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San Francisco Ranked No. 1 Overall on Clean Energy Survey

The 2024 City Clean Energy Scorecard by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy rates 75 of the nation’s largest cities against a number of sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction metrics.

A construction worker climbs an orange ladder to the roof of a brick building, next to a solar panel.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) ranked Wisconsin’s capital city Madison a leader Tuesday among mid-size metropolitan areas for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increasing racial and climate equity.

ACEE rated 75 of the most populous U.S. cities on energy efficiency and reducing GHG in its 2024 City Clean Energy Scorecard. The organization praised Madison’s work to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its own operations, as well as setting “a goal to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 15 percent.” The list last came out in 2021.

A new bus rapid transit line and neighborhood-level air quality monitoring are among the programs leaders in Madison have highlighted as indicators of their commitment to increasing sustainability and awareness around GHG.

“We know that we’re facing new challenges as well as trying to deal with the existing challenges in air quality,” Jessica Price, Madison’s sustainability and resilience manager, said Tuesday, discussing the city’s sustainability efforts in an webinar revealing the rankings.

San Francisco grabbed the No. 1 spot overall in the ranking, followed by Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif.

The work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase San Francisco’s climate resilience is grounded in equity and environmental justice, Tyrone Jue, director of the San Francisco Environment Department, said Tuesday during a panel of city climate leaders who talked about the report.

“We continue to implement this plan and our policies with the community, making sure no one is left behind,” Jue said.

This year’s scorecard increased its emphasis on evaluating environmental racial and social equity initiatives. However, a number of communities still have room to grow in this area, said Stefen Samarripas, ACEEE senior local policy manager and lead author of the scorecard.

“We’re seeing that a lot of those new activities are focused on racial and social equity,” he said, adding there’s still not “a ton of focus on adopting policies, programs or projects that are equity driven.”

Much of the focus at the city level still tends to be in “equity-driven planning,” said Samarripas. “There’s still a lot of work to actually take those plans, take those commitments and put them into action.”

Only San Francisco, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Ore., earned more than half the equity points possible in the scorecard.

Transportation remains a sector where cities can make broad strides in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Jue pointed out that San Francisco, like many cities, saw ridership on public transit plummet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re starting to dig our way out of this hole, by continuing to emphasize that public transit, and other low-carbon forms of transit, is the path forward,” he said, explaining where the city has implemented bus rapid transit lanes that have led to faster and more efficient public transit, ridership is beginning to exceed pre-COVID levels.

“By putting [in] those investments, by making our public transit systems quick, reliable and efficient, the ridership will come,” said Jue. “We need to continue doing that sort of investment, along with our biking infrastructure and making our streets safer.”

Transportation is often an area on which to focus, for those mid-size and growing cities wanting to improve their ranking, Samarripas said.

“If you’re a large growing city, there’s going to be a lot of traffic. There’s going to be a lot of economic activity that’s driving all that. And so thinking about transportation emissions is going to be really important,” he said, pointing to policies like investing more in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, or providing incentives for communities to get access to EVs.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.