In December, San Diego achieved an important milestone in the history of renewable power in America. The city council of the eighth largest municipality in the country unanimously approved the first legally binding Climate Action Plan (CAP) in the U.S. The city has now officially committed to complete its transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, less than 20 years from now. According to this New York Times article, city officials also indicated that half of the city’s fleet would consist of electric vehicles by 2020, and that the city would recycle 98 percent of the methane from sewage and water treatment plants. And the plan will now also have a directly beneficial effort on low-income communities.
The legally binding nature of the plan means that environmental groups could conceivably sue the city if it fails to meet the CAP’s goals. According to Cody Hooven, the city’s sustainability manager, calls are coming in from all over the world to ask about San Diego’s new plan. Hooven said, “They’re all asking, ‘How are you doing that?’ We’re saying, why not try for 100 percent? If we don’t try, we’ll never get there.”
The city is now devoting an entire component of the plan to infrastructure investment and job creation for low-income communities. According to Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of the San Diego-based organization Climate Action Campaign, poverty and environmental degradation are closely related. Local low-income communities such as Barrio Logan and City Heights are particularly affected by pollution. Two anticipated results of the CAP plan on those communities will be a decline in greenhouse gas emissions and more infrastructure investment and cleantech jobs. In other words, the neighborhoods that will most benefit ecologically will also see the greatest job growth.
The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) had estimated in 2015, before the Climate Action Plan was released, that there would be over 3000 new renewable-energy-related jobs in the area. SDWP now has two projects in the works to increase that number: 1) a not-yet-fully-realized venture to provide training to inexperienced low-income workers by creating solar panel installation training centers; 2) a plan to provide on-the-job training funds to employers by SWDP, which would reimburse 50 percent of every paycheck that those employers give to cleantech hires, with a limit of 1,040 hours.
The Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, was a major factor in getting the business community to endorse the plan. Said Mayor Faulconer: “Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue. I’ve never viewed it through the lens of what we have right now, but what we’ll have for future generations.” (Not surprising, he does not support his party’s standard bearer for president, Donald Trump.)
Capretz expects that much of the renewable energy San Diego will generate will come from solar power. “We’re sunny in San Diego, so we’re counting on a lot of homegrown solar on rooftops and parking lots,” she said.