Here are five ideas coming out of local governments that promise to shape the national debate on climate change and energy reform:
1. PACE. Born in Berkeley, Calif., Property Assessed Clean Energy programs are rewiring how homeowners pay for expensive renewable energy systems and efficiency upgrades by treating them as an ordinary neighborhood utility upgrade. More than 20 states have laws in place to facilitate the program.
"There are a lot of property tax regimes in the country," said Michael Northrop, program director for sustainable development for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York. If the growth of affordable renewable energy depends on PACE, the country is going to need "a hell of a lot" of these programs, he cautioned. But "there are a lot of them in process, ... and there's a national infrastructure of people working on it."
2. Household MPG. If you sell a home in Austin, Texas, you need to have an energy audit performed. Berkeley and a host of cities have moved or are moving in a similar direction. The idea is to make energy efficiency part of the equation as you shop for a home.
"When you buy a house, you hire someone to inspect it. You learn a lot about the health of the building, but you don't learn anything about the building's energy use," said Cisco DeVries, president of Renewable Funding, a leader in programs that aid in municipal energy financing. "We need to get to a place where homes have a MPG on them."
3. Feed-in-tariffs. In March Gainesville, Fla. replaced its renewable energy rebate program with a feed-in-tariff, guaranteeing the price of electricity generated from solar panels for the next 20 years. Supporters say the tariff, which spreads the cost for renewable energy over all customers, offers a far more stable financial regime than a rebate program, the model for most utilities and which, in Gainesville, the tariff replaced.
Germany is seen as the pioneer on this front, and officials at Gainesville Regional Utilities toured several different European solar models before committing. So it's worth noting that the German model started first at the municipal level, then went national.
4. The street plug. Cities, pressed by pollution limits, are increasingly partnering with automakers to provide charging stations and other infrastructure to ease the transition to electric vehicles. And we're not talking San Francisco, Boulder, Seattle and other "green" communities.
As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, Houston, Orlando and Indianapolis are all cultivating EVs. Cities and utilities are planning fast-charge stations and will offer home-charging kits and tailored rate plans.
5. Congestion pricing. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to charge drivers for access to Manhattan during peak hours got slapped down by the state Assembly in 2008. But it's showing signs of life on the West Coast, as San Francisco, San Diego and Orange County, Calif., explore options.
And in reality, de-facto congestion pricing is already in place in Denver, Cape Coral, Fla., and other regions with dynamic tolls that charge based on traffic flow. "There is a consensus among economists," the U.S. Department of Transportation concludes, "that congestion pricing represents the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffic congestion.
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.