When Philadelphia officials announced an agreement one year ago to purchase nearly a fifth of municipal electricity from a solar farm, they began fielding calls from curious businesses, universities and others: How can we get in on that?
Now, there might be a path.
On Wednesday, city officials were to announce the creation of the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia. The goal is for the collaborative to serve as a way for local leaders, businesses, nonprofits, colleges, and institutions to coordinate efforts to tackle climate change, purchase renewable energy, and address the current recycling crisis.
Organizers expected about 20 sign-ups by launch. Instead, they got 39 business and community leaders to commit to addressing climate change as a group, according to Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability. More sign-ups are expected.
Knapp’s office helped initiate the city deal to buy its power from a large-scale solar farm to be built in Adams County. Construction has not started yet, but the farm is expected to generate 22% of the electricity used in city-owned buildings by 2020. The Radnor-based Community Energy Solar is developing the 70-megawatt solar farm not far from Gettysburg.
“The idea for the collaborative came from when we were doing our solar power purchase agreement,” Knapp said. “We got calls from half a dozen institutions in the city asking: ‘How are you doing this? What are the costs like? How are you structuring your [request for proposal]?’ ”
Knapp said it became too unwieldy to handle each case one by one, so the collaborative was born to share information and resources.
“We had all these large organizations asking these questions,” Knapp said. “So we said to ourselves: Why are we having all these conversations in silos?”
So far, Yards Brewing Co., Saxbys, Hersha Hospitality Management, MOM’s Organic Market, NRG, Peco, and the Philadelphia AFL-CIO are among businesses and organizations that have signed up for the collaborative.
Temple University, Penn State’s local campuses, Philadelphia Community College, and Rowan University in Glassboro are among educational institutions on board. Other universities have expressed interest but have not yet signed up, Knapp said.
The Philadelphia Zoo, Longwood Gardens, the American Cancer Society’s local affiliate, and William Penn Foundation are among the institutions and nonprofits that have signed up. Camden County and East Goshen Township in Chester County are also in.
Philadelphia officials hope to leverage technical knowledge and other expertise available through the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, a program for 25 cities to accelerate efforts to address climate change and promote sustainability.
Last week, a delegation from Philadelphia that included Mayor Jim Kenney and Knapp attended the C40 Cities World Mayor’s Summit in Copenhagen, a summit committed to cutting fossil-fuel emissions.
Kenney spoke at the seventh summit, attended by leaders from 94 cities that embraced a global Green New Deal. The new initiative commits to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels. Cities are key, experts say, because even though they are big polluters, they also have the most resources to tackle the problem and drive change.
Most people live in cities, which are expected to house 70% of the global population by 2050. Already, 75% of global energy demand and 80% of greenhouse gas emissions come from urban hubs. So any solution to the climate emergency must include a vision of a global network of low-carbon, sustainable cities.
The Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia’s first event is set for Thursday at Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy at 12th and Chestnut Streets.
Rebecca Fleischman, program lead for the American Cities Climate Challenge at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said her organization connected Philadelphia officials with two groups that will run a “boot camp” during Thursday’s workshop. Fleischman said the Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute will facilitate the daylong session on how to buy renewable electricity through off-site power purchase agreements.
“The climate collaborative is an example of a city driving local progress and tapping into the private sectors for help,” Fleischman said.
In addition, Holland & Knight, a national law firm that opened a Philadelphia office last year, is providing funding for the workshop as well as legal information to participants.
John Martini, executive partner at the firm, said Holland & Knight is flying in some of its experts on power purchase agreements. He said the collaborative fits in with the firm’s own focus on climate initiatives that include helping investors, and reducing the firm’s own climate footprint.
“Our hope is that by signing on, and with our connections, we will help pave the way for a much larger commitment from the business community,” Martini said.