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Cities Have the Power to Lead the Renewable Energy Movement

91 communities in Illinois are now receiving 100% of their electricity from renewable energy, according to a new report that my colleagues and I developed — Leading from the Middle: How Illinois Communities Unleashed Renewable Energy.

Gob Nob Farmsville, Illinois, community windfarm

Gob Nob Farmsville, Illinois, community windfarm.

In the heart of coal country, these are towns both large and small, Democratic and Republican, representing areas all over Illinois that have chosen to purchase renewable electricity for their residents and small businesses.

How is this possible? That's the question my colleagues and I set out to understand when we learned that a small town in Illinois—Village of Oak Park—was purchasing 100% renewable electricity.

We discovered that certain states, including Illinois, have access to a policy tool that allows communities to pool the buying power of all their residents and small businesses. Essentially, it's a bulk purchase and works similar to shopping at a place like Costco. When you purchase in bulk, you get better prices.

 map of Illinois showing location and capacity of wind farms producing renewable electricityOver 600 communities in Illinois have voted to utilize this policy called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA; also known as municipal aggregation). But CCA isn't just utilized for better prices; it also allows for energy choice.

As we looked into CCA and the example of Oak Park, we discovered Oak Park wasn't the only community using CCA for a clean energy source. Ninety additional Illinois towns are also using their bulk purchase and the large customer base guarantee that comes with it to procure renewable energy through Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). 

Right: map of Illinois showing location and capacity of wind farms producing renewable electricity. 

What kind of a tangible impact is this having? The 91 towns are reducing pollution levels by over 6 terawatts hours, which is equivalent to removing over 1 million cars from the road, taking 250,000 homes off the grid or planting more than 400,000 acres of forest. 

These actions are also significant because they help communities meet their sustainability and greenhouse gas goals. Many cities have ambitious goals and aspire to lead on the clean energy front but often do not possess the proper tools.

CCA allows communities to not only purchase renewables through RECs but can be utilized for purchasing local, clean power to drive investment within the state or in surrounding states. According to a recent proposal led by Standford University researchers, it's technically and economically feasible for states to produce more renewable energy.   

Fortunately, Illinois is not the only state with legislation that allows for CCA. California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio and Rhode Island, all possess the tool. In fact Cleveland and Cincinnati are also utilizing it to procure 100% renewable electricity through RECs. However, these states have yet to harness CCA to the degree that Illinois has.

Change at the local level is a powerful tool. When employed on multiple fronts, it creates a movement. Illinois' town and cities have realized this. At the same time, they have realized the potential that renewable energy offers to bring our communities clean American power.

I hope towns and cities throughout the country realize their potential for changing the energy dynamic in this country and I hope that other states empower their communities so they can choose how to power their lives.