’t just mean last week's revelation that the Kentucky Coal Museum has installed 80 solar panels on its roof to lower its electric bill.
A more significant solar milestone reported this week is that for a few hours on March 11 utility-scale solar power met roughly half of the electricity needs of the grid that supplies electricity to 80 percent of California and part of Nevada. That’s kind of amazing when you consider that California’s current goal is to get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Seems like a clear opportunity to both raise California’s goal and accelerate the timeline, no?
The other exciting clean energy news from the past week came from two great American cities: Chicago and Portland, Oregon. On Sunday, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the Windy City would transition all of its municipal buildings and operations to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2025. That currently makes Chicago’s the largest fleet of public buildings in the country to commit to clean energy. It’s a doubly sweet victory because the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign traces some of its (grass)roots to the struggle to close Chicago’s notorious Fisk and Crawford coal plants, which were finally retired in 2012.
One day after Chicago’s announcement, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County commissioner Jessica Vega-Pederson announced a new plan for transitioning the City of Roses to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Once approved by the city and county commissioners, the plan will make Portland the largest city in the country to commit to transition all energy sectors to 100 percent clean energy (San Diego, which is larger, has so far committed to 100 percent clean electricity).
Portland and Chicago are not alone, of course. Around the country, cities are moving full speed ahead by setting ambitious goals and taking actions to reduce carbon emissions. Although it's tempting to see this as a natural response to federal inaction and rollback on climate change, the trend started long before Trump's election. The real reason municipal governments are taking the lead on clean energy is because it's so much better for the people who live in those cities: It’s healthier, it costs less, it creates better jobs, and it makes cities more livable. What’s not to like?
The Republican Congress and the Trump administration seem to agree on just one thing: walking America backward. And though their current majority means we must fight every attempted rollback with unflagging persistence and determination, we must press forward with our inclusive vision of 100 percent clean energy that works for all. Trump and friends can’t keep us from taking two (or 200!) steps forward for every step that they retreat. And when it comes to renewable energy, those steps are more like a sprint. Every day seems to bring news of more progress, whether it's from cities, counties, states… or coal museums.