The Green New Deal has made a lot of noise since late 2018 in the push towards an energy transition, one that would replace America’s polluting and greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels with renewable and carbon-free energy sources. In terms of efforts to get the American energy mix to 100% clean and/or renewable energy, the Green New Deal called for 100% ‘clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,’ but those studying the world of energy policy have long noted that it’s been state governments, not the federal government, who’s had continued success in passing legislation and mandates for clean energy goals.
While the Green New Deal has been invaluable for its ability to push the clean energy and climate change conversation to the mainstream and give the debate staying power that has long eluded this area of focus for too long, signs are still pointing at the uphill battle that advocates will have in trying to get the federal government to commit to 100% clean energy (or any other mandated amount). On the other hand, the past year has been a landmark one for state governments debating and ultimately passing legislation that would push this necessary change.
So, the next time you find yourself reading or debating about the Green New Deal or any other federal clean energy policies, keep in mind the success state governments have had and continue to have, including the following:
Hawaii arguably has the most incentive to convert to renewable energy as not only is the island state most vulnerable to the effects of climate change due its geography, but without in-state fuel sources they typically rely on expensive shipments of fossil fuels to power their grid– shipments that are also vulnerable to interruption. As such, Hawaii passed a bill to get 100% of its power from renewable energy by 2045, the first such state to do so.
California was the second state to set a complete commitment to the energy transition, again an unsurprising leader in this regard considering the Golden State’s history as an environmental leader. SB 100 was passed in 2018 that set the mandate that the state must be powered by 100% clean energy by 2045.
Also in 2018, New Jersey’s governor signed into law an executive order that calls for 100% clean energy by 2050. The Garden State didn’t stop there, also specifically committing to helping develop technologies like offshore wind, community solar, and energy storage in order to achieve these goals.
Most recently, New Mexico’s legislature passed the Energy Transition Act that requires the state to shift to 100% carbon-free energy generation by 2045, with an interim goal of 80% renewable energy by 2040.
While not (yet) a state, Washington DC also made waves when the Federal Capital passed the Clean Energy D.C. Omnibus Act of 2018 that mandated that 100% of the district’s energy come from clean and renewable electricity by 2032. Particularly noteworthy is that this mandate covers federal buildings in the city, White House and Congress included.
Another not-yet-a-state who’s unwilling to wait for the federal government, Puerto Rico responded to the destruction of its grid system during the 2017 hurricane season with recognition of the need for climate action and for a more reliable and resilient grid system. As a part of those efforts, the territory passed the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act that sets a 100% renewable energy target by 2050.
These states and territories are surely just the beginning, as neighboring areas will see the goals they set and, more importantly, the progress they make in achieving those goals. Early adopting states will provide a road map for just how affordable and beneficial these clean energy goals are, and the ‘clean energy bug’ will pass from state to state. Already, New York has made initial moves in this direction as well, while hundreds of cities, counties, and even corporations have joined the fray in committing to clean energy goals without federal mandate.
All of this progress from state governments is undoubtedly good news for the environment, the grid, and the climate, but relying on clean energy policy to come on a state-by-state basis is not without some drawbacks.
Inconsistency in goals (what percentage of power has to be converted? Are we talking about renewable energy or ‘clean energy’ that includes nuclear? What are the deadlines and checkpoints along the way?) makes for an uncertain and difficult to follow market for the energy industryUsing a patchwork of requirements results in inefficiencies in implementation and utility strategy roll-out where there would not be were a single national policy enactedInterstate and international electricity trading is typically not controlled under these goals, just electricity generated within the state, so the result of some state policies will be to ‘outsource’ dirty energy generation across the border.
Despite these problems, clean energy advocates and anyone who understands the dire situation presented by climate change should be grateful for state governments that aren’t sitting on the sideline and waiting for the federal government to act. Piece-by-piece, states and renewable energy proponents are making sure the United States will do its part to combat climate change while debate continues to go in circles in Washington DC.