States Taking the Lead in Renewable Energy Growth

While there may be some uncertainty as to how renewable energy policy may play out in Washington over the next few years, ongoing developments at the state level demonstrate the persistent strength of policy leadership being demonstrated across the country.

Just last week, Illinois legislators locked in the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) – by 2025, at least 25 percent of the state’s electricity needs will be met with renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Furthermore, the measure, which Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law today, also amends some language that, until now, had hindered the use of money from a multi-million-dollar fund that was set up to help pay for renewable energy projects. The legislation also establishes certain percentages for various renewables – utility scale wind and solar, community solar and rooftop solar – to meet the RPS goal. And, the bill expands a number of energy efficiency programs. Legislators chose to reject language that would have eliminated utility compensation at retail rates for residents who send excess energy from their rooftop solar systems back to the grid.

One of the more significant provisions in the bill will require that renewable energy that contributes to the RPS target must be generated from within the state. Until now, utilities relied on renewable energy credits from wind farms in Texas, Iowa and other states. The in-state requirement will boost local economies and jobs that come from accelerated clean-energy technology development.

The final legislative package did not come without compromise. A provision sets aside funding to avoid the closure of two money-losing nuclear power plants in the state that employ more than 1,500 people. The concession makes the bill less than perfect, but legislators should be commended for finding the strength and wisdom to hammer out legislation with input from a wide range of stakeholders that will put the state on the path to clean energy opportunities.

Illinois is among 29 states with RPS policies (another eight have renewable energy goals). As reported back in April by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in their status update of state renewable portfolio standards, these states collectively generate some 55 percent of total U.S. retail electricity sales. That same update also points out that increases of 60 percent in renewable electricity generation, and 57 percent of new renewable electricity capacity since 2000 are directly associated with state RPS requirements. Total renewable electricity demand under the collective state RPS policies is expected to double from 215 terawatt hours (tWh) in 2015, to 431 tWh by 2030.

Evidence of continued strong growth at the state level was also offered last week in data from DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) covering the first nine months of 2016.

The EIA data showed that biomass, geothermal, solar and wind made up 29.4 percent of total generation in California through the first three quarters of this year. That’s up from 26.1 percent through the first nine months of 2015, and more than double the 13.8 percent recorded just five years ago. Utility-scale and distributed solar represented 13.6 percent of California’s generation through September. Including hydropower, renewables made up 44 percent of the state’s generation through September of this year, compared to 33.5 percent over the same period last year. California has a 50-percent-by-2030 RPS.

Elsewhere, the EIA data shows Utah increased generation from geothermal, solar, and wind energy from a little less than 3 percent of total generation during the first nine months of 2015, to nearly 6 percent over the same period this year. New Mexico saw generation from wind power double to nearly 11 percent of total generation, and Nevada has increased geothermal generation by more than 25 percent compared with 2015.

The data shows wind power is now producing more than 12 percent of total electricity demand in Texas, while Oklahoma is at 24 percent and Kansas is at 28 percent. Iowa is seeing more than a third of its power generation coming from wind.

In the Southeastern United States, solar energy is a rapidly growing source of electricity generation, quadrupling in Georgia over the first three quarters of 2016 when compared to the same time last year. In North Carolina, where two new solar plants were connected to the grid every week in September, solar power generation has tripled year to year, and the state now ranks third in the country behind California and Arizona for total generation from solar.

It is our sincere hope that as a new administration and Congress come to Washington next year, lawmakers will overcome what has been longstanding partisanship, and recognize the role renewable sources of power can play in boosting local economies, creating jobs and strengthening national security. As determined state policy makers have demonstrated, there are viable policies, technologies and funding mechanisms that can promote and advance the kind of renewable energy growth this nation needs.

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