While a lot of cleantech regulatory innovation clearly needs to come from the highest levels of government, local authorities are proving to be catalysts for the industry as well.
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Clean Cities Program work with local governments to reduce petroleum consumption. A study (pdf) by another wing of the DOE found that 90 local coalitions saved 375 million gallons of gas in 2006.
More importantly for greentech, the coalitions supported a variety of growing green industries. The purchase of compressed natural gas, ethanol, and biodiesel accounted for the lion’s share of fuel saved. The program also stimulated the purchase of 44,000 hybrid vehicles. This program is clearly not about energy conservation: only about 10 million gallons of petroleum were saved by reductions in usage.
All this was achieved with only $8 million from the Department of Energy. How? The coalitions put their “Clean Cities” status to work and won 165 grants worth more than $87 million. This money is key to stimulating the local business environments for greentech. These government programs and vehicles also serve as free advertising for the greentech industry. A green-friendly environment can help drive the development of local greentech industry, as the city of Austin has found.
Local governments can also do more than just reduce petroleum usage. They can stimulate many of the other sectors in greentech. San Jose, Calif., for example, has streamlined the permitting process for erecting solar roofs.
My sister, who is chief of staff to Jeff Cogen, a Multnomah County, Ore., commissioner, has been keeping me up-to-date on their project to more than double the state’s solar capacity. It’s just one of the many projects that the local governments up there have in the works that will benefit the cleantech industry. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Portland routinely shows up on lists of greenest cities.
Many cities, however, could be doing more to encourage the adoption of green technologies. San Francisco, for example, just got its first full-time biodiesel filling station, spurred by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s partial conversion of the city’s fleet to the biofuel. Seattle, by contrast, has had easily accessible biodiesel retail locations for years. It doesn’t take a lot of complicated analysis to understand where consumers are going to use more biodiesel.