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Last year, South Lake Tahoe became the 26th city in the United States committed to using only renewable energy resources by 2032.

By Whip Villarreal
Photo from iStock

The unanimously approved resolution was adopted by the South Lake Tahoe City Council this past April. Surrounded by city council members, members of the community and environmental groups, Mayor Austin Sass also signed onto 100% Committed, a campaign created by the Climate Reality Project, founded and chaired by Al Gore.

South Lake Tahoe, the largest city in the Sierra, joins other mountain resort communities such as Salt Lake City, Park City and Moab in Utah, as well as Boulder and Aspen in Colorado, where mayors have also signed the Climate Reality pledge.

The passage of the South Lake initiative was spearheaded by a coalition of locals and environmental groups working at a grassroots level with the goal of obtaining resolutions to adopt 100 percent renewable electricity throughout the Sierra Nevada.

“In 2017, we got South Lake Tahoe and Nevada City to pass renewable initiatives and we are working to have Truckee do the same,” says Jenny Hatch, executive director of Sierra Nevada Alliance. “Our idea is if we duplicate this across the Sierra and set this tidal wave in motion, it would be huge. You know, one town or one city doesn’t really make that much difference, but if you get a whole region like the entire Sierra to do this, then that does make a big impact.”

South Lake Tahoe resident Kathy Oaks, who has lived in the community for 20 years, has already done her part by retrofitting her house to be more energy efficient. Since then, she has noticed her utility rates have decreased by more than 60 percent. Oaks also says the winters in Tahoe have grown warmer and shorter over the time she has lived here and she is sure that has to do with climate change. So she is supportive of the new initiative, but worries it will be difficult to switch over to 100 percent renewable energy in this time frame.

Only a year into its pledge, however, the city is in fact seeing tangible progress. “The local energy provider, Liberty Utilities, is at 25 percent renewable energy, and I think they are on track to be 30 percent by 2020,” says Devon Middlebrook, sustainability program coordinator for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and a member of the Sustainability Committee. “The statewide goal right now is all utilities have to provide 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and there are some bills in the legislature right now that would make it 100 percent by 2040. So state regulation is on track to have cities in California in alignment around renewable energy in the future.”

Middlebrook says because of South Lake Tahoe’s proximity to mountain terrain, and the environmental protections in place for the lake, it’s unlikely a giant wind farm or solar fields will be built here. However, there are ample opportunities to draw power from wind and solar energy facilities already up and running in nearby Nevada. There is also a project underway to install solar panels on the hangars at the Lake Tahoe Airport—as early as this coming summer—which is predicted to save South Lake $1.28 million in electric bills over the next 25 years.

In fact, Middlebrook believes everyone can play a part in helping the city achieve its goal. Residents and businesses, for example, can reduce energy usage by putting in efficient LED light bulbs, upgrading appliances or purchasing energy credits, which is power that is derived specifically from renewable sources. Similarly, the Lake Tahoe Unified School District passed an energy efficient resolution in October 2017 that includes using green building practices, encouraging students to walk and bike to school, sourcing local and organic food for school lunches and planting additional school gardens.

How You Can Help
To volunteer or donate to Sierra Nevada Alliance, call 530-542-4546 or see sierranevadaalliance.com. To learn more about the 100% Committed campaign, see climaterealityproject.org.

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