When it comes to clean energy policies, Jacksonville is one of the worst cities in the nation, according to a new report.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently released its 2019 City Clean Energy Scorecard, and Jacksonville got one of the lowest scores in the U.S.
The Council is a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that provides research, technical assistance, and other services to help increase energy efficiency throughout the U.S. by working on national, state, and local levels.
“Cities are the center of economic activity and cultural activity, so it's safe to say that they are generating lots of emissions within their communities,” said Senior Research Manager David Ribeiro. “That's why I think focusing on them is so important. And I think that's what we're seeing from the city scorecard, that there are a lot of communities that are trying to put this front and center.”
But the River City isn’t one of them, according to the scorecard.
“Jacksonville was unfortunately in the bottom 10,” Ribeiro said.
The scorecard ranks the largest cities in the U.S. based on their efforts to achieve a clean energy future and reduce climate change-causing emissions. The 2019 report is the fourth city scorecard from the council and the first to track renewables in addition to energy efficiency, and it’s the largest report yet with 75 cities, as opposed to the 51 ranked in past editions.
“We score cities based on 50 different metrics,” explained Ribeiro. “Many of those metrics are policy metrics, in terms of, was a specific policy adopted or goals set? And then there's a number of other ones that are based on policy performance. So, how are cities achieving or progressing towards achieving their climate action goals? That sort of thing.”
Each of those metrics fall into one of five categories: local government operations, community initiatives, building policies, transportation policies and the actions of utilities.
Totalling all points across these categories, Jacksonville got a score of 16.5 out of 100, putting it at No. 66 out of 75 on the scorecard and at the bottom of the pack in Florida.
“It's clear from their score that clean energy, energy efficiency and renewable energy, to this point, hasn't really appeared to be a priority for the city,” Ribeiro said.
He said that leaves plenty of room for improvement, and before the conversation ever enters a committee room or City Council chambers, making gains can start with local government operations.
“How are you making your own city buildings more energy efficient? How are you managing energy use in those buildings to make sure that you keep costs low? Then you can make those taxpayer dollars go further,” he said.
Most of the cities analyzed in the scorecard have privately owned utilities, but Jacksonville’s utility, JEA, is city owned. Ribeiro said that should make it easier for the River City to up its energy efficiency game.
“When we come up with these recommendations, it's across all 75 cities, and most of the utilities are investor owned. So those partnerships are more between the city and an independent entity,” he said. But in the case of Jacksonville, “it wouldn't be that partnership with an external organization, it would all be in house. So that should help things along.”
But JEA is not prioritizing energy efficiency as it plans for the next decade. In fact, it recently asked the Florida Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s largest electric utilities, to lower its energy efficiency goal to zero, saying there are “no achievable savings for energy efficiency, demand reduction, or demand side renewable energy measures…”
Ribeiro said another possible step for cities is setting climate goals.
“Then, there's things they could do on the transportation side of things, including encouraging more energy-efficient modes of transportation and helping to create a more compact city so there's less energy use baked into the transportation system,” he said.
While the environmental benefits of adopting clean energy policies and practices are clear, Ribeiro said people often forget that there are economic benefits as well.
“Last year alone, more than 2 million people worked in the energy efficiency industry,” he said. “So by embracing these strategies, embracing energy efficiency, it's really a pathway to creating more jobs in your community and creating more economically vibrant communities.”
Ribeiro said Jacksonville leaders could look at what other cities have done to achieve higher scores. For example, Boston was ranked No. 1 with a score of 77.5. The most energy-efficient city in Florida, Orlando, scored 51.5 out of 100, making it the 15th best city in the nation.
The scorecard could be a useful tool for residents too, he said.
“Residents can go in and see where the city's doing well, where it isn't, and they can use that for their own advocacy efforts,” he said. “If they want their city to do more on clean energy, they could see what the report recommends, obviously, form their own opinions, and then use that for their engagement with the city.”
WJCT News reached out to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office several times for comment, but there was no response by this story’s deadline.