In some ways, Boise is sitting on a clean energy gold mine. When City of Boise Public Works Director Steve Burgos and Communications Manager Colin Hickman sat down to talk with Boise Weekly about the city's movement toward 100 percent clean energy, they pointed to the quirks of the local environment that give Boise an edge.
"We can be 40 to 50 percent hydro[powered], depending on the water year," said Burgos, leaning forward at a table in his sunny City Hall office.
"And 2 percent geothermal," Hickman added.
Burgos nodded his agreement. "We're working on a master plan to expand the geothermal system," he said. "How do we leverage that unique asset to Boise?"
While work on maximizing resources like those has been underway for years, urgency spiked a few weeks ago following a declaration from Boise Mayor Dave Bieter during his State of the City address. Speaking on stage at the Morrison Center on Sept. 12, Bieter announced that the City of Boise's facilities and operations will be powered with 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
"A growing number of businesses want renewable energy," Bieter told the gathered crowd. "Consumers demand it and costs are coming down. To separate ourselves and attract the types of businesses we want, we need more clean energy. It's a first step to creating a set of renewable energy goals for the entire city. It's not a slogan. It's our commitment to set the stage for what's next."
For Casey Mattoon, the conservation program manager for the Idaho Chapter of the Sierra Club, the timing of the declaration was a surprise, even though he sits in on the city's roundtable of stakeholders—a group of clean-energy experts, providers and consumers including representatives from Idaho Power, Intermountain Gas, Idaho Conservation League, Conservation Voters for Idaho, Micron, Simplot and more—for months.
"We knew that a commitment was coming for 100 percent clean energy, we just weren't sure on the timing. But we're really excited it happened at the State of the City, because it was not only a huge moment for clean energy in Boise but it came in the same week that the Sierra Club released our new case studies report," Mattoon said.
That report is the latest to spotlight cities that have joined the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign, a push to get cities nationwide to pledge conversion to 100 percent clean energy in at least one economic sector by 2035. While the City of Boise's newest goal isn't enough to earn it a spot on the Sierra club's list (which included 83 cities as of Sept. 27), it's a big step in that direction, particularly compounded with the city's other goals—including its 2016 commitment to halve energy use in existing city buildings by 2030. Moving forward, Burgos said the City will pursue that goal and its new 100 percent clean energy commitment concurrently.
"They're going to work together in tandem," he said. "... Hopefully 15 to 20 percent of us getting [to 100 percent clean energy in city buildings and operations] will be energy efficiency, reducing what we're actually using. That will also reduce the backside cost of any renewables that we have to add."
To that end, the city earned a Department of Energy grant to commission an analysis of energy use in 20 of its buildings. Broken down into 15-minute intervals, that data gives the city insight into which high-energy operations can be targeted for reduction. Burgos said that since 2010, the city has managed to reduce energy use at City Hall by 50 percent, just by switching to LED lights and making behavioral changes.
That study, trial-and-error and innovation have been in pursuit of an even larger goal, which the city has coined Boise's Energy Future: a city-wide commitment to 100 percent clean energy. That would include not only government buildings but commercial establishments, private homes and more. Bieter's announcement in September was meant, as he said, to "set the stage" for the next step.
"If we're going to ask the community to do it, we better have figured it out internally on our own," Burgos said, explaining why he feels city buildings and employees have to achieve clean energy goals before the rest of the municipality follows suit.
Public feedback will also be key. Starting this fall and continuing through winter, Public Works will engage directly with citizens to create a plan it hopes to take to Bieter and Boise City Council for approval as early as spring or summer of 2019. Whether the result will dovetail closely enough to the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 Campaign to get Boise on the list of committed cities, though, remains to be seen.
Burgos said he's less concerned about making the environmental organization's honor roll than he is about making a plan that's Boise-specific.
"They're probably parallel things," he said.
Hickman added, "We want it to be a Boise goal. Certainly it's great to be part of a larger anything, but we felt really strongly that this be Boise-centered, and a plan that works for our community based on what we've heard from all the stakeholders, the public and the unique set of circumstances and opportunities that Boise has."