Mayor Bill Peduto. Photo by TH Carlisle.

With leadership lacking at the federal level, many of America’s mayors have stepped forward to provide some crucial momentum in addressing the crisis of climate change.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is being awarded first place for the 14th Annual Climate Protection Awards, an initiative sponsored by The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and Walmart. Pittsburgh won in the Large Cities category, with populations greater than 100,000.

“We’ve seen fires raging in the West, superstorms flooding in the South and the heartland as well,” said USCM CEO and and Executive Director Tom Cochran, during the online awards ceremony on Friday. “It looks like 2020 is going to be the hottest year on record. And that’s why mayoral leadership in this climate emergency is more important than it’s ever been.”

Peduto’s award is, in large part, due to the Western Pennsylvania Energy Consortium, which began back when he was on City Council.

“The idea was simple,” said Peduto. “Back then, it was, if we could pull together large entities — whether it’s the city of Pittsburgh, or some of our large authorities, or the Pittsburgh Zoo — and, if we could purchase our energy together, we’ll be able to get a better price. And just through the economies of scale, we’ll be able to lessen the burden to taxpayers.”

Coal basically powered everything in western PA at the time, along with some nuclear. The Consortium started to purchase renewable energy credits 12 years ago.

“And every time that a new contract would come up, we would up the game a little bit from 5% to 10%,” said Peduto. “And by 2019, 35% of our portfolio was purchasing renewable energy credits.”

Five years ago, the city created an ambitious plan for 2030. “Which would have the city eliminate waste,” said Peduto. “Zero landfill. We would be able to reduce our energy and water consumption by 50%. And we would change the operations of civic government to 100% renewable (energy).”

This is no small task for a city like Pittsburgh, where fossil fuels have long reigned supreme.

“I mean, this is the city where coal was discovered on the banks of the Monongahela River,” said Peduto. “Right up north in Venango County the Drake Oil Well was where oil was first drilled. And we sit on the large Utica and Marcellus Shale (fields) of natural gas.

His message? If Pittsburgh can do it, any city can.

“We decided that we weren’t going to wait till 2030,” said Peduto. “And we went 100% renewable this year. One hundred percent of the energy that we are using in the city of Pittsburgh is from renewable sources.”

It’s a cost-saving effort. Energy costs this year are $100,000 less than they were in the previous year, he noted. “We spend about $1.8 million a year in electricity, and we saved taxpayers $100,000.”

For the future, Pittsburgh is looking for opportunities to create more renewable energy sources locally.

“Even though we don’t produce that much renewable (energy) within this region, we have a priority to purchase renewable that is produced locally, in order to be able to spur the industry locally,” said Peduto. “We’re looking at partnering with traditional fossil fuel companies in order to extend and create a new portfolio that will have them producing green hydrogen energy, and produce it right here in the city of Pittsburgh.”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.