Race to 100% Clean

U.S. states, municipalities, utilities, and corporations have made significant progress toward a fossil-free future by advancing energy efficiency and clean energy. In fact, 1 in 3 people in the United States now live in a state or city transitioning to 100% clean electricity.

That astonishing number doesn’t even include the millions of households and businesses served by utilities that have voluntarily committed to providing 100% emissions-free energy or those living in communities with other ambitious climate targets.

The momentum is clear. By pledging to reduce additional greenhouse gas emissions and energy use over the next several years, America’s states, cities and counties, utilities, and corporations have demonstrated a readiness to take on the climate challenge long-term.

All of this is welcome progress at a time when the Trump administration is moving backward on domestic and international climate and clean energy policies.

In a new interactive and explanatory mapping tool, NRDC – Natural Resources Defense Council– has broken it down by state renewable portfolio standards, state emissions reduction pledges, state energy efficiency resource standards, municipal clean energy commitments, utility emissions reduction targets, and corporate power purchase agreements.

Who is leading on climate action?

In the absence of federal action, states, municipalities, utilities, and corporations are making unprecedented commitments to take on the climate challenge. Since 2008, local and state commitments have led to a near-doubling of renewable energy generation in the United States. Five states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, are now committed by law to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050 or earlier (and another eight states have 100 percent goals). Twelve large utilities, nearly 140 cities, and more than 150 businesses have pledged to—or already have achieved—100 percent clean electricity or “net-zero” emissions.

Commitments to increase energy efficiency, which reduces the amount of generation we need to reach 100 percent clean electricity, have also ramped up: 26 states have passed Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS) mandating that utilities develop programs to achieve a specific amount of annual energy savings; cities have implemented more than 265 initiatives to support efficient buildings and transportation since 2017; and U.S. utilities collectively spent $8 billion on energy efficiency programs in 2018, alone.

This interactive and explanatory Story Map provides a visual representation of the commitments that states, municipalities, utilities, and corporations have made to date. It also allows us to better understand who the leading climate actors are in the United States today and how their commitments could help our country meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the global threshold which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates will provide the best chance of avoiding catastrophic climate impacts.

Not all targets are created equal

Climate commitments vary significantly in structure and degree of ambition. It is important to recognize that not all targets are created equal. You can compare commitments and ambition by looking at: what resources are included as well as carve-outs or exceptions; the baseline year used as reference; how quickly the target must be met; whether it is required or voluntary; and what sectors must achieve the target.

Clean vs. renewable

While some commitments target “renewable energy,” the majority use the broader language of “clean energy.” The terms “renewable” and “clean” cannot be used interchangeably, as they often erroneously are, because the resources included in the definitions of each vary. In the story map, the definitions of “renewable” and “clean” are determined by each state.

• Renewable resources are most often defined as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, and geothermal power. Some states also include certain types of biomass and waste, such as gas captured from landfill or sewage treatment plants.

• Clean resources, also referred to as low-carbonzero-carbon, or carbon-free, generally encompass these renewable resources. However, some also define ‘clean resources’ to include other technologies, like fossil fuels with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) or nuclear, which is emissions-free but carries a host of health and safety risks.

Some targets additionally use the language of “net-zero” or “carbon-neutral,” which refers to the removal of any remaining emissions through carbon offsetting investments or natural and technological carbon removal strategies, such as direct air capture.

Target years

The majority of states, cities, utilities, and businesses set target years by which to achieve their intended emissions-reduction or clean-electricity goals. With a few exceptions, most are aiming for 2040 or 2050. Whether entities can reach far-out targets is highly dependent on the stringency of their interim targets, which, in many cases, occur around 2030 and are critical to being well-positioned to achieve the long-term goals.

Baseline years

baseline year is a reference point against which emission reductions are calculated and could make the difference between an ambitious target and a weak one. Because U.S. emissions peaked in 2007, an emissions reduction target using a baseline year of 2005 (the second-highest year on record) is weaker (because it sets a higher threshold) than the same target using a baseline year of 1990, 2010, or 2016, when emissions were lower.

Binding vs. Non-Binding Targets

NRDC categorizes these commitments into two policy buckets: binding legislation or regulation, and non-binding executive orders or goals.

• Binding legislation refers to laws with explicit targets as passed by a state legislature and signed by the governor. These are binding because they create obligations to achieve the target and penalties for failure to do so.

