A week in the life of our 100% Renewable Campaign director

By Emma Searson
Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

One month in and the “firehose” is on full blast

For the past few years I’ve worked on Environment America’s national Go Solar campaign. My job was to push for strong solar policies in cities and states across the country. But I recently took the reins of our 100% Renewable Campaign. Today marks my one-month anniversary since stepping into this new and exciting role, and I can already tell it’s going to be a wild ride. 

Environment America has a long history of advocating for the adoption of clean, renewable and abundant energy sources such as the sun and wind for decades. Starting in the 90s, when I was just a kid, the organization played an integral role in winning or expanding renewable electricity standards in 19 of the 29 states that have them today. These policies require utilities to use renewable energy for a certain minimum percentage of all the electricity they provide. Those victories have since set the stage for an even bigger vision of the future -- one that’s powered entirely by clean renewable energy.

In 2016, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group released We Have the Power: 100% Renewable Energy for a Clean, Thriving America, which found that America did, in fact, have the potential to achieve an entirely renewable energy future. From there, our 100% Renewable Campaign has taken off like a rocket, bringing public enthusiasm along with it. 

Just two years after the report, we won a landmark victory in California when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 100 (SB 100) and set the Golden State on a path to generating 100 percent of its electricity from renewable and zero-carbon sources by 2045. Following that major milestone, we upped the ante, setting a goal of getting 10 states to commit to renewable energy targets by 2023. Since then, four additional states have already enacted laws requiring 100 percent clean electricity by 2050 or sooner, putting us well on our way to achieving our goal. 

Rob Sargent, who built this campaign from the ground up and served as Environment America’s Energy Program Director for the past two decades, used to say this campaign felt “like drinking from a firehose.” I couldn’t put it better myself. The best way I can describe just how fast our vision for a 100 percent renewable energy future is capturing the hearts and minds of America is to share an up-close-and-personal look at how I spent the past couple of weeks.

On Jan. 17, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order establishing a goal to meet all of the state’s electricity needs with renewable energy by 2030. While that goal isn’t a binding legislative commitment, it was still an exciting announcement for a couple of key reasons. For starters, 100 percent renewable electricity by the end of the decade would make Rhode Island the very first U.S. state to achieve that feat. A timeline that ambitious is worth applauding. Second, this new target makes Rhode Island one of the first U.S. states to focus on renewable options only, rather than including other carbon-free sources like nuclear power that still damage the environment and human health. 

Gov. Raimondo’s pledge was significant, but it’s clearly a first step. To thank the governor for her words and call on the Ocean State legislature to impose its own mandate, I spent the day of the announcement in Providence, R.I. I was busy prepping a media statement, reviewing the details of the order as soon as it was available online, and then contacting reporters throughout the state. Dozens covered the story, and it even garnered some national attention. Needless to say, it was quite a Friday. 

Just a few days later, Arizona’s largest electric utility said it would provide its customers with 45 percent renewable electricity by 2030. It also made a longer term goal of delivering 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050. That’s a big step for a major utility that previously opposed bold renewable energy goals. This time, working far from the action in Boston, I hopped on the phone with allies on the ground in Arizona to discuss the commitment’s specifics. I crunched some numbers and figured out that in setting this goal, Arizona Public Service (APS) became the first major U.S. utility to voluntarily set a target of tripling its renewable energy generation by the end of the decade. I put together another statement and got back on the phones to share our take.

As if that wasn’t enough action for my first month on the job, today marked the official launch of our 2020 national campaign for 100 percent renewable energy. The big news is that we’re expanding our efforts and pressing for commitments in 15 states -- compared to nine last year. Leading up to the big day, I’ve been working with the leaders of our partner organizations in each of those states to craft the story of our vision and to make sure that narrative is ready to share with the press, our members and the public. It’s the start of the renewable decade, and we want to make sure everyone knows it.

I know I’m incredibly lucky to wake up each morning and do this work full-time (and then some). It’s a rare blessing to earn a living advocating for the thing you believe in most. But energy policy doesn’t have to be your life’s work in order to make a difference. If you’re looking for a way to plug in and take action yourself, you can start by joining our new 1 Million for 100% Renewable Energy project. 

By becoming a part of this project, you will not only be linking arms with our hard-working network of staff based across the county, but you will also be side-by-side with countless members of the public and elected leaders who are dedicated to this issue. All together, that support makes me confident that this campaign will keep me busy for months and years to come. 

From left to right: Sen. Kevin de León (CA); Marlene Esquivel, Sierra Club; Environment California State Director Dan Jacobson; Sen. Gael Tarleton (WA); Sr. VP & Political Director of The Public Interest Network Wendy Wendlandt; Sen. Emeritus Chuck Mcilhinney (PA); Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (NM); CALPIRG Executive Director Emily Rusch; Director of Frontier Group Susan Rakov; Photo Credit: Graham Marema