South Lake Tahoe City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday committing to a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2032.
South Lake Tahoe is now the 26th city in the U.S. to adopt such a goal, including many towns in California, Utah and Colorado.
“Working on planning projects in the Tahoe Basin, it’s very challenging to get universal support on almost anything. So the fact that we have been working on something that’s so positive, it’s been a really exciting opportunity,” Nick Exline, one of the driving forces behind the 100-percent renewable initiative, said at the April 18 council meeting.
A room-full of residents and agency representatives were in attendance to express support of the resolution.
“Our goal at the Sierra Nevada Alliance is to take this, template this initiative, duplicate it, and show other mountain communities throughout the Sierra how this can be done,” said the organization’s executive director Jenny Hatch. “This is going to say something about South Lake Tahoe.”
The League to Save Lake Tahoe, South Tahoe Chamber, Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, and the Sierra Business Council were some of the other organizations that spoke out in support of the initiative.
To reach the goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity, the resolution states that the city will “encourage the transition to 100% renewable energy by its local community energy supplier by 2032” and “endeavor to adopt policies to encourage 100% renewable energy for municipal operations by 2032.” This includes a shorter-term goal of reaching 50 percent municipal renewable energy by 2025.
Additionally, the city has set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80 percent by 2040.
To start, the initiative will be driven by a group of volunteers that make up the Sustainability Committee working alongside the city.
“Our goal in the short term is to have no costs associated with the city … We have a group of professionals that do this for a living that are willing to donate their time,” explained Exline, who is a senior planner at Midkiff & Associates, a planning and permitting consulting firm in the Tahoe Basin.
“Over the next year or two we want to work with city staff when appropriate to develop strategies to meet these objectives, ensuring by the time we come forward — if we ever do to seek money — that the economic benefits are clear and that the wins economically will outpace any cost that would be associated with it.”
So what’s the first step? The city’s contract is up next year with its existing energy provider Liberty Utilities, so negotiations will begin with an eye towards securing more renewable energy sources.
“Liberty right now generates 25 percent of their power from renewable sources. They are on track for 30 percent by 2020,” explained Devin Middlebrook, sustainability program coordinator and member of the new committee.
The city can negotiate with Liberty to buy “renewable energy credits” that allow the city to purchase energy that specifically comes from renewable sources, said Middlebrook.
Solar is another option the committee and city will explore.
“You can do a solar project where you get the community to all buy into a solar facility that generate powers for the community,” said Middlebrook. “We’ve been talking about doing that somewhere down by Topaz Lake within the Liberty network. So basically we have a solar facility that’s not in Tahoe, but all the power that goes into the grid is used in Tahoe.”
Community Choice Aggregation is another route. It is a system that enables local governments to aggregate the buying power of customers to secure alternative energy supply contracts, while also allowing those who don’t want to participate to opt out.
Kim Stevens, a Colorado-based senior regional field organizer with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, said collaboration across mountain towns in the U.S. is key in finding a path to reach the renewable energy goal.
“This is a growing movement and while you are an early adopter, you are by no means alone in getting to 100 percent,” said Stevens, citing other recreation destinations like Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab.
“There are experts in all of these communities that are so excited to work with more mountain communities to help them figure out this path as well.”
South Lake Tahoe Sets Goal of 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2032, by Claire Cudahy, Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 18, 2017.