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The 35 Best Cities for Clean Energy in the U.S.

35 best cities for clean energy

The transition to clean energy is a pivotal aspect of modern urban development, aiming to create sustainable and eco-friendly living spaces. In this study by the National Council on Energy (NCOE), we explore the forefront of this transition, identifying cities leading the way in renewable energy utilization and efficiency.

The study begins by examining incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This includes a detailed assessment of the number of state-level programs supporting and incentivizing renewable energy, as well as initiatives aimed at enhancing energy efficiency. These programs are crucial as they often serve as the backbone for urban renewable energy projects, influencing the extent to which cities can adopt and integrate clean energy solutions into their infrastructure.

Another key factor in our analysis is the generation of renewable energy, specifically focusing on solar and wind power. We look at the net solar and wind electricity generation by state, measured in gigawatt hours, and then drill down to a per capita basis. This approach provides a clear picture of how cities are harnessing these renewable resources relative to their population size, offering insight into the effectiveness and scale of their clean energy endeavors.

Lastly, the study delves into the use of clean fuels for home heating, an often-overlooked aspect of urban energy consumption. We analyze the percentage of occupied housing units utilizing solar energy for heating, alongside those using propane (which burns cleaner than other commonly used fuels), in each city. The change in these percentages over the past decade is also considered, offering a perspective on how the adoption of clean heating fuels has evolved.

Check out the 35 best cities for clean energy in the U.S.

Key findings

  • Hawaii is the state where the highest percentage of homes use solar energy as their house heating fuel, with 5% of all occupied households in Hawaii using solar.
  • California cities feature heavily among the top ranks of our list of the cities with the cleanest energy. In fact, the #1 best city for clean energy out of the 452 U.S. cities analyzed is Menifee, California. 
  • Several Arizona cities made the top of our list: Goodyear (#5), Surprise (#9), Peoria (#33), and Tucson (#35). Tucson is one of the largest cities to make our top-35 list, while most other high-ranking cities are mid-size or even just large suburbs.
best cities for clean energy

The Western U.S. leads the way in clean energy

If we look at our top 35 cities identified as the best places for green energy, in terms of U.S. regions and divisions (as designated by the Census Bureau), very distinct patterns emerge. The most obvious is the dominance of the U.S. West region, which is home to 29 out of the top 35 clean energy cities. In second place is the Northeast region, with 5 of the top cities. Meanwhile, in terms of Census divisions, it is the Pacific division that reigns supreme, being home to 18 of the top 35 greenest cities.

Cities like Menifee, California (#1)Vacaville, California (#2), and Honolulu (#3) feature some of the highest rates of solar energy and propane (which burns cleaner than most other fuels) being used as heating fuel. In Menifee, 6.16% of households utilize propane gas for home heating, while in Vacaville and Honolulu, 3.72% and 2.41% of homes, respectively, utilize solar energy.

California stands far and above other states with its net solar electricity generation, boasting over 60,300 gigawatt hours generated per year. But California is also a huge state with a lot of people. More insightful is per capita net solar electricity generation. In per capita terms, Nevada leads the race, with cities like Sunrise Manor (#29), Enterprise (#31), and North Las Vegas (#34) all benefiting from having some of the highest per capita net solar electricity generation rates in the country.

Northeastern cities also stand out

The best clean energy cities of the Northeast include Nashua, New Hampshire (#19), Manchester, New Hampshire (#21), Portland, Maine (#23), Danbury, Connecticut (#24), and Somerville, Massachusetts (#26).

These Northeastern, specifically New England, cities ranked among the top cities for clean energy due to a combination of state incentives, the generation of solar and wind electricity, and higher-than-average use of propane for home heating fuel. In New England, Massachusetts boasts the most incentives for renewables and efficiency, with 80 state programs. Vermont is no slouch, featuring 69 state programs. In the Northeast in general, New York state features 95 programs.

