The Des Moines City Council on Monday approved a resolution outlining a series of carbon emission goals, including a 24/7 clean energy by 2035 pledge modeled after Google's round-the-clock energy plan.
Des Moines is already well on its way to 100% clean energy, according to the council resolution; 83% of the city's energy came from clean sources in 2020.
While Des Moines may benefit from factors that enable it to pursue ambitious energy targets, environmental advocates hope the resolution will spur greater aspirations in similarly-positioned communities.
As of the end of 2020, Des Moines was already well on its way to a clean energy future. Environmental advocates say the city's Jan. 11 climate resolution — which may make Des Moines the first city in the nation to achieve 24/7 clean energy — sets an example for other communities that may be closing in on their original climate targets.
The City of Des Moines purchases power from MidAmerican Energy Company, which aims to achieve 100% clean energy by and unspecified date, and provided Des Moines residents with 82% clean power this past year. But the city council felt a need to go further, arguing that the Midwest derecho last summer and the record flooding of 2018 were evidence of the impact of climate change on the Des Moines community.
In the resolution, the city pledges to source 24/7 clean energy — entirely eliminating fossil fuels from its energy supply — by 2035. The resolution also tasks the city with reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
"As far as we know, this [24/7 goal] is the first of its kind," said Rachel Dupree, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 city decarbonization campaign. "It really sets a new standard nationally for cities and communities to look at."
Of course, Des Moines has a few critical factors going for it as it pursues this new goal, said Katie Rock, who heads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Iowa. Not only is the city already closing in on the 100% renewable energy mark targeted by more than 170 U.S. Communities, thanks to ample wind resources, the city is also surrounded by tech companies with ambitious climate goals. The surrounding metropolitan area contains an Amazon warehouse and data centers owned by both Microsoft and Google — the inspiration for the 24/7 target.
"Electrons are electrons," Rock said, "and I think they are aware that their reputation is on the line if they don't have these high standards."
Those factors may mean that 24/7 clean energy is a more realistic goal for Des Moines than perhaps for other U.S. communities, according to Stefan Schaffer, a strategist for the Natural Resources Defense Council's American Cities Climate Challenge. But the Des Moines could, perhaps, convince other well-positioned cities to reconsider the ambition of their own clean energy goals.
"It will be interesting to see," Schaffer said, "if there is appetite to rethink those goals with 24/7 generation in mind, but I think it's a commendable target for Des Moines."