In comparison to other Texas cities, Fort Worth is falling behind on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting renewable energy goals.
That’s according to the 2021 City Clean Energy Scorecard – an annual report issued by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy that evaluates the largest 100 cities in the U.S. on their efforts to change building codes, construct more housing near public transit and adopt city-wide sustainability goals.
Out of 100 possible points in five different categories, Fort Worth earned 17.5 points and ranked 71st, coming in behind major cities like Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. The remaining Texas cities included in the scorecard, McAllen and El Paso, earned lower scores than Fort Worth.
What’s behind Fort Worth’s middling performance? Stefen Samarripas, the council’s local policy manager and lead author of the scorecard reports, pointed to low scores in the local government operations and community-wide initiatives categories as key areas for improvement.
Fort Worth has converted 30% of its streetlights to LED bulbs, which use less power and have a longer lifetime than traditional incandescent bulbs, according to the scorecard. But other than that, city officials have not established goals to reduce pollution in municipal operations, Samarripas said.
“A lot of cities started off years ago by looking at their own operations with things they could do themselves, and developing a model of what is possible in terms of reducing energy, installing renewables, obtaining electric vehicles,” Samarripas said. “That’s an important first step in setting the standard for other folks about what’s possible and what we can do together.”
Juanita Rigsby, the city’s energy manager, said Fort Worth needs to continue its efforts toward energy efficiency “with the understanding there are limitations” and factors outside the city’s control. The report’s findings were not surprising because Fort Worth’s utility administration department provided the data used in the scorecard, she said.
“The city continues to comply with standards outlined by state and federal mandates regarding air quality and energy and coordinates with utility providers to ensure Fort Worth residents have access to information to stay updated and make their decisions toward energy efficiency,” Rigsby wrote in an email. “The city will continue these efforts for more beneficial performance.”
Some states do restrict what cities can do with their clean energy programs, Samarrippas said, and Texas is one of them. Last May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that prevents Texas cities from banning natural gas as a fuel source for new buildings and utility services.
Several cities have continued to craft and implement climate action plans across Texas. For example, Dallas City Council members unanimously adopted the city’s first-ever climate action plan in May 2020. Since its passage, Dallas leaders have advocated for more trees, installed solar panels at lower-income housing projects and adopted a mobility plan, among other moves.
Dallas rose in the rankings to No. 43, coming in behind Austin and Houston. Many cities, including Fort Worth, dropped in the rankings by not keeping up with peer cities that adopted clean energy standards during the COVID-19 pandemic, Samarripas said.
What is energy efficiency?
Energy efficiency is defined as using less energy to “get the same job done” while cutting energy bills and reducing pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Fort Worth was in the process of developing an environmental master plan before the pandemic and released a draft in 2020. But there has been little movement on a city-wide sustainability plan since then, according to John MacFarlane, the chair of the Greater Fort Worth Sierra Club.
The city has started an Open Spaces Conservation program to acquire and protect land from development. Rigby also points to ongoing work to improve energy efficiency in building systems and lighting, including projects at more than 100 facilities in 2014. Fort Worth has seen economic and environmental benefits since then, she said.
“The city continues to implement energy efficiency measures as appropriate,” Rigsby said.
Other areas for improvement include expanding transportation access and requiring builders to make their developments solar and electric-vehicle ready.
Less than 1% of low-income households in Fort Worth have access to “high-quality transit” and a low number of electric vehicle charging ports are available for public use, according to the scorecard. Fort Worth has to consider the experiences of low-income residents as it crafts policies to reduce emissions, Samarripas said.
“Fort Worth can stand to improve its score by thinking not only about supporting the creation of solar and clean energy systems, but taking steps to make sure that those systems will benefit low-income households and other historically marginalized groups,” Samarripas said. “You need to have a lot of buy-in from the community to make this work. You need to form a collective vision about what folks are willing to do. And that work does take time.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.