New York stands out again for having the 8th highest net solar electricity generation, with 5,470 gigawatt hours annually. Massachusetts is not far behind, with the 10th highest solar electricity generation, at 4,679 gigawatt hours per year. Nearby Rhode Island doesn’t generate a lot of solar electricity in absolute terms, but in per capita terms, it is the 8th highest in the U.S.

top clean energy stats

A notable geographic outlier is Duluth, Minnesota (#27), which is the only Midwestern city to make our list of the cleanest energy cities. Duluth ranks well thanks to a high percentage of households using propane for home heating; the huge number of incentives for renewables and efficiency, with Minnesota having 131 programs, the 2nd most behind only California; and the fact that Minnesota boasts the 10th highest amount of net wind electricity generation, at 14,273 gigawatt hours per year.

Colorado cities have solid clean energy credentials

Three Colorado cities made our top-35 list of the best cities for clean energy. In Highlands Ranch (#25), a higher-than-average share of households use solar energy for home heating fuel. It is the same with Boulder (#30) and Thornton (#32).

These cities were also aided by Colorado’s massive net wind electricity generation. At 16,706 gigawatt hours annually, Colorado ranks 6th out of 50 states for having the most electricity generated by wind energy. Colorado also has the 11th highest per capita net wind electricity generation. Lastly, the state has 99 incentives for renewables and efficiency programs, the 4th largest amount in the U.S.

Table of the 35 best cities for clean energy

RankCityStateHouseholds Using Propane for Home Heating Fuel (%)Households Using Solar Energy for Home Heating Fuel (%)Number of State Incentives for Renewables & EfficiencyNet Solar Electricity Generation – Gigawatt hoursNet Wind Electricity Generation – Gigawatt hoursPer Capita Net Solar Electricity Generation – Gigawatt hoursPer Capita Net Wind Electricity Generation – Gigawatt hoursFinal Score
14San MarcosCalifornia1.37%1.55%15460,33115,6900.0015460.0004027.4
19NashuaNew Hampshire5.68%0.04%422394820.0001710.0003457.2
20El CajonCalifornia1.47%1.43%15460,33115,6900.0015460.0004027.2
21ManchesterNew Hampshire5.28%0.07%422394820.0001710.0003457.2
22Santa ClaritaCalifornia1.47%1.22%15460,33115,6900.0015460.0004027.1
25Highlands RanchColorado0.97%1.02%993,78016,7060.0006470.0028616.7
28Santa FeNew Mexico1.50%0.69%412,54414,4800.0012040.0068526.4
29Sunrise ManorNevada1.61%0.65%2810,0953160.0031770.0000996.3
34North Las VegasNevada1.09%0.57%2810,0953160.0031770.0000996.2

Methodology and sources

This study was limited to U.S. cities with 30,000 or more occupied housing units, according to estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey.

Our ranking includes 9 factors, which were used to create a relative score of 1 to 10 (10 being the best, and 1 the worst). Each city was analyzed along the following criteria:

Incentives for renewables and efficiency

  • Number of state-level programs supporting/incentivizing renewable energy and greater energy efficiency (DSIRE)

Renewable energy generation

  • Net solar electricity generation, 2022, by state, in gigawatt hours (Governing)
  • Net wind electricity generation, 2022, by state, in gigawatt hours (Governing)
  • Net solar electricity generation per capita
  • Net wind electricity generation per capita

Home heating fuel

  • Percentage of occupied housing units that use solar energy for house heating fuel, by city (2022 Census ACS)
  • Percentage of occupied housing units that use propane for house heating fuel, by city (2022 Census ACS)
  • 10-year percentage change in the percentage of occupied housing units that use solar energy for house heating fuel, by city (2012-2022 Census ACS)
  • 10-year percentage change in the percentage of occupied housing units that use propane for house heating fuel, by city (2012-2022 Census ACS)

The cumulative scores of these 9 categories were averaged to assign each city a score of 1 to 10. Cities were ranked according to these cumulative scores.

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