Blog Post By Jona Elwell

D.C. Council moves forward with ambitious Clean Energy Bill

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released in November lays out a stark future. While our response as a nation is still unclear, D.C.’s response as a city is anything but. Last week the D.C. Council voted unanimously to move forward with the CleanEnergy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 aka the D.C. Climate Bill. Introduced by Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Robert White, Brianne Nadeau and Chairman Phil Mendelson, this pending energy bill represents a significant step our environmental and clean energy policies.

The bill proposes a few key things:

  • The current standard of renewable energy to be sold in the District is  50 percent by 2032. This new bill would adjust standard that to require that 100 percent of energy sold in the District comes from renewable sources by 2032.  This change would result in an estimated 18 percent reduction in carbon emissions.
  • Another ambitious goal of the bill is the requirement that all public transportation and privately owned fleet vehicles in D.C. be zero-emission by 2045 and further encourages folks to buy cleaner cars, tying vehicle excise taxes to efficiency.
  • Almost 75 percent of carbon emissions in D.C. come from power use in buildings. To mitigate this, the legislation sets new building efficiency standards, which will hopefully cut those carbon emissions by 10 to 12 percent.    
  • All District customers pay a sustainable energy trust fund fee on their electric bills. The new legislation would double fees on electric bills (an average of less than $1) and triple on gas bills (a $2 increase for residential customers. The fees will provide an estimated $15 million to the Green Bank, which is set up to finance clean energy projects. Additionally, 20 percent of proceeds from the fee would be set aside to assist low-income residents struggling to pay those energy bills.

Two important notes, though.

As federal action on climate change and resiliency has stalled, many local governments (like D.C.!) as well as states are acting on their own to set and achieve ambitious green goals. D.C. is one of the first cities to establish its Green Bank which leverages public and private funds to invest in clean energy technologies and infrastructure. These financial tools, including loans and credit enhancements, support investment in clean energy projects. Green Banks are a novel way to take limited funds and dramatically increase clean energy deployment.

When thinking of carbon emission focused bills, many folks immediately think of one of the more popular legislative tool – a carbon tax. Many economists agree that taxing carbon emissions is the fastest and most efficient way to slow climate change. When this bill was initially proposed in 2017 it was mainly a tax on carbon emissions. Fast forward to July when legislation was formally introduced, it wasn’t a carbon tax at all, it was a collection of measures (detailed above) that cut emissions. Additional changes to the bill were made when the contentious provision that Pepco enter into long terms contracts when purchasing renewable energy was removed earlier this month.

Whether you’re cheering or dismayed, overall this bill showcases one of the many ways cities are increasing resiliency as climate related disasters continue to not only increase in strength but also frequency. In addition to the Clean Energy Bill, which is scheduled for another vote later this month, our city is already implementing the forward thinking Sustainable DC and Climate Ready DC plans – of which Mayor Bower wants to hear about from you! Submit comments online and take action for a brilliant, climate resilient D.C.

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