Austin's Energy Independence Challenge

A national contest to be the first city to generate 50% of its energy using renewable sources like wind, solar, and biomass is under way, and Austin wants to win

Last Wednesday evening, Mayor Will Wynn accepted on behalf of the city the Energy Freedom Challenge: America's Race to Independence Through Renewable Energy, kicking off a national contest to be the first city to generate 50% of its energy from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and biomass. In addition to carrying on Austin's reign as the No. 1 utility in the country for renewable energy sales, Wynn said he hoped to lead the 1,000-member U.S. Conference of Mayors, as its newly appointed Energy Committee chair, "to meet what should be our fundamental goal, absolute American energy independence … [which] will start with conservation and end with renewables."

Though the Challenge got funding through the U.S. Department of Energy's Million Solar Roofs program, it represents another localized initiative making leaps and bounds toward developing a green power infrastructure, while federal legislators have remained largely complacent about using the United States' vast renewable energy resources. Thanks in large part to the congressional leaders, enriched by fossil fuel energy cash, this country has passed up three opportunities to establish an ambitious national renewable energy quota, all but denied climate change, and continued to lavish oil and gas companies with subsidies as they get rich increasing our dependency on foreign energy.

Local clean energy advocates Solar Austin and D.C.-based Union of Concerned Scientists developed the Challenge, aimed at reducing our reliance on unstable, polluting energy sources and helping to accelerate homegrown clean energy technologies at the municipal level, by providing public information, and facilitating communication between cities. Solar Austin will administer the campaign, working locally to increase the market for renewable energy, encouraging people to install solar systems, and to subscribe to Austin Energy's GreenChoice 100% program. In making Austin the first city to accept the Challenge, Wynn envisioned channeling the "perfect storm of consumer demand for renewable energy, its free market cost effectiveness, and the dramatic desire for this country to be energy independent."

The city of Portland has already beaten Austin to the goal of powering all of its city buildings with renewable energy. Portland also invests nearly $2 million per year in conservation, has helped weatherize 20,000 apartments and 2,000 low-income homes in the past 10 years, and through the city's 1991 City Energy Challenge Program – designed to increase energy efficiency in all sectors by 10% by the year 2010 – they have saved $2 million per year, more than 15% of the city's energy bills.

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