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Transforming How Communities Use Energy: Learning from Fort Collins

Image courtesy of Caleb Kenna

The City of Fort Collins has adopted climate action goals that are among the most ambitious climate commitments in the nation. Under new goals adopted in March 2015, the city aims to reduce its community greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030 (relative to a 2005 baseline) and 100% (reaching carbon neutrality) by 2050. In adopting these goals, the Fort Collins City Council accelerated by 20 years the previous target of 80% emissions reduction by 2050.

Fort Collins’ remarkable achievement in adopting an ambitious goal is the fruition of a multi-year process led by stakeholders including city government, local businesses, Colorado State University, the local municipal utility, and community and environmental advocates. Along the way, Rocky Mountain Institute and eLab have played key roles in facilitations, analytical support, expert convening, and communications. This page provides an overview of our approach and offers links to resources for other communities who are considering forward-looking climate action.

The role of cities

With more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, cities play a pivotal role in addressing climate change. The design of cities—what we consume, how we design our buildings, how we develop our land, how we get around, and how we deal with our waste—significantly determines the amount of energy we use, the greenhouse gas emissions we produce, and the risks of disruption from climate-related weather events. While Fort Collins’ direct impact on global greenhouse gas emission is small on a global scale, active leadership is a powerful force for change. Fort Collins and other leading cities have the opportunity to demonstrate to the nation and the world that it is possible to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining and enhancing healthy, prosperous, and resilient places to do business.

Cities and communities are today at the forefront of practical, meaningful climate action. While a national strategy to fight climate change is stalled in the U.S. Congress, many cities and some states are acting now to reduce emissions. In a recent survey of 288 major cities, more than half (53%) had committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions . National and international networks of cities, including 100 Resilient Cities, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, C40 Cities, and many others are sharing best practices and comparing results. Local planning enables communities to craft policies that are best adapted to local values, constraints, and economic considerations while at the same time guiding and inspiring pragmatic local action and effectively engaging the business community.

What RMI Did

  • Formulate the Aspiration: With support from eLab, Fort Collins community leaders and outside experts convened in November 2012 to explore the opportunities and challenges in creating a clean energy future for Fort Collins. In this two-day charrette, participants expressed enthusiasm for accelerating the time frame of Fort Collins’ citywide climate action goals. The group posited that not only is acceleration feasible, it could also drive local economic growth, innovation, and electricity system resilience.
  • Size the technical and economic potential: RMI partnered with Fort Collins Utilities (FCU) in 2012 to answer the question: How far and how fast can Fort Collins go toward a clean, prosperous, and secure energy future? The resulting cost-benefit analysis provided a foundation for City Council to issue a resolution in April 2014 calling for the creation of a Climate Action Plan that would achieve 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
  • Evaluate best-in-class community participation strategies: RMI consulted a network of 40+ experts to identify and extrapolate lessons learned from best-in-class efficiency and renewable energy adoption programs around the nation and world. RMI’s findings inform the strategies and tactics included in the community’s revised Climate Action Plan framework.
  • Activate the Utility: RMI has collaborated with Fort Collins Utilities (FCU) and the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster to outline the elements of a new utility business model. A pilot program is being considered for implementation in 2016 that will enable FCU to offer a range of non-traditional services (including efficiency and on-site renewables) to households with no change to (or cheaper) monthly utility bills. This new model uses innovative on-bill repayment mechanisms to help customers finance and implement energy measures.
  • Create an integrated climate action plan: RMI partnered with the City and its climate action planning team over a period of ten months to develop a revised Climate Action Plan for City Council consideration. The resulting framework for action was presented to Council in February 2015 and helped make the case for the formal adoption of accelerated climate action goals.

Downloadable Resources:

For more information, please contact Coreina Chan (cchan@rmi.org), Martha Campbell (mcampbell@rmi.org), and Aman Chitkara (achitkara@rmi.org).

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