Cities and States Stepping Up — Way Up — On Clean Energy Ambitions

By April 3, 2017 May 21st, 2019 No Comments

After weeks of speculation, President Trump has finally issued his Executive Order to roll back the Clean Power Plan, the core component of President Obama’s strategy to reduce greenhouse emissions from utility-scale power plants. While the ultimate fate of this rule (or its replacement) won’t be determined for months or even years, we should say right off the bat that it likely won’t have any significant impact on the home solar industry one way or another: homeowner adoption of solar is all about economics, not regulations, and there’s a truly massive amount of solar potential in states where that economic case is already strong today.

That said, the announcement was striking in its contrast to the constant drumbeat of support for clean energy coming from both Republican and Democrat policymakers at the state and local level in recent weeks. That the support exists isn’t surprising — as we’ve said before, clean energy is “universally popular” because of the economic benefits and local, working-class jobs it has created in communities across red and blue states alike over the past few years.

However, it is fantastically encouraging to see this support growing stronger and stronger at the same time that rhetoric at the federal level becomes ever more obsessed with resurrecting the coal industry. While this movement obviously predates the November election, you could almost get the impression that these state and local policymakers are also sending a message to the new administration…

Regardless of their motivations, a growing number of cities and states are setting much more ambitious goals than those contained in the Clean Power Plan — and they’re moving quickly to make them a reality.

#ReadyFor100 Cities

As is often the case, the boldest actions are being taken at the local level, by cities and towns across America. We’ve written about the Sierra Club’s #ReadyFor100 campaign on multiple occasions, as it’s a prime example of how local policymakers can lead. In the wake of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, #ReadyFor100 announced its goal of getting 100 U.S. cities to commit to a goal of 100% renewable energy — and, just over a year later, the initiative is officially a quarter of the way to its goal.

In a nice bit of symbolism, the 24th and 25th states signed up to the #ReadyFor100 pledge as reports of the Executive Order began to swirl last week, and they perfectly embodied the bipartisan spirit of the movement. On one hand, Madison, Wisconsin announced that the City Council approved a resolution to go 100% renewable electricity, albeit with no target date save for a January 2018 deadline for a plan for city government. Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and like many university towns it’s a bright blue dot on the political map, with 70% of residents voting Democrat in the recent election.

On the other hand, and on the same day, the Town Council of Abita Springs, Louisiana — home to the solar-powered Abita Brewery — approved a resolution to derive 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030. In stark contrast to Madison, 75% of Abita Springs voters pulled the lever for President Trump, but that didn’t stop it from becoming the first municipality in the bright-red, fossil fuel-rich state of Louisiana to make the pledge. In signing the resolution, Mayor Greg Lemons said “Politics has nothing to do with it for me. Clean energy just makes good economic sense.”

Of course, pledging to go 100% renewable isn’t the only way cities are pushing the clean energy revolution forward. The Climate Mayors coalition of 75 U.S. mayors representing 41 million Americans released a strongly-worded statement about their commitment to ongoing action in the aftermath of the Executive Order, noting not only the risks of climate change but the massive opportunity to create “a thriving 21st century economy” that clean energy represents. As they put it, “electric vehicles, solar power, energy efficiency and battery storage are all avenues to restoring our nation’s manufacturing base and create good, middle class jobs.”

As with the #ReadyFor100 cities, it’s not just talk, and it’s not a movement that started in November. These forward-thinking cities are already taking a dizzying array of climate and sustainability actions, including goals for renewable energy, reductions in greenhouse emissions, deployment of a whole host of clean energy technologies at the local level, and many, many other initiatives. You can scroll through this inspiring list city by city in their Climate Action Compendium.

States Race to the Top

States aren’t far behind on taking this kind of bold action. Currently Hawaii is the only state with a target for 100% renewable electricity, with a 100%-by-2045 mandate passed into law in 2015 — and its utilities are already setting their own goals to achieve this target ahead of schedule. Given its small size, plentiful sunshine, and lack of fossil fuel resources, you could be forgiven for thinking that this type of mandate is a quirk of Hawaii’s unique circumstances — but there are several states racing to prove you wrong.

In late January, just days after the inauguration, Massachusetts lawmakers moved to burnish the state’s already-impressive track record of clean energy leadership with a bill that would require 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable energy across all sectors by 2050. California promptly moved to up the ante on the west coast with its own bill to increase its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandate to 100% renewable electricity by 2045 and move up its previous target for 50% renewable electricity from 2030 to 2025.

While it remains to be seen who manages to pass the first state-level 100% mandate in the continental U.S., it’s clear that a growing number of states are stepping up their renewable energy ambitions. According to a recent review by InsideClimate News, literally hundreds of pieces of clean energy legislation have been introduced this year, including efforts to boost renewable energy mandates in Connecticut, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont (in addition to California and Massachusetts). Although there has also been some backlash from fossil fuel interests, InsideClimate notes that “anti-renewables bills proposed early this year have already flamed out.”

Clean energy advocacy isn’t just coming from state legislatures either. In February, the bipartisan Governor’s Wind & Solar Energy Coalition wrote to President Trump to encourage support for modernizing local power grids to support more renewables and increased clean energy research and development. On behalf of the Coalition’s eight Republican and 12 Democrat governors, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo wrote that “the nation’s wind and solar energy resources are transforming low-income rural communities in ways not seen since the passage of the Homestead Act over 150 years ago.”

In fact, some of the most forceful advocates for clean energy leadership at the state level are residents of Republican state houses. Midwestern Republican governors in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan have all recently signed or proposed new measures supporting clean energy, and Ohio’s governor (and former Republican presidential candidate) John Kasich recently vetoed a fossil fuel industry-supported bill aimed at slowing the progress of renewables. Like many of his counterparts, Kasich couched his support for clean energy in terms of economic development, asserting that “Ohio workers cannot afford to take a step backward from the economic gains that we have made in recent years.”

Of course, Democrat governors have been plenty outspoken themselves. California Governor Jerry Brown and New York’s Andrew Cuomo issued a joint press release the same day as President Trump’s Executive Order, reasserting their bright-blue bona fides along with their pledges to go far beyond the Clean Power Plan targets on climate and clean energy goals. “With or without Washington, we will work with our partners throughout the world to aggressively fight climate change and protect our future.”

Cities, States, and People Power

As we’ve said before, the clean energy revolution is unstoppable in part because it doesn’t need a push from the federal government. Instead, it’s advanced every day by bold states and municipalities across the country — and, ultimately, by everyday people that want a cleaner and fairer energy system that benefits them, not big fossil fuel companies and utilities. And as the economic story of clean energy becomes more and more powerful, the rhetoric coming from the federal government matters less and less.

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