Measuring Atlanta's clean energy (USGBC Georgia) | U.S. Green Building Council
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USGBC Georgia hosted an event detailing the City of Atlanta's clean energy goals.

In November 2017, USGBC Georgia hosted an evening lecture about the City of Atlanta's 100 percent clean energy goal. Members heard about clean energy from Cicely Garrett, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer in the Mayor’s Office of Resilience. Garrett started the event with an update about the report "Resilient Atlanta: Actions to Build an Equitable Future."

What is clean energy?

Clean energy is not equivalent to renewable energy. It includes energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings, renewable energy generation and purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs). You could imagine it as a carbon cap-and-trade strategy. The cost of not using clean energy in Atlanta affects all residents, with millions of dollars in health impacts from poor air quality.

Using data to achieve clean energy

Matt Cox, CEO and Co-Founder of The Greenlink Group, followed up Garrett’s presentation by introducing the event’s theme, "Envisioning Solutions Through the Lens of Big Data." Cox's computer model, ATHENIA, shows the potential human-centered benefits of implementing 100 percent clean energy. The model estimates the carbon footprint of a city based on electric generation demand and supply inputs.

100 Resilient Cities

In 2016, Atlanta was invited to participate in the Rockefeller Foundation’s global initiative, 100 Resilient Cities. To support solutions answering the challenges of globalization, urbanization and climate change, the foundation provides a Chief Resilience Officer salary for two years, as well as private sector partnerships, to achieve ambitious goals. The 100 percent clean energy aspiration is only one of numerous forward-thinking outcomes of the resiliency plan.

Four visions for a resilient Atlanta

The Resilient Atlanta plan includes dozens of ambitious initiatives to bolster the four pillars of the plan. 100 percent clean energy is the most notable one so far. An early achievement of the initiative is that Atlanta completed its plan in a record 10 months, due to the mayoral change coming in 2018. The working group did their best to be inclusive of the diverse city, and over 7,000 individuals participated in 40 public engagement events to ensure the plan meets the public needs.

  • Preserve and celebrate who we are
  • Enable all of metro Atlanta to prosper
  • Build our future city today
  • Design our systems to reflect our values

View data from the Resilient Atlanta report on aspects such as how the city compares to others in the nation, its electricity profile and its fuel costs.

Next steps in the plan

The most important takeaway from the evening was that 100 percent clean energy is a goal, not a law. It is also not exclusively 100 percent renewable energy. The plan is being drafted based on community input meetings, and a final version will be submitted to the city council by the end of February 2018.

The plan will be deployed in two stages: The first-wave goal for 100 percent clean energy by 2025 encompasses all city-owned property, the airport and watershed management—three entities that make up 7 percent of all electricity use in the city. Then, all other privately owned buildings and residences will aim to meet 100 percent clean energy by 2035.  

Step 1: Create jobs

Clean energy starts with making improvements to existing buildings to lower electric demand. This can mean adding attic and crawlspace insulation, replacing light bulbs and ballasts, upgrading appliances to Energy Star standards or sealing cracks and leaks that cause infiltration. The efficiency upgrade phase of the plan creates jobs for communities where the energy is consumed. Also, households can use their savings from lower utility bills to further stimulate the local economy. In the end, we all win, because air quality is improved across the entire southeast region by lowering peak demand events at coal-fired power plants.

Step 2: Invest in renewable energy

Using the ATHENIA model, Cox illustrated a few possible outcomes. Different types of projects have different implementation costs and different challenges in buy-in from private citizens and business owners. One projection demonstrated that at only 50 percent of plan implementation, the entire city would gain $13 billion in total benefits, 15,000 new jobs and air quality improvement equivalent to five months with no cars.

Contribute to a healthier future

One hundred percent clean energy would have massive ripple effects for every person who lives within the metro Atlanta region, and we need everyone's help to get there. When it comes time to take action under the plan, consider doing an energy audit of your home and business to see how you can contribute to efficiency upgrades. Later, when green space and community solar proposals pop up, show up to neighborhood meetings and voice your support.

Finally, when asked to think outside the box, imagine micro grids trading electricity between neighbors. At the start of each new day, Atlanta’s energy resilience depends on our shared commitment and responsibility to protecting one another as well as our city.

See more ways to take action in Atlanta