States Pivot Toward Renewables as Feds Pivot Toward Fossil Fuels

BY FOCUS, a Leonine Business

States both red and blue are making efforts to expand clean energy programs despite a noted federal pivot away from renewables and towards fossil fuels and coal, according to a report by Stateline. Recognizing that investing in renewable energy is not only a boon for the environment, but also for state economies, states are rolling out numerous initiatives all aimed at getting in on the fast-growing industry. In 2016 the number of total jobs in solar overtook the total number of jobs in the oil, gas and coal industries, according to Bloomberg, and is continuing to grow at a rapid pace.

This stands in stark contrast to the stated energy policy goals of President Donald Trump, who is seeking to expand domestic production of shale, oil and natural gas, as well as expanding both onshore and offshore oil drilling, and eliminating moratoriums on the leasing of federal land for coal mining purposes.

States, recognizing the potential benefits of renewable energy, are pivoting towards the renewable industry through multiple types of policy proposals – Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has encouraged the expansion of wind farms in the deep-red state, while 19 states have enacted so called “net-metering” policies, which allow individuals operating solar panels to see a direct return on their investment.

Among the most successful efforts to promote the expansion of renewable energy in the states, however, has been the enactment of renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which mandate that a certain percentage of the electricity supply in the state comes from renewable means, such as wind or solar. Data from NCSL indicates that 29 states have enacted RPS bills to date, while another eight states have set voluntary targets for renewable energy goals. Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, recognizing the positive impact the industry has had in the state, recently vetoed a bill, HB 554, which sought to extend a freeze on the states renewable portfolio standard through 2018. Kasich has spoken highly of the industry’s economic benefits in his state, crediting it with helping grow the economy, according to The Plain Dealer. In February, Maryland legislators overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of 2016’s SB 921, which requires the state obtain 25 percent of its energy needs via renewable sources.

Efforts in Vermont have been particularly successful and have served as a blueprint for many other states in the nation; the state’s queen city, Burlington, was recently recognized as the first municipality in the nation to meet 100 percent of its electricity needs through renewable resources. The state also has one of the most ambitious RPS goals, seeking to meet 55 percent of its electricity needs through renewable means by 2017, and 75 percent by 2032; only Hawaii, which aims to meet all of its electricity needs through renewable means by 2045, has aimed its sights higher than the Green Mountain State.

So far during the 2017 legislative session, 35 bills relating to RPS have been filed in 12 states. With strong bipartisan support of the expansion of renewable energies, it is likely that more states on both sides of the political spectrum will continue to look for ways to reduce their carbon footprints to economic benefit this year.