New Report Shows U.S. States Leading a Shift to Clean Energy

November 14, 2016

A new report from the Georgetown Climate Center shows that a dramatic shift to clean energy is taking place across the U.S.

Between 2011 and 2014, installed wind energy capacity grew by more than 40 percent nationally, for example, while solar capacity grew by 577 percent nationally.

“We are seeing significant progress in the growth of clean energy,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center. “States are taking action to increase renewable energy, slash energy use, and reduce reliance on older, inefficient fossil-fuel power plants.”

The Georgetown Climate Center works with states and cities to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Its new report focuses on actions in 19 states that are leading a shift to cleaner energy. The profiles in the 2016 report are based on descriptions of state activity provided by state officials.

“State leadership on clean energy is important for so many reasons,” said Arroyo. “States are enacting policies for a variety of reasons, and the result is less pollution, improved public health, better job opportunities, and energy cost savings for consumers.”

The 19 states profiled in the report, “State Leadership Driving the Shift to Clean Energy: State Progress and Success Stories,” are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. The report updates a previous Georgetown Climate Center report released in December 2013.

The states are using a variety of policies to drive the shift to clean energy. California, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont have expanded or enacted strong renewable portfolio standards. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Tennessee have employed or are taking steps to pursue power-purchase agreements to procure renewable energy on a long-term basis. Connecticut and Rhode Island are using innovative financing mechanisms to support clean energy development, and Massachusetts and Nevada are doing the same through tax policy.

Since the 2013 report, states have also taken action to use energy more efficiently. Nationally, states have increased energy savings by an impressive 7 percent between 2013 and 2014. California and New York have established ambitious new midterm (2030 and beyond) energy efficiency goals. Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Virginia have issued executive orders to improve management of state government energy consumption. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Vermont, among other states, have set up funding streams to undertake energy efficiency projects in-state.

Some of the profiled states are also directly requiring cuts in carbon pollution. Washington State has adopted a Clean Air Rule that requires the largest carbon pollution sources in the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 percent per year through 2035. California and New York have committed to reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and Oregon has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic has reduced carbon pollution from the power sector 45 percent since 2005. And in 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order requiring a working group to recommend steps by spring 2017 to reduce carbon emission from Virginia power plants.

These actions have contributed to a 6 percent drop in overall United States greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector between 2012 and 2015.

States further report that these collective actions have brought significant economic and health benefits. For example, Nevada’s Renewable Energy Tax Abatement program has attracted more than $6.5 billion in economic benefits or in-state investments and created more than 4,000 jobs paying an average of $41 an hour. In Michigan, for every dollar invested in energy efficiency projects, homeowners and businesses receive four dollars in benefits. In Oregon, reductions in air pollution (specifically fine particulates) are expected to bring $3.5 billion in health benefits.

The original 2013 report and this 2016 update were done to highlight specific state policies that are successfully accelerating the shift to clean energy—offering lessons that may be useful across the country.

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