Capital Gains: Can Philadelphia beat D.C. and become the biggest green power purchaser in the country?


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Samantha Wittchen

After hearing Philadelphia’s plan to unseat Washington D.C. as the top city green power purchaser, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray had a message for his East Coast neighbor. A letter, hand-delivered via Chevy Volt to Mayor Nutter on June 20, concluded with this challenge: “I say to you, in the spirit of friendly competition for a great cause, ‘BRING…IT…ON!’”

On September 1, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will start tallying green power bought by cities participating in their Green Power Partnership program. This voluntary program invites local governments, businesses and residents to collectively purchase green power, such as wind and solar, in amounts that meet or exceed the EPA’s minimum requirements. For a city Philadelphia’s size, this requirement is three percent. 

Although the EPA launched this program in September 2011, Philadelphia didn’t join until June 20 of this year. As of that date, the Philadelphia community had purchased almost 600 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of green energy, representing 4.1 percent of our total energy consumption, and putting us in fourth place overall. This was largely due to Target Four of Greenworks Philadelphia, the City’s sustainability plan, which aims to derive 20 percent of all electricity used in Philadelphia from alternative sources by 2015. Since the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability had already been tracking progress against that target, they knew exactly what their numbers were when the EPA knocked on their door. “It was a no-brainer that we should become a Green Power Community,” says Kristin Sullivan, energy manager for the City of Philadelphia and director of its Solar City America program. 

“Philly has been a hotbed of sustainability and alternative energy conversation, but a lot of it has revolved around what the City’s doing,” explains Alex Fuller-Young, electricity program manager at The Energy Cooperative. “This is the first time that the challenge has been thrown out to the residents.” The City of Philadelphia already purchases 20 percent of its energy through renewable wind energy credits. Institutions and businesses such as the University of Pennsylvania, the Eagles, the Phillies, Kennett Restaurant and Yards Brewing Company, are all voluntarily purchasing renewable energy. 

But who wants to be in fourth place? Not Mayor Nutter, who is challenging Philadelphians to take our city to the top. The current number one, Washington D.C., buys a little more than 750 million kWh of green energy. Will Philadelphians rise to the challenge? Fuller-Young thinks the biggest hurdle is that D.C. has a head start. We have a deficit of at least 150 million kWh to make up. It may seem like a long shot, but remember, there’s nothing Philly loves more than being the underdog.

To learn more about Philadelphia’s Green Power Community Challenge and for a list of green power providers, visit 

For local green options, visit or

Samantha Wittchen

is partner and co-founder of iSpring


, a sustainability firm