On April 21, 2014, Winston-Salem officially became the City of Arts and Innovation by unanimous vote of the City Council. Last month, the City Sustainability Committee unanimously recommended that the City Council adopt a resolution to become an innovation leader by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy and supporting the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon dividend Act. The City Council should live up to its commitment to be a city of innovation and adopt the resolution.
Renewable energy is the fastest growing energy source in the United States and now generates more electricity than coal. And renewable energy jobs are booming: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts America’s two fastest growing jobs through 2025 will be solar installer and wind technician. At the beginning of 2020, more that 3.3 million people were employed in the clean energy sector nationwide, more than triple the number of fossil fuel workers. One hundred ten thousand of those clean energy jobs were in North Carolina.
In 2016, less than 2% of people in the U.S. lived in a community committed to a renewable energy transition. Today, that number is 28% — 1 in 4 people in the U.S.! So far, more than 160 cities have committed to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, including several in North Carolina. In December, the Forsyth County commissioners adopted a resolution supporting a switch to renewable energy. The city should join the county at the forefront of transitioning to renewable energy.
On June 4, scientists announced a new record for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 417.1 ppm, despite emissions falling during April because of the economic slow-down. Climate change is at our doorstep and we must start reducing our greenhouse gas emissions now to avoid the worst impacts. If we wait much longer, we increase the chances of having to take drastic action that could be disruptive to city operations and the local economy. Starting the transition now will minimize disruption, enhance opportunity and enable a smooth, cost effective transition.
The resolution proposed by the Sustainability Committee includes strategies that promote conservation, efficiency and implementing clean, renewable energy. A well-designed program should save the city money, given existing technology and rate structures. As new technology emerges and the regulatory environment is changed to be consistent with Gov. Roy Cooper’s North Carolina Clean Energy Plan, savings become even more likely.
Moving to 100% clean renewable energy will create new jobs in installation, maintenance, construction, architecture, design and more. There are already an estimated 8,400 clean renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs in the Winston-Salem metro area. By adopting and meeting renewable energy goals, the city will be supporting the industries of the future, which will also nurture private sector growth in clean energy.
Reducing fossil fuel use will also reduce air pollution, which exacerbates respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.
The resolution recommended by the city’s sustainability committee also supports adoption of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which has been introduced in Congress. More than 250 cities around the country have called for Congress to enact legislation placing a price on carbon and returning the money raised to families via monthly cash payments. Cities as large as Chicago and as small as Ridgway, Colo. (population 953) have passed resolutions calling for action. Cities from all corners of the country — Bangor, Maine to Petaluma, Calif. to Bellingham, Wash. to St. Petersburg, Fla. — and from the heartland — Salt Lake City, Utah, Dallas, Texas, Toledo, Ohio and Fayetteville, Ark. — have called for action. In North Carolina, Greensboro, Asheville, Boone and others have passed resolutions supporting carbon pricing legislation.
The carbon fee and dividend plan on which this legislation is based has been endorsed by all four living former chairs of the Federal Reserve Board, 27 Nobel Laureates, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, and two former secretaries of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Among the supporters are President Ronald Reagan’s secretaries of State and Treasury, George Shultz and James Baker. They believe that a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act will spur changes that will make it easier for Winston-Salem to reach its renewable energy goals.
It is time for the city of Winston-Salem to be an innovation leader and commit to adopting and promoting the energy technologies needed for the 21st century.