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Philly commits to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035

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The City of Philadelphia is doubling down after the White House’s decision to reject the Paris climate accord

Weeks after Mayor Jim Kenney joined hundreds of other mayors across the country denouncing the White House’s move to reject the Paris climate accord, Philadelphia announced today that it has committed to transitioning to 100 percent clean energy. Currently, energy used by buildings and industry in Philadelphia accounts for 79 percent of carbon pollution in the city.

“In Philadelphia we’re not afraid of hard work and will do everything in our power to fight climate change,” Kenney said. In reference to President Donald Trump, Kenney continued, “No matter what havoc that guy wreaks over the next few years, we will recover from it and move on.”

In addition, Kenney argued that the hotter, wetter, and more extreme weather the city has experienced over the years due to climate change disproportionately affects the city’s most vulnerable residents, putting their lives at risk. “Transitioning to a just energy system that is clean and affordable for all will slow these changes and make Philadelphia a better place for current residents and future generations,” Kenney said.

The city’s commitment to 100 percent clean and renewable energy makes Philadelphia the 100th city—and the second largest city, at that—to sign onto the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy effort spearheaded by the Sierra Club. Local universities and college institutions, including Drexel University, have also signed the We Are Still In pledge to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

The Sierra Club’s overall target year for cities to transition to 100 percent renewable energy is 2035. Sara Wu, deputy director of the Office of Sustainability, clarified that the 2035 date is just a goal: “While we’re being aspirational and setting the goal of 100 percent clean energy, we’re still working to understand what it would take to meet that goal within a specific timeframe.”

By Curbed’s last count, nearly 300 mayors of U.S. cities have adopted the Paris climate accord after the U.S. pulled out of the agreement, which is a non-binding contract that encourages countries to lessen their carbon footprint in an attempt to fight the global effects of climate change.

Philadelphia’s renewed efforts come after Kenney stated on June 1 that the city would be updating guidelines already in place for the city for its residents to take action against climate change. Managing director Mike DiBerardinis pointed to the city’s current city efforts, which include increasing tree canopy in every Philly neighborhood; an ongoing master energy plan; and the mayor’s Zero Waste initiative to prevent waste and reduce litter by 2035.

Most recently, SEPTA announced that it would be installing the second largest solar panel system in the city at four of its stations. There are also plans in place to reduce emissions from all city vehicles, DiBerardinis added.

The city’s utilities are already purchasing renewable energy, with a focus on increasing efficiency and reducing the amount of energy used, Christine Knapp, director of Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability, told Curbed Philly.

“Now that we know federal action isn’t coming, that’s why this pledge makes sense for us to not only reduce the amount of energy we use, but also pay more attention to the type of energy we’re using, as well,” Knapp said. “We know we need to ramp it up more.”

That includes use of solar panels at various Philadelphia Water Department outposts, she noted, as well as efforts to revamp the city’s electric vehicle parking spots bill. In April, City Council passed a moratorium on the bill, which previously allowed electric car owners to install car-charging stations by their homes.

Knapp acknowledged by the moratorium “might be upsetting” to some, but assured that the goal is to revamp the way the bill works so that it’s “way more accessible.” Less than 60 parking permits had been issued since the original bill passed 10 years ago. Now that the cost of electric cars is coming down, Knapp said, “the ultimate outcome is going to allow a lot more people to take advantage. It’s sort of a slight pause with progress to come.”

Kenney also announced that the city has made available online all of the climate data that was recently scrubbed from the Environmental Protection Agency website in April. This information, which includes background on why and how climate is changing, is now available at https://beta.phila.gov/climatechangeisreal, with open-source code available so other cities can copy the site to their own respective sites.