Local Government:City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Category:Partnerships and Collaborations
To create a network of businesses, colleges and universities, hospitals, cultural organizations, and other institutions in the Greater Philadelphia region to work together on climate action.
In December 2018, the City of Philadelphia entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) for a 70-megawatt solar farm to power 22% of its municipal operations once the project is constructed. Several large organizations in the area asked the city for more information about the process and pricing.
Rather than holding one-on-one meetings, Philadelphia took advantage of the interest and used the opportunity to generate regional collaboration to address climate change generally, not just to advance renewable energy. The Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia was formed to act as a platform for civic leaders, businesses, and other large institutions in the region to share best practices, grow the impact of individual actions, and collectively address climate change more effectively.
The Climate Collaborative launched in October 2019, with its first workshop specifically focused on renewable energy procurement using PPAs and co-hosted by the Renewables Accelerator. Over 50 organizations currently participate in the Collaborative.
Since the Collaborative began, some members of the group have started signing renewable energy deals that benefit their own institutions. For example, in April 2020, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA), which services nearly four million transit passengers in the Philadelphia area, signed a long-term power contract for two solar farms totaling 43.8 MW. Around the same time, the University of Pennsylvania signed a power purchase agreement for two solar facilities that, combined, will total 220 MW – making the deal the largest solar power project in the state. Several other organizations are actively pursuing agreements as well.
Despite the challenges of 2020, the Climate Collaborative continued to gather for technical workshops, two focused on organic waste management and two focused on electric vehicles.
What were Philadelphia’s biggest challenges in setting up the Collaborative?
Identifying and prioritizing participation: The City grappled with the types and sizes of institutions to invite into the Collaborative’s membership and the ways membership could affect the group’s impact in the region. Because large companies are often the largest polluters, one idea was to prioritize them as the Collaborative’s sole constituents. Yet, large institutions may already have the resources to accomplish climate action on their own, so an alternative idea was to instead focus the Collaborative’s efforts on working with smaller institutions with fewer resources to address climate change.
Ultimately the Collaborative adopted a balanced approach, with participation in the Collaborative open to organizations of any size. The only requirement for an institution to participate is that it must either have already stated climate goals or commit to setting public goals as a result of its inclusion.
Dedicating time and resources: The Collaborative requires time from its members (on top of their existing job responsibilities) to take part in workshops and engage with content. Further, it necessitates that the City dedicate staff time and financial resources to both launch the network and support its ongoing efforts.
In the case of Philadelphia, the bandwidth of both City staff and participants has been the biggest challenge to running as robust a program as the city would like. Nevertheless, the Collaborative is successfully helping member institutions advance their climate goals, and additional organizations continue to express interest in joining. Currently the City requires no monetary contribution from participants, though as the Collaborative continues to grow, operational changes may need to be considered.
What advice would Philadelphia give other cities as they pursue climate action projects?
Identify the appropriate structure and governance in advance: Before launching a community collaborative, it’s important to determine the appropriate structure and governance of the group, including thinking about how the group might initially function and how it could evolve over time. For example, it may make sense for a city to initially launch and support a collaborative, but then spin it off as an independent entity once it reaches a certain level of participation and maturity.
Don’t underestimate participant interest and needs: A collaborative can answer an unmet need for a community, garnering greater participant interest than a city might expect. A variety of participants means that organizations will be in different stages of their climate action planning, so needs and existing capacities will vary. Some participants will require more support and providing that support effectively, through events and other resources, is a commitment to prepare for.
How does this project fit into Philadelphia’s broader climate and community goals?
In addition to Philadelphia’s municipal energy goal of moving to 100% clean electricity by 2030, in October 2019, the Philadelphia City Council adopted a resolution committing to 100% community-wide renewable energy by 2050. More recently, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney went beyond this goal, committing the City to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
The Climate Collaborative has encouraged other institutions in the region, large and small, to set their own clean energy and climate goals, following the City’s action as an example. Through the Collaborative, the City is leveraging its own work to inspire and support additional efforts and to expand cooperation throughout the broader region.
Additional Information and Resources
- Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia (Website)
- Mayor Announces Launch of Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia (City of Philadelphia press release)
- Philadelphia Launches Regional Collaborative to Tackle Climate Change, Recycling, Renewable Energy (News article)
- City Commits to Carbon Neutrality by 2050, Releases Climate Action Playbook and Hires First Chief Resilience Officer (City of Philadelphia press release)
- Pennsylvania’s Largest Solar Farm to Power Philly Government Buildings (News article)
- SEPTA and Lightsource BP Sign Contract for 43.8 MW of Solar (Lightsource BP press release)
- University of Pennsylvania Signs PPA for 220 MW Solar Facilities (News article)
The City of Philadelphia received technical assistance from the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator on this project.