EDITOR'S NOTE: San Diego recently decided to be fully reliant on renewable energy. The Energy Times invited a key leader in that effort, environmental attorney Nicole Capretz, to reflect on the pioneering policy. The Energy Times is leading The California Renewables Rush, a landmark executive conference, in San Francisco on April 6.
San Diego recently made history and set national precedent by becoming the largest U.S. city with a legally binding commitment to use 100 percent clean energy by 2035-- that’s double the amount of renewables mandated by the state-- and they did it with the unanimous backing of a bipartisan City Council and Republican Mayor.
The plan also commits the city over the next twenty years to achieving zero waste, 35 percent urban tree canopy, and 50 percent of commutes via transit, walking, or biking in transit priority areas. Further, it’s the first plan in the state to include metrics that identify and prioritize disadvantaged communities using the state’s scientific health hazard assessment tool, CalEnviroScreen. In total, San Diego’s plan will cut citywide carbon emissions in half and it will provide all San Diegans with cleaner air, a healthier future, and a stronger, more resilient economy to meet the needs of the 21st century.
As a primary author of this climate plan, I’ve been asked many times why the City feels it can achieve this plan and double down on the state’s ambitious 50 percent renewable effort. The answer: We can because we must. What science makes overwhelmingly clear is that what we are doing is not enough to solve the biggest problem facing humankind. We must find new solutions because we have a collective duty to protect the people and places we love, for now and for future generations.
However, that sense of duty alone is not what drove the unanimous adoption of San Diego’s climate action plan. It was the perfect elixir of legal leverage, skilled advocacy, broad-based organizing and political/community will.
Our legal leverage came from the fact that our City made legally binding commitments in its General
Plan to reduce carbon emissions in order to meet California’s aggressive climate reduction goals. Broad-based education and outreach happened through a persistent effort by the environmental community to keep this issue high profile at the city and within the community. By the end, the public support was overwhelming. In mid-December, we had over 90 individuals and stakeholders – including representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Building Industry Association and our utility -- come to City Hall to speak in support of the Climate Action Plan. Only two individuals spoke against the plan.
So, what does this mean for San Diego and beyond? It means San Diego has signaled to the market and to millennial and boomer generation workers alike that it is ready for the 21st century economy and lifestyle, ready for re-engineering our urban landscape and how we power our lives, and ready to build a better future for the next generation.
San Diego was our testing ground, and now the opportunity to act is ripe for cities all around the region, state, and country to push people and ideas together to bring forward climate solutions and clean energy.
San Diego has thrown down the gauntlet. Who’s next?
Nicole Capretz is executive director of the Climate Action Campaign in San Diego.