Decarbonize 50: Clean Electricity Generation and Consumption

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In this article, we take a look across the U.S. at each state’s clean energy generation and consumption. While many clean energy targets across the nation appear to be similar, the approaches to meeting these goals can vary by state.

Why does clean electricity generation and consumption matter?

Generation of electricity is the second largest source, behind transportation, of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Moving our electricity grid to 100% reliance on decarbonized power sources is critical. The good news is we are making progress. In 2020, 20% of U.S, electricity generation came from renewables like solar and wind. It’s a start but we need more.

While the Federal government plays a role in pushing for more clean electricity generation, states also have a role to play though Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and by encouraging more clean electricity generation in their state.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are policies put in place by states to expand the reliance on clean electricity sources in their states. They play a fundamental role in a state’s effort to reduce its emissions and promote economic development. By setting these standards, utilities are required to procure a specific percentage of electricity from clean sources. Utilities can meet these targets by obtaining renewable energy credits (RECs) and by sourcing electricity from local clean energy generators, such as the solar farms Nexamp builds.

In order to decarbonize, we need to get to 100% clean electricity consumption. States need 100% clean electricity goals for their RPS and to apply aggressive timelines for reaching those goals.

Clean electricity generation is how much of the electricity generated in the state is from renewables. In most states, electricity generated is not consumed only in that state, so a higher percentage of renewable generation does not necessarily mean a higher percentage of renewable electricity consumed. A high percentage of electricity generation from renewables is a clear sign, however, of a state committed to clean energy generation and reducing the impact of polluting power plants in their state.

What states have renewable portfolio standards?

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are established through state legislation. Today, more than half of states (30) have renewable portfolio standards and that’s not including the 7 states that have adopted voluntary renewable energy goals. Voluntary renewable portfolio standards are when a state provides incentives to utility companies that choose to acquire renewable energy within their electricity generation, but do not penalize utilities that do not meet the states renewable energy goal.

RPS generally vary by state. Most recently, Nevada lawmakers passed a bill, setting new goals for the state’s RPS. The state increased its target from 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030. In 2019, New Mexico increased its RPS to 100% of electricity sales from renewable sources like wind and solar, by 2045.

Rapid spread and evident demand for 100% targets continues to push more and more states to set ambitious RPS goals, furthering the nation’s effort to decarbonize. Read the next section to learn which states are most ambitious with their RPS goals. States that currently don’t have renewable portfolio targets in place are Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wyoming. If your state is on this list, contact your local representative and ask them what their plans is for getting RPS in place!

What states have a 100% RPS goal?

The accelerating implementation of aggressive state clean energy goals has been one of the most important energy and climate change policy developments in the last decade. Most state targets for their renewable energy goals are between 10% – 45%. But full decarbonization will require all states to get to a 100% target. So how do we get there?

It takes a village. State policymakers need to set aggressive RPS targets. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia and Washington are already acting aggressively and modeling the way with 100% RPS targets. Individuals, businesses and industries all need to organize and demand 100% renewables from utilities as well. Over 100 companies around the world have already pledged to go 100% renewable. Some of these big-name brands include Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and more.

If more electricity consumers demand a transition entirely to renewable sources, then utilities will be pressed and eventually mandated to provide 100% clean electricity. This means that utility companies will need to ramp up utility-scale and distributed clean energy generation in addition to purchasing RECs generated by other clean energy generation. More importantly, it means that utilities will cut ties with fossil fuel power plants.

What year is targeted for that 100% renewable goal?

Our planet is warming at an alarming rate to the point of irreversibility. To achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels, it’s not enough to stop the growth of carbon emissions. We need to reduce emissions dramatically and we need bold, transformative solutions to get there. In recent years, more public concern over current and future effects of climate change have pushed more states to establish goals for moving towards 100% carbon-free or emission-free electricity generation and consumption. One state who has pioneered the most ambitious climate policy is New York. The Empire state’s law requires carbon-free electricity by 2040 and zero emissions by 2050. The states target extends further with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, that requires around 35% of clean energy investments to be made in marginalized communities.

Following New York’s aggressive climate policy are New Mexico, Virginia and Washington who all have a 100% renewable goal no later than 2035. Right behind them are California, Hawaii, Nevada, Maine and New Jersey, with a renewable goal of 100% by 2050 or earlier.

What percentage of electricity generated in the state is from renewable resources?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2020, renewable energy resources accounted for about 20% of electricity generated. Improved technology, falling costs, environmental benefits and strong state incentives are continuing to drive growth in diversifying cleaner energy generation and consumption. We found that out of all 50 states, Vermont is the only state that generates almost 100% clean electricity from renewable energy sources, with half of the state’s net-energy generation coming from 50 hydroelectric plants at dams.

Following the Green Mountain State is Maine at 79%. Maine leads New England in wind-powered generation and even ranks 6th in the nation in the share of its energy generated from wind.

Not too far behind are South Dakota at 74%, Washington at 70%, Oregon at 62%, and California at 48%. In fact, California is ranked as the highest solar power generating state in the nation, supplying more than 20% of the state’s electricity today.

Decarbonization is critical to combating the climate crisis, protecting human health, and revitalizing the economy. We have the technology needed, but our ability to fully decarbonize as a country will come down our collective efforts across all 50 states.

Follow us to learn more in the coming weeks about how your state is performing in its decarbonization efforts across, clean-energy friendly policy, environmental justice (accessibility), EV and transportation and building energy efficiency.

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