• Executive orders are directives signed, written, and published by a governor without legislative approval. They do not have the same force of law as legislation but can result in administrative rulemakings or other processes that can lead to binding regulations or to the development of plans to achieve the target. These orders, and sometimes the regulations that follow, can be overturned by future governors, and therefore risk being less permanent than legislative mandates. Non-binding goals can be in the form of legislation, executive order, or commitments by utilities or corporations, but only express the intent or the study of achieving specific targets, not requiring them.

Applicable sectors

Renewable energy development and emissions-reduction commitments often vary in the sectors they cover. The majority of cities (and many states and utilities) have made commitments for the electric power sector, which encompasses emissions produced by the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity needed to meet consumption demands. Economy-wide energy targets, on the other hand, are more comprehensive, as they also necessitate fossil fuel alternatives in the transportation, industry, and buildings sectors. NRDC distinguish between renewable or clean electricity targets and renewable or clean energy targets in the Story Map.

State Renewable Portfolio Standards

In the face of federal climate inaction and damaging rollbacks, states have taken on the tremendous responsibility of advancing renewable energy deployment and emissions reductions. Since 2000, approximately 50 percent of U.S. renewable electricity generation and capacity has been driven by state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), also called renewable energy standards (RES), which specify the percent of retail electricity sales that must be supplied with renewable electricity.

State Emissions Reduction Commitments

In addition to establishing renewable or clean electricity goals, 24 states (including D.C.) have pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas or carbon emissions by specific target years. Whereas the former only covers the power sector, most emissions-reduction commitments are economy-wide. Current targets represent a reduction of more than 1,900 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMtCO2e) from state baseline levels—more than the total carbon pollution from all U.S. power plants in 2018. In the past two years alone, five states – California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, and New York – plus Washington, D.C. have passed bills either requiring or laying out plans to reach carbon neutrality or reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent, while a sixth state, Colorado, is aiming to reduce statewide greenhouse gas pollution by at least 90 percent.

State Energy Efficiency Resource Standards

Increasing energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Efficient systems use less energy, reduce energy spending, avoid pollution, and thereby help these sectors achieve emissions reduction targets.

In spite of federal rollbacks of appliance and light bulb efficiency standards, states, cities, utilities, and corporations have taken significant action to strengthen energy efficiency measures. At the state level, governments are adopting energy efficiency resource standards (EERS) to boost long-term energy savings through utility and state-run programs. Passed via legislation or regulation, EERS policies establish binding targets for energy savings from electricity, natural gas, or both, depending on the state.

EERS policies have been highly effective—in 2016 and 2017, roughly 80 percent of utility energy savings could be attributed to state EERS programs. In fact, states with an EERS have demonstrated energy efficiency spending and savings levels three times higher than those without.


Cities and counties also play a role in the race to eliminate dirty emissions. In the United States, 1 in every 3 people now lives in a community in the process of transitioning to, or already running on, 100 percent clean electricity. More than 130 cities and counties across 37 states have established 100 percent clean commitments (some are clean electricity, but others include other energy sources too), while 72 communities have already achieved that target through varying methods.


Representing 65 percent of total electricity sales and serving over 100 million homes and businesses, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) have a large role to play in the energy transition. The movement is already well underway: in just the past few years, nearly 50 IOUs (including more than 150 subsidiary utilities and representing more than 90 percent of all IOU customers in the United States) have pledged to reduce climate-harming emissions, invest in carbon-free energy, and close dirty fossil fuel plants. Though not represented in the Story Map, a number of public and state-owned utilities have also taken steps to decarbonize, including the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.


Corporate investments in solar and wind are driving growth in the renewable energy market, affecting both the number and size of projects built across the country. Corporations have provided a significant source of private funding for renewable energy development, having directly purchased 34 gigawatts (GW) of solar and wind since 2008 alone. More than 150 companies, including Walmart and Microsoft (which recently announced plans to remove the same amount of carbon it has emitted since its start), have pledged to procure 100 percent renewable electricity, while large businesses such as Apple and Google (which has set a new goal of “24/7” clean) have already achieved this feat. In total, more than 565 companies based in the United States have committed to reducing emissions.

In the absence of federal climate legislation, states, municipalities, utilities, and corporations have stepped up in driving the energy revolution. These sectors are not just transitioning because they’ve had a moral awakening—they’re doing it because of the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency and renewable resources such as solar and wind. Building a new solar or wind facility is now more economical than running an existing coal plant in many cases, and efficiency has always been cheaper. The increased ability of electricity providers to maintain lower customer bills and grid reliability with renewable sources is further driving customer demand, 87 percent of whom want