Cities, states and other local government entities play a critical role in helping the U.S. transition to clean energy and achieving national climate goals. Not only do local and state governments account for substantial emissions reductions when they purchase renewables, but they can also inspire other actors (such as utilities and companies) to adopt clean energy by way of their role in equitable clean energy policymaking; supporting residential and commercial electrification; and engaging in regional, state, community and utility planning efforts.

However, U.S. public agencies are often new to clean energy and, in general, lack the resources, staff and technical expertise to rapidly transition to clean energy sources and technology and make their ambitious goals a reality. This is especially true when it comes to rural, small and/or disadvantaged communities.

How WRI Supports Local and State Clean Energy Action in the U.S.

WRI provides technical assistance, education and resources to help local and state public agencies and their communities accelerate clean energy access and deployment. Working in lockstep with local leadership, the WRI team helps advance win-win local solutions that support broader goals around emissions reductions, cost savings and equitable development.

The end goal of this work is twofold: first, to accelerate clean energy adoption at the scale and pace needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change; and second, to ensure these clean energy initiatives are driving better quality of life and equitable economic opportunities for residents.

WRI has found success creating meaningful results for local government and state agencies through three support pathways:

  • 1-on-1 Technical Assistance: WRI provides direct assistance to local and state decisionmakers as they plan and implement a wide spectrum of clean energy actions ranging from municipal procurement of clean electricity to equitably planning for electric vehicle infrastructure deployment. Our team has significant experience working through each stage of the public planning and implementation process and brings guidance and expertise to help a range of stakeholders navigate technical and long-term investments.
  • Peer Learning and Workshops: WRI designs and facilitates engaging peer learning cohorts and workshop series to efficiently support progress at the local and regional level. Cohorts are effective models for supporting multiple local organizations who are facing similar challenges as they work towards clean energy milestones.
  • Research and Resource Development: WRI develops practical resources and tools that seek to answer key questions and identify solutions to common barriers facing local and state decisionmakers in the transition to clean energy.

Decarbonizing Municipal Operations

U.S. cities, counties and tribes are increasingly setting ambitious 100% clean energy goals. Step one in realizing these goals is to power municipal operations with renewables and shift to clean technology by electrifying fleets and buildings.

WRI helps energy managers, sustainability officers, chief financial officers, legal and procurement teams, and elected officials navigate the challenges of market and regulatory contexts, technology and resource considerations, project planning and siting, community engagement, equitable procurement and contracting, and funding and financing for clean energy and electrification efforts. The WRI team has run peer learning cohorts and education for local leaders on topics such as on-site solar PV on municipal building portfolios, large-scale off-site renewables procurement through power purchase agreements (PPAs) and municipal fleet electrification.

WRI has partnered with RMI on the City Renewables Accelerator as part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge (ACCC) program. Since its launch in 2018, the Renewables Accelerator has enabled participating cities to pursue over 800 MW of new renewable energy projects. WRI provided technical assistance on deals like Chicago’s landmark 100% clean energy retail electricity supply and Charlotte’s 35 MW green tariff deal


Accelerating Community-Wide Energy Transition Through Local Partnerships

Local and state governments must work with and support a range of community partners as they transition to clean energy. WRI helps public agencies understand the broad range of roles they can play in catalyzing community partners’ clean energy efforts. This can look like equitable clean energy planning, designing programs that provide a range of community benefits, reducing energy burden in frontline and disadvantaged communities, increasing inclusive workforce development and collaborating with new partners within their region.

The WRI team partners with the U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory to support local governments and communities in these types of efforts. WRI currently runs peer learning cohorts on grid-friendly electric vehicle charging infrastructure and financing strategies for more equitable clean energy initiatives for the “Clean Energy to Communities” program. WRI also provides technical assistance for the SolSmart program, which is designed to reduce the soft costs of solar installations by working with local governments to cut red tape and improve internal and communitywide practices.

WRI catalyzes new partnerships between local governments and community partners through cohorts on community solar, aggregated renewables purchasing and inclusive Solarize campaigns. The aggregation “cohort of cohorts” brought together regional energy buyers groups comprised of local governments, universities, school districts, housing authorities, museums and others to develop governance structures and strategies for off-site solar procurement. The inclusive Solarize campaigns cohort brought together local governments with a local community-based organization to design and launch solar bulk purchasing programs that were tailored to disadvantaged or marginalized communities. Finally, we have published research on how cities can partner with corporations on renewable energy adoption.


Prioritizing and Optimizing Federal Funding for Clean Energy Initiatives

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there is a wealth of new federal funding for clean energy and transportation initiatives in the U.S. WRI’s Energy team provides insights and resources to local and state decisionmakers, helping them navigate and optimize these new federal funding opportunities to drive equitable decarbonization in compliance with the Justice40 Initiative.

With Bloomberg Philanthropies’ support and in partnership with RMI and Lawyers for Good Government (L4GG), WRI delivered a Federal Funding Learning Series for local and state governments on topics such as prioritizing the usage of competitive and formula grants within the IIJA and the IRA for ambitious decarbonization projects.


Breaking Down Regulatory and Market Barriers to Clean Energy Adoption

Policies and decisions made by states, utilities, legislators, public utilities commissions and wholesale market governing bodies can either enable or limit the pathways available for local governments and communities to transition to clean energy. WRI helps local governments understand the options available to them and the ways that they can engage with energy system decisionmakers outside of their jurisdictional control to overcome barriers to climate action.

With support from DOE, WRI developed a series of primers on the ways that local governments can engage in wholesale electricity markets and in utilities’ integrated resources planning processes. WRI has also provided technical assistance, facilitation services and education for local governments as they pursue these engagement strategies, directly through one-on-one work with American Cities Climate Challenge cities and through coalition support in PJM and in North Carolina.



Cover image by Justin Lim/Unsplash