As more states consider bold energy commitments, who will be next to make the leap?
In this age of a global pandemic, uncertainty surrounds everything — including the future of energy. How quickly states are able to continue the renewable energy progress of the past decade post-COVID19 remains to be seen, and may depend largely on how thoughtfully our governments respond to the challenges this virus has posed. Nevertheless, the remarkable gains of the last decade and unwavering enthusiasm in states across the country should offer hope for continued success.
Just in the last ten years, we’ve seen a 40-fold expansion of solar in the U.S. In addition, America has more than tripled the amount of wind power it produces over that same period. That encouraging progress, along with advances in clean energy technology and declines in cost, present Americans with the opportunity not just to envision a future powered entirely by clean and renewable energy, but to also take concrete steps toward that future.
Clean Energy technologies have seen dramatic growth in the last decade. The graphs above show growth in wind and solar electricity production, electric vehicle sales and battery storage capacity in the U.S. from 2009 to 2018. Environment America’s 2019 report, Renewables on the Rise: A Decade of Progress Toward a Clean Energy Future, documents this growth across all 50 states.
Thanks to local leadership, one in four Americans now lives in a city or town committed to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. To date, six states — Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Washington, Maine and New York — have enacted laws requiring 100 percent clean electricity by 2050 or sooner. More than a dozen states are racing to become the seventh, with a flurry of governors signing executive orders and legislatures debating new bills. Here’s a brief look at the top contenders:
The commonwealth is on the brink of committing to 100 percent clean electricity. Last year, Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order setting a goal of producing 100 percent of the commonwealth’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. Earlier this month, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which will require utilities to reach 30 percent renewable electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. The bill is now pending Gov. Northam’s final approval before becoming law.
As Virginia teeters on the brink of a 100 percent clean electricity commitment, support for an even more ambitious 100 percent renewable commitment in the Bay State is edging toward critical mass. A majority of Massachusetts House and Senate members have signed on in support of legislation re-powering Massachusetts with 100 percent renewable energy. The bill would put Massachusetts on track to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035 and 100 percent renewable energy for heating and transportation by 2045.
It’s not just state legislators who are coming out in droves for a renewable Massachusetts. Local elected officials, including ten mayors and the Boston City Council, as well as health professionals, students and businesses have joined the call for a statewide commitment to 100 percent renewable energy.
Students gather at the Massachusetts State House (top) in support of 100 percent renewable energy, and in the history Old West Church (bottom) for a climate and energy lobby day led by Our Climate and MASSPIRG Students.
A diverse group of 34 organizations is calling on the Arizona Corporation Commission, the state’s energy regulatory body, to increase its renewable energy standard to 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and to set an additional target of 100 percent clean, zero-emission energy by 2045. This comes shortly after Arizona’s largest electric utility set a voluntary goal in January to ensure 45 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030. By 2050, it plans on producing 100 percent carbon-free electricity. With hearings ongoing, Arizona could well be one of the next in line to make 100 percent clean energy the law of the land.
While action in these three states may be the most promising at the moment, it’s by no means quiet elsewhere. State legislatures in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are all considering similar commitments. There’s no doubt that a national consensus is building around the vision of 100 percent renewable energy, one state, city, college campus and company at a time.
While the race is still in play, the impact of COVID19 remains to be seen. That said, we should laud what’s taken place so far and work to make sure our energy system continues to change for the better when the time is right. The U.S. has been perched on the cusp of a clean energy tipping point for years, and there is reason yet to be hopeful that state leadership will see us to the other side.