Hope for Energy Efficiency and Renewables: The States

By Derek Newberry, Advocacy Fellow on 3/29/2017

  

          Over the last few weeks, federal actions or, more appropriately, attacks against renewable energies and efficiency programs have limited the scope of federal authority and influence over future sustainability. Beginning with Trump’s promises to dismantle the EPA and exit the Paris Agreement, the administration has now proposed a budget that eliminates funding for energy efficiency programs such as ENERGY STAR which by itself has saved US consumers over $430 billion on utility bills, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 billion metric tons since 1992. In addition, yesterday’s executive order will rescind requirements on fossil fuel power plants, initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan, and eliminate protections created by Obama that required all agencies to consider climate change impacts before any major decision.

            However, a new wave of sustainable energy bills has begun to pass throughout the country and given many hope for a new era of state-level leadership in renewable energy. The hundreds of proposed bills include solar tax breaks in South Carolina and Florida, phasing out fossil fuels and going 100% green in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont, and many energy efficiency and net metering improvements around the country. Opposition to a number of anti-renewable bills has grown and attempts in Wyoming to prohibit utility wind and solar farm energy from being sold to in-state customers and an attempt in North Dakota to delay new wind projects by two years both failed almost immediately. While debates over net metering continue in many areas, the newfound ambition for mandatory and voluntary renewable energy targets demonstrates the continued work towards and potential of a sustainable energy transition.

            Some notable state action includes bills by the Commonwealth, California, and Maryland. Massachusetts’ S.1849, An Act transitioning Massachusetts to 100 percent renewable energy, will require the state to get all of its electricity from renewables by 2035 and power for all heating, transportation and other sectors from renewables by 2050. The bill also requires the state to work with the administrative council for the clean energy transition and the clean energy center of excellence to create effective net zero energy building policies that, among other things, will require all new buildings in Massachusetts to be 100% net zero by 2030 and for all existing buildings to cut emissions by half within the same time. The California Senate leader also introduced Senate Bill No. 584 which will require the state to draw all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045. Maryland also recently overrode the Governor’s veto to pass new renewable energy standards that require the state to obtain 25% of its power from renewables by 2020.

            In the end, Trump’s crusade against renewable energies will likely fail amidst the rising tide of state-sponsored legislation and energy efficiency momentum. As wind and solar cost have plummeted they have allowed renewables make up a majority of added power generation to the total US and World capacities for the last few years. Even though the US government may not be a leader in energy sustainability and security for the next few years, the states and world will continue fighting through smart, effective, and cooperative energy policies. These will not only protect against the oncoming impacts of climate change, but also thoroughly cap carbon emissions and improve the wellbeing and prosperity of many generations to come. 

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