DC Can Show True Climate Leadership by Cutting Carbon Even Faster and More Efficiently

DC Can Show True Climate Leadership by Cutting Carbon Even Faster and More Efficiently

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Thank you, Council Members for the opportunity to testify today.

I am not only the Vice President for Clean Energy at Third Way, a center left think tank based in Washington dedicated to getting the United States to zero carbon pollution by 2050. I am also a native of the DC area and almost twenty-year District resident. My father was born here, as were my children.

Perhaps the only issue I feel more passionately about than taking aggressive, immediate action to stem climate change is the opportunity for my home town to seize national leadership on the most important issue we will face for generations to come.

As the UN’s recent report made clear, we have a brief window to act to keep our planet’s temperature at 1.5C. This demands that every country, state, and city take action – now – to reduce its carbon pollution in every sector as fast, affordably, and holistically as possible.

The Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 is a positive effort to expand the District’s response to climate change. We have the opportunity, however, to codify even more ambitious, impactful, and transformative objectives that can be accomplished in a shorter timeframe and at a lower cost. The final version of this legislation has the potential to mitigate the local effects of climate change, benefit DC communities, and provides a clear signal that there are still committed climate leaders in the United States. It could make Washington, DC not only the nation’s leader but one of the leading cities in the world taking climate action. 

The intentions guiding the Omnibus Act are commendable, as is the aim to incorporate and build out greater renewable energy capacity, particularly solar and wind. Our goal, however, must be to eliminate carbon pollution as quickly and affordably as possible from the electricity and heat we use in our buildings and from our transportation systems. To accomplish this, we at Third Way urge the Council to consider three significant changes to this proposal that would enhance our city’s action on climate:

  1. Enact a clean energy standard instead of a renewable portfolio standard. This would enable the District to quickly call upon carbon-free resources that the Omnibus Act does not consider, which would allow it to achieve the goal of ZERO CARBON EMISSIONS within just a year or two after passage. That would get us across the finish line over a decade earlier, and lead to avoided emissions that are the approximate equivalent of taking all of the cars in the entire DMV region off the road for a year. Using a wider array of carbon-free resources would also let us hit our emissions goals with less expense to taxpayers and energy consumers. If the District can eliminate carbon from the grid at lower cost, that would enable us to invest more in other infrastructure, energy use, and mitigation programs that will help the District tackle its climate goals rapidly and equitably.
  2. Additional investment is also needed to cut climate pollution from DC’s transportation sector. This should include an entirely zero emissions fleet of public transit and government vehicles and the build-out of a public charging infrastructure that would make DC one of the most electric vehicle-friendly cities in the country.
  3. Invest in projects such as community storage paired with solar in underserved communities, particularly low-income housing. Lower-income families too often bear the brunt of climate change but get left behind when it comes time to mitigate its impact.

Building on recent Clean Energy Standards enacted in California and Massachusetts, we believe a DC Clean Energy Standard would allow the District to call upon readily available zero-carbon technologies and reach its objectives for zero carbon emissions from electricity use more than a decade sooner than expected. To reap these benefits, the standard should be technology-inclusive and incorporate available and emergent zero-carbon technologies, starting with renewables but also including clean energy storage; nuclear; and carbon capture. This will also send a positive market signal and attract innovators and entrepreneurs eager to test and incorporate their ideas into an inviting and progressive community.

The Omnibus Act takes an important step in providing financial incentives to drive more efficient, and ideally electric vehicles. But making this transition to EVs will remain difficult if District residents lack ample access to vehicle charging stations across all communities—serving single family homes and multi-family housing, particularly affordable housing. This infrastructure expansion will also have to allow for rapid and efficient electrification of the various public transit options that tens of thousands of people in DC rely on daily. That will require a thoughtful, analysis-based, and dynamic build-out plan, and cannot be accomplished on an ad hoc basis. This bill should use financial incentives to encourage a variety of vendors to invest in electric charging infrastructure, but should also allow or even require our power utility to contribute to the investment effort, and leverage its experience in these types of projects and its access to data and capital to start this process rapidly and efficiently, with ample oversight from the Public Service Commission and other relevant regulatory bodies.

More investment is also needed to ensure our city’s underserved communities receive the full benefit of a transition to clean energy. For instance, building out community storage with solar would allow affordable housing and low-income communities to get more use and benefit out of solar installations. It would also increase their resilience, improving their ability to support vulnerable populations during outages on the grid due to weather related events, which are likely to grow in frequency thanks to climate change. This idea has been successfully demonstrated in the Maycroft community in Columbia Heights, but should be scaled up across the city. The Omnibus Act should be amended to require the expansion of projects like this one in vulnerable communities and high-priority facilities across the District, overseen by the Public Service Commission, with an incorporation of best practices and lessons learned.

Our hometown has the chance and the responsibility, right now, to show our country and the federal government what real, aggressive, equitable climate action looks like. Putting DC on the fastest path to zero carbon pollution with a Clean Energy Standard that eliminates carbon in the electricity sector by 2021, sets out to electrify the city’s transportation fleet AND make DC one of the most EV-friendly cities in the nation, and does it in a way that lifts up all residents and helps all of our communities address climate change represents the best of our city’s values. It’s exactly the ambition we must embrace if we are going to do our part to keep the planet close to 1.5C.