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Mayor Brett Smiley signs city ordinance for carbon-neutral city buildings

New ordinance marks first of many measures outlined by 2023 Climate Jobs City resolution

The new ordinance aligns the city of Providence’s “policy and priorities” with its 2019 Climate Justice Plan.
The new ordinance aligns the city of Providence’s “policy and priorities” with its 2019 Climate Justice Plan.

Providence Mayor Brett Smiley signed a municipal ordinance last week which will require all city-owned buildings to go carbon neutral by 2040. The law “marks Providence’s commitment to fostering a healthier environment and enhancing the quality of life for its residents,” according to an email from Press Secretary Josh Estrella.

The city owns 122 buildings, 43 of which are public schools. Officials say they aim to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and on-site combustion in these spaces, which total 5.9 million square feet across all of the city’s buildings. The shift includes the adoption of 100% renewable energy consumption, electric hot water heating and sustainable heating and cooling systems.

“By signing this ordinance, we are committing to build a more sustainable future for our community,” Estrella wrote.

The Smiley administration is currently pursuing a series of energy audits to identify the weaknesses in the energy use of city-owned buildings, according to Mike Roles, executive director of Climate Jobs Rhode Island. From that, “they’ll be able to put together the actual budget,” he said.


In September 2023, the Providence City Council passed a resolution declaring Providence the country’s first “Climate Jobs City,” The Herald previously reported. The resolution outlines municipal goals for sustainability, climate literacy and healthy neighborhoods, among others.

The new ordinance marks the first of many measures that the resolution had previously pledged to pass in partnership with the Climate Jobs organization.

Roles said that passing the first ordinance wasn’t easy, but “it helps that the Providence City Council already had an appetite for it.”

According to Roles, the new ordinance “further aligns the city’s policy and priorities” with the 2019 Providence Climate Justice Plan. The plan provides a framework to assist the city in reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 — a goal set in an executive order signed by former Mayor Jorge Elorza in 2016.

Providence has secured both state and federal funding to make the improvements, according to Estrella. This includes $10 million through the United States Treasury’s Capital Fund, as well as $1.2 million Energy Building Fund through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and the state’s Office of Energy Resources.

While not all city-owned buildings are fit for heat pump technology and other energy-efficient improvements, “​​future technologies and a cleaner electric grid will assist the City in creating carbon neutral buildings across its entire portfolio,” Estrella wrote. He pointed out that many of Providence’s historical buildings have successfully transitioned from wood to coal to oil and then to natural gas, which “demonstrates just how adaptive buildings are.”

While the ordinance is an exciting step, “the process is as important as the product,” Roles said. 

According to Erica Hammond, a field director for Climate Jobs Rhode Island, the process of passing this ordinance “ensured that working-class people were at the decision-making tables.” This meant speaking with community members, communicating with labor unions and holding a public hearing, she said.

“We move at the pace of trust,” Roles said. “If we don’t earn that trust, we can’t move forward.”

While the signing of the ordinance feels like “a weight off their shoulders,” Hammond said, “the hard work starts now.” The city must now put together cost plans and budget allocations and focus on implementation, she added. 


But for both Hammond and Roles, this ordinance is just the first step for Providence to become the promised “Climate Jobs City.”

“It’s a good moment to look back and celebrate, while also moving ahead to new victories,” Roles said.

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Maya Kelly

Maya Kelly is a Metro senior staff writer who covers health and environment. When she's not at The Herald, you can find her hanging from an aerial silk, bullet journaling, or stress-baking.

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