Austin, the capital of oil-centric Texas, became the first city to enter the Freedom Energy Challenge, a nationwide contest that asks US cities to obtain more than 50% of their electricity from renewable sources. The contest, funded by the US Department of Energy through its Million Solar Roofs (MSR) initiative, is aimed at helping to accelerate the development of clean energy at the municipal level. Solar Austin, a renewables advocacy group, is administering the contest, while the Union of Concerned Scientists will establish a system to track and judge results. "We're asking cities to demonstrate their use of renewables," says Joni Gilton of MSR. "We're encouraging healthy competition but we're also promoting collaboration and sharing of ideas." Cities will be recruited till the end of May and the actual contest will take place in June and July. The event is in its first year but Gilton sees potential for a longer run. "The groundswell of support will come over time," she says. While Gilton acknowledges that smaller towns might have an easier time reaching the 50% mark, she also says any city will gain just by getting involved. "What this is about is getting cities to recognise that there are plenty of renewable alternatives available," she says. There will be no monetary prize, but plenty of publicity for the winner. "We accept the challenge," says Austin Mayor Will Wynn, "We're going to figure out how to get there from here."
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