Urban support will make schemes happen


July 6, 2015

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New York: the ‘city that never sleeps’ — if it can keep its lights on.

Last month, US state New York set a goal to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, which could open the state to new large wind farms, including offshore.

It follows California, which has also this year announced a 50% goal by 2030. Both said they saw this target as achievable by exploiting existing technology and improving their grid. It is a great sign for investors that major cities and states back the idea of wind.

Both states announced these targets with great excitement but, compared to some cities around the world, they are relatively conservative. Sydney, Vancouver and Malmo in Sweden are among cities aiming for 100% of electricity from renewables by 2030.

It is difficult to compare states or cities with each other, of course, in the same way it is difficult to compare cities with each other. Energy use in New York will be far higher than in Malmo, and so finding the sites for wind and solar farms to power the city will be that much harder. But other cities and states will follow what New York does.

What we can also do is make a strong argument that those in the wind industry should make a strong case for wind to local leaders.

You see, there is an interesting contrast here between local and national governments. National leaders may be those who set the grand energy policies, but it is the leaders of cities and states that can make things happen locally. Wind should do more to promote itself to those who run these areas which, though they are geographically smaller are, nonetheless, economically important.

If a city leader likes a project there is a good chance it will happen.

This comes back to a theory that we became aware of a couple of years ago, in a book by political theorist Benjamin Barber called ‘If Mayors Ruled The World’. Barber argued that the world would make more progress tackling issues like climate change if city leaders were more involved in solving them.

The logic of Barber’s argument is pretty simple.

National leaders calling for more renewables would make such an announcement, but then get mired in debates about national energy policy and international targets. It is for this reason French president Francois Hollande has said getting a significant agreement at the United Nations climate change talks in Paris in December would take a “miracle”.

However, city leaders do not tend to get so tied up in ideology. They are pragmatists that have to keep transport running and keep sewers flowing, while still listening to people. If they set energy
polices then they have to meet them or the lights go out.

Therefore, if they set green energy targets, we would expect them to push harder to achieve them than national leaders would.

If they say they are pro-renewables then the wind industry should seize the chance to make its case for new projects. Local leaders may not be able to override national policies, but they can be vital allies in making sure projects happen. This means they can be key allies for investors that want to turn wind farm plans into reality.

New York and California have both set public targets for renewable energy, and this is a great opportunity for those working in wind.

If investors can turn up with viable schemes and money in place then they should be pushing at the proverbial open door.

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