By Leah Y Parks
On a blustery spring afternoon in North Portland’s Key Delta Community Center, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury unveiled a joint agenda for setting the city and county on a path to meet 100 percent of their energy needs with renewables by 2050.
The city and county already established a joint Climate Action Plan that calls for cutting carbon by 80 percent by the year 2050. The plan was awarded the C40 Cities Award for best climate action plans and inventories projects of 2016.
With the 2017-2018 Climate Agenda, the city and county are once again combining forces in an action that will make the Oregon metropolis a leader among leaders.
A 100 percent renewable energy metropolis
The 2017-2018 Climate Agenda sets a goal of meeting all electricity needs from renewable sources by the year 2035 and all remaining energy sources from renewable energy by the year 2050. The Portland Metro area is one of the first major American metros to commit to a goal that includes not only electricity, but all other energy needs as well.
Vancouver, Canada, and Boone, North Carolina, have made similar far-reaching commitments. Hawaii is still the only state in the nation to commit to a 100 percent renewable electricity supply by the year 2045.
Although Oregon is lagging behind other state’s energy policies with regards to greenhouse gas reductions, Mayor Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury have catapulted their region’s energy policy to the forefront. It is expected that this 100 percent goal will inspire greater innovation and encourage more clean-technology businesses to flock to an already growing clean-tech business cluster.
Portland: A successful leader
Wheeler said the city is up to the task of deep greenhouse gas reductions and confirmed its commitment to stay the course no matter the leadership in Washington. He vowed to continue to lead the city into the future of energy policy.
Portland has already shown an appetite for resisting federal polices when the city council voted in 2016 to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure in the city.
Wheeler has “joined with other local leaders to resist federal policy changes that have the potential to increase carbons emissions and will be resisting other policy changes that fly in the face of our core values,” he explained. “Politics has really swung to the local level, and at the local level, this is where we are going to be providing the innovation, the creativity, and the leadership to move forward on these climate action goals.”
A metropolis with emissions-reduction experience
Portland has shown that it is possible to reduce carbon emissions and grow its economy while also seeing large increases in population. In October 2016, the Oregon Employment Department reported that the metro area experienced the 10th fastest-growing real GDP among the 100 largest metros.
And the city and county have extensive success and experience to draw upon. A Climate Action Plan progress report will be released in the next several days to demonstrate Portland’s success thus far, Wheeler said. He gave the crowd a sneak-peak, sharing: “As of 2014, local carbon emissions were about 21 percent below their 1990 levels … and on a per-capita basis … emissions are about 40 percent below 1990 levels.”
The city and country developed the 2017-2018 Climate Agenda after nearly a year of community engagement and stakeholder input. They summarized 16 top points for their plan. The first seven include:
- A goal to meet all Portland and Multnomah County community-wide energy needs with 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050. All electricity from renewable sources by 2035.
- Equitably implement the actions in the Climate Action Plan.
- Support the growth of Portland-area firms that produce and deliver low-carbon.
- Prioritize minimizing risk for communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
- Work with utilities to accelerate the transition to zero-carbon electricity and minimize dependence on fossil fuels.
- Establish clean diesel contracting to ensure that equipment used on publicly funded projects reduces black carbon.
- Urge the state of Oregon to strengthen its energy code to target net-zero energy buildings by 2030.
“A giant leap for humankind”
In a call to action, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said we can no longer “deny” or “delay.” Pointing out that the county recently saw the warmest year and wettest winter on record, she stated: “We must take a stand for the health of our community and we must act now for our children’s future.”
Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley also asserts that the time for action is now. He explains on the Voices for 100 percent Renewable Energy site: “We know from the science that we no longer have time to take small steps. We need to take a ‘giant leap’ for humankind right now. It’s time to aim for 100 percent by  — using every tool we’ve got, both at the local and national level.”
Wheeler and Kafoury’s 2017-2018 Climate Agenda fulfills this goal. With their joint action, the city and county are taking this necessary leap.
Image credits: 1) Courtesy of the City of Portland & Multnomah County; 2 & 3) Leah Y Parks
Leah Y Parks is co-author of the book, “All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future,” consultant and an electricity policy journalist. She served on City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Environmental Policy Task Force and has written extensively about innovations in energy storage, smart grid technology, energy infrastructure, and renewable energy. Ms. Parks holds a Master of Science degree from Stanford University in Civil and Environmental Engineering and a BA from the University of Wisconsin in International Relations.