City of Boise Moves Toward 100 Percent Clean Energy

Despite urging, city officials say they will wait to set an achievable goal


Although the City of Boise has adopted several clean energy initiatives, one conservation group argues it should take a bigger step: total commitment. For the past year, the Idaho chapter of the Sierra Club has lobbied Mayor Dave Bieter and city of Boise officials to commit to its Ready For 100 campaign, which asks cities nationwide to set a 100 percent clean energy goal in at least one economic sector by 2018 and meet it by 2035. When Boise hesitated to take the plunge, the Sierra Club turned to local businesses for support.

"What this looks like is doing presentations to small community groups, doing presentations to larger community groups [and] throwing events about clean energy, whether it's a film or a talk or a rally," said Idaho Sierra Club Conservation Program Manager Casey Mattoon. "Right now we're doing a really big push for nonprofits and businesses."

Mattoon hopes cultivating grassroots support will show the city that the community is ready to commit, and so far the Sierra Club has scored endorsements from several local groups, including Boise Bicycle Project and the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. Though he applauds many city of Boise energy initiatives, including the construction of the first "net zero" energy building in the state—which produces more energy than it consumes—and the commitment to halve energy use in existing city buildings by 2030, Mattoon feels the city could make a final gesture.

"What we would like to see them do is tie the bow [on current energy initiatives] by anchoring all that work in this 100 percent clean energy vision," Mattoon said. "That's something that we think is not only totally possible based on the values that we see here in Boise residents, faith leaders, nonprofits and businesses, but we also think is necessary." Mattoon feels if Boise commits, other Idaho cities will follow suit.

Citizen lofted signs in support of clean energy at a climate rally in Boise. - CASEY MATTOON
  • Casey Mattoon
  • Citizen lofted signs in support of clean energy at a climate rally in Boise.

Representatives from the city, including Public Works Director Steve Burgos and Environmental Division Senior Manager Haley Falconer, agree with Mattoon on the importance of converting to clean energy—they just aren't quite ready to commit.

"We're not really big on just setting goals to set goals," said Burgos. "[Bieter] is really big on, if we're going to set a goal, it's going to be a goal that we think is achievable. And once we set it, we're going to get after it. ...We just think it's really important to study it and vet it prior to making a commitment." He explained that although renewable energy is important, it isn't the city's only sustainability focus: Energy efficiency, internal city operations, composting, recycling, water management and developing green infrastructure in places like the LIV district also compete for time and funding.

A new Sierra Club report, released Nov. 14, may help speed the vetting process for a clean energy commitment. The report spotlights initiatives in 10 of the 50 U.S. cities that have committed to the Ready for 100 Campaign, which range in size from the metropolis of Portland, Oregon, to the small town of Abita Springs, Louisiana.

When asked if Boise could learn from this report, Burgos replied with an emphatic "Absolutely!" later adding, "We're looking at other cities, and other cities are looking at us."

It's not a simple matter of copycatting, though. To convert to 100 percent clean energy in one or more economic sectors by 2035, the city of Boise would have to work with Idaho Power, a hoop cities in control of their own utilities don't have to jump through. According to Idaho Power Communications Specialist Brad Bowlin, this partnership is already underway.

"Idaho Power continues to meet with representatives from the city of Boise as the city pursues its clean-energy goals," Bowlin wrote in an email, adding that the power company is aware of the Sierra Club initiative and is also pulling back from coal, with plans to completely or partially exit three of the plants it uses by 2032.

As Burgos and Falconer see it, the city of Boise, Idaho Power and the Sierra Club are all on the same page when it comes to supporting clean energy. However, bureaucracy and research require a slower timeline for the city.

"Whether it's energy or water or electric vehicles, we really see our role as the city as demonstrating leadership internally," said Falconer. "So looking at what we're doing in-house, understanding what that means for our operations, and then being able to turn to the community and say, 'Okay, here's what we learned, here's what we're doing, here are our goals as a city operation, and now let's talk about this as a community.'"

As for building grassroots support, Burgos said his department is all for it. He thinks it's great that the Sierra Club is talking to people and educating them, because he believes "it's going to help us on the back side as we begin to try to start the implementation [and] integration of renewable energy."

Burgos estimates a specific renewable energy strategy, already in the works, may be fully drafted as soon as next spring and ready to go before Mayor Bieter and the Boise City Council for approval by summer. If the plan is stringent enough and approval comes quickly enough, Boise might squeak into the Ready for 100 campaign before its end of 2018 deadline.

"We certainly can't commit to anything before talking with the mayor and council, but it's possible that out of the study will come the goal," Burgos said with a smile. "It's an exciting time."