Power switch: Cleveland starts move to 100% renewable energy by 2050

When the city of Cleveland revised its 6-year-old Climate Action Plan in 2018, it set an ambitious goal: to use 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050. This followed the United States’ 2017 withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson made the commitment to clean energy, joining 200 other mayors nationwide.


While it may seem like a lofty initiative for a city once notorious for its pollution, it was a no-brainer to include 100% renewable clean energy while updating the Climate Action Plan, says Cleveland’s Chief of Sustainability Matt Gray.


“We had around 12 neighborhood workshops, an advisory board of over 90 organizations, and tons of resident engagement,” he says. “What came out as one of the key priorities is green energy and clean energy.”


As a result, the city is pursuing ways to implement solar- and wind-powered energy (the initiative is focused on electricity usage and not natural gas at this time), both on a large scale—Cleveland Public Power pledged to purchase 25 percent of the power from the Icebreaker Wind offshore wind farm, for example—and a small scale, exploring the creation of a “green bank” that can help smaller businesses with proportionate budgets install solar panels.


As of now, the city has reached 10% (and steadily growing) of that 100% goal. In May, Cleveland received a grant that should help. Partners for Places, a grant-matching program focusing on sustainability efforts that help low-income communities, awarded $50,000 to the city. The Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation and the United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland matched the grant. The city will use the money to create a more concise plan to reach 100% clean energy, with an emphasis on helping lower-income people gain access.


“This grant is really focused on programs that can benefit everyone and not just residents who have enough out-of-pocket money to pay for solar up front,” says Gray. “We want to look at things like community solar, for example. Let's say you don't have the capacity to put solar on your own roof. Maybe there are pieces of vacant land in the community that we can use, and then residents around it can take advantage of that lower price for solar.”


The benefits of clean energy don’t just extend to lower costs and a healthier environment, either. The potential for green job growth to coincide with an increase in wind and solar power use is something they’re examining and excited about.


“How do we make sure those jobs are local and that those most in need of jobs can get trained properly to take advantage of these clean energy jobs that will be coming over the next decade?” he says.


Even a backlash against green energy, including Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s defunding of the state’s energy efficiency initiatives, hasn’t dampened Gray’s enthusiasm for this goal.


“People are a little down right now with what's going on with the state and federal government about clean energy,” he says. “But there is a lot we can do locally still. It's inevitable that we're going to be transitioning toward a future of clean energy. It's just a matter of how quickly we can get there.”


Interested in learning more about the city’s Climate Action Plan? Join Sustainable Cleveland for its annual summit Wednesday, Oct. 16, at Cleveland Public Auditorium.

This story is part of a dedicated series titled "People, Planet, Progress: A Decade of Sustainable Cleveland" in partnership with Sustainable Cleveland.

Ilona Westfall
Ilona Westfall

About the Author: Ilona Westfall

Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she's not penning articles for a variety of Ohio publications, she's roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.