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100% Renewable Energy for Municipal Operations

In 2020, Winston-Salem set a goal of 100% renewable energy for municipal operations by 2050, but there currently is not a clear plan on how to achieve that goal. There have been a few solar panels installed and a couple of hybrid vehicles purchased, but there is not a city-wide plan to make use of renewable energy options.

I am proposing a plan to transition all city operations to renewable energy by 2030 by doing the following:

  1. Perform energy audits on all city-owned buildings. Use federal incentives to upgrade systems, improve insulation, and reduce air leaks. This improves energy efficiency, saves money, improves comfort, and increases reliability.
  2. Find suitable locations for solar panel installation. This could include large open land, parking lot canopy, building roofs, and roadways.
  3. Finance the purchase and installation of solar panels through the sale of municipal bonds. There are amazing incentives available for municipalities through the Inflation Reduction Act that would save Winston-Salem millions of dollars on this project.
  4. Install solar over the next five years, bringing great jobs.

We are already feeling the effects of climate change, and the time to reduce our carbon emissions is now. Winston-Salem is in a fantastic position to be able to do our part, and this project would provide many tangible benefits to the residents of Winston-Salem.

Burning coal and natural gas in our local power plant adds particulate matter to our air, which, according to the EPA, can “contribute to adverse health outcomes, including the development of heart or lung diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis, increased susceptibility to respiratory and cardiac symptoms, greater numbers of emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and premature deaths.” As our city grows (with forecasts showing an increase of 10,000 people per year), we can reduce the demand on our local power plant by switching to solar energy.

Save Money with Solar

Of course, this project will take money to implement. I estimate that the city will need to raise about $80M through the sale of municipal bonds in order to complete this project. However, the city will end up saving more than $1MM/year by switching to solar. This is primarily due to 3 reasons: first, our cost per kWh will be 30-40% less than what we currently pay to Duke. Second, we can receive helpful incentives from the federal government through the Inflation Reduction Act. Third, we will decrease our overall energy use by improving energy efficiency.

Another major benefit to this plan is that it would position Winston-Salem as a leader among our region’s municipalities. It would attract the attention of employers and families who are looking to relocate to a forward-thinking city. We will only get this benefit if we are the first mover.

There are lots of other benefits, and tons of nuance to this plan. I’d like to see us transition our fleet vehicles over time as our current fleet ages out. I’d also like to see the city install some battery backup that would increase our resilience in case of natural disaster. I would love your feedback and questions on this plan. 


If you want to see the city take action on solar energy, contact your city councilmember and let them know. 

Other resources for your review:

City of Winston-Salem 2020 Sustainability Action Plan

City of Winston-Salem Sustainability Summary Report 2020

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Adrian Smith