The goal is to transition the operations of the City of Greensboro to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, but according to the resolution passed by the City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 3, the city could make a huge step toward reaching that goal before the end of the year.

The resolution states, “Achievable goals for transitioning to 100% renewable energy in all city operations by 2040 from any combination of on-site and off-site renewable sources, including but not limited to: solar, wind, hydroelectric, renewable energy certificates (RECs) and green power purchases.”

The key is “renewable energy certificates.”  These would allow the city to claim it was only buying electricity made from renewable sources.  It’s a really clever financial device that would only cost the city money and the city wouldn’t have to change anything except the size of its electric bill.  The price of renewable energy certificates fluctuates, and not knowing what the city’s total electric bill is makes it impossible to even estimate the yearly cost.

But what renewable energy certificates do is allow purchasers to claim that they are using electricity from a renewable energy source.  The actual electricity the buyer uses is the same mix of electricity from coal, nuclear, gas, solar, wind, biomass, oil and hydroelectric sources that everyone else is using, but buying the certificates gives the buyer the right to claim the electricity is only from a renewable source.

It is a costly feel good measure, but by spending a lot of tax dollars Greensboro could claim to be the greenest city in the Southeast, which is evidently a goal of the City Council, and the city wouldn’t have to do anything different other than spend more for the same electricity it is buying today.  

City Councilmember Justin Outling was the only member of the City Council that seemed to even consider the cost of actually transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

Outling noted that the resolution said, “the city will begin the process of developing a plan to reach those goals.”

He said that he looked forward to seeing the plan and added, “The council is going to be called upon to make a massive capital investment.”

Mayor Nancy Vaughan ignored the comments by Outling about the huge cost and said that they had been working on the resolution for months because, “I didn’t want to pass a resolution that we could just feel good about, but a resolution that we thought would be actionable and we could attain.”