New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell Champions Smart Cities

Mitchell – who is garnering increased national attention for smart city innovation – tells forum that brainpower and creativity is key.

by Liz Enbysk - Smart Cities Council / October 16, 2014
New Bedford is first in the offshore wind energy industry and the closest industrial port to fully 25 percent of the nation’s wind reserves. destinationnewbedford.org

New Bedford, Massachusetts, to hear Mayor Jon Mitchell tell it, wants to be more than just another medium-sized Northeast industrial city struggling to catch up in a post-industrial economy. Known in the 19th century as the epicenter of the whaling industry and today as the number one commercial fishing port in the nation, New Bedford is rebranding itself. In doing so, it's carving a remarkable niche in the nation's green economy.

Consider a few quick facts Mayor Mitchell shared during the Smart Cities Council's Smart Cities Now forum held last week in New York:

·         Referred to as the Saudi Arabia of wind energy, New Bedford is first in the offshore wind energy industry and the closest industrial port to fully 25 percent of the nation’s wind reserves located in an area just south of Martha’s Vineyard, which suggests exciting potential for future generation.

·         New Bedford is also first in solar energy with the most installed solar per capita in the continental U.S. second only to Hawaii. The mayor says 10 solar projects across the city will shave $22 million off city government’s electricity bills over next 20 years.

·         The economic and job-creation benefits that come with the city's green agenda don't go unnoticed either. A Wall Street Journal blog recently reported New Bedford’s unemployment rate fell the most of all 372 metropolitan areas nationally on a year-over-year basis.

Doesn't stop at solar and wind

"We have, frankly, a city culture that is up for big ideas," Mayor Mitchell says. That may explain the city's plans to source about two-thirds of its electricity from renewables for the foreseeable future. "We believe we do have a part to play in climate change," Mitchell says.

Along with renewable generation, New Bedford wants to be a national model for responsible use of energy and resources, the mayor says. The city recently partnered with Council Associate Partner Siemens in one the largest municipal performance contracting initiatives anywhere in the Northeast. The partnership will bring $50 million in energy efficiency retrofits to the city's municipal buildings in the next five years. Among the projects:

·         Replacing all 10,000 of the city's street lights with energy efficient LEDs

·         Replacing windows, boilers and cooling systems in 100 city buildings

And the list of green initiatives goes on, from automating curbside trash and recycling collection with trucks that run on emission-reducing compressed natural gas to gradually electrifying its 300-vehicle city fleet.

"The New Bedford approach to being a smart city" the mayor says, "is to find ways to turn our environmental challenges and liabilities into green assets."  Worth noting is that today New Bedford enjoys the highest bond rating in its modern history.

What's behind New Bedford's success?

The mayor points to three elements of his city's success story:

·         They organized city government for the job, using some federal stimulus money to start an energy office that provided the in-house technical and policy expertise that made New Bedford a good fit for private sector partners like Siemens.

·         They made a "serious, sustained political commitment," as the mayor puts it, tapping into a local culture and history that isn't afraid of big, bold endeavors.

·         They hired the city's first Chief Financial Officer in seven years. The infusion of talent, Mitchell says, "was critical to finding innovative ways to navigate around our fiscal realities--and do more, with less."

"Cities can do these things," Mayor Mitchell insists. Fiscally strapped or not, when cities apply brainpower and get creative, things can happen.

This article originally appeared on the Smart Cities Council website and is republished here with permission.

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