Act locally, transition globally: Grassroots resilience, local politics, and five municipalities in the United States with 100% renewable electricity

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Department of Social Sciences


This paper examines five communities in the United States (U.S.) that have transitioned to 100% use of renewable resources for electricity. The paper describes and compares social, political, and economic similarities and differences among these communities to improve understanding of the factors that support successful renewable energy (RE) transitions. The analysis builds on Geels’ multi-level perspective theory in assessing sustainable energy transitions and the energy transition process based on these five case studies. Main variables of interest considered for 100% renewable energy transition in these municipalities are renewable energy resource availability (solar, wind, and hydro), utility ownership, partisanship of municipal leadership, population size, and supporting energy legislation at state level renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Findings from this paper show that utility ownership appears to play a critical role in the transition process, as most of the municipalities have municipally owned utilities. State RPS programs are also prominent among all the states in which these the municipalities are located, indicating the importance of state legislation. Further, RE resource availability may not be required, as possibilities for hybridization of energy technologies are evident in the studied places. The most common pathway typology in these 100% RE transitions is reconfiguration. This typology results from technological innovations fuelled by development in RE technologies and stakeholder advocacy. Identified drivers from this research provide helpful parameters of consideration for energy transitions in other places in the U.S. and beyond.

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© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. Publisher’s version of record: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101579

Publication Title

Energy Research and Social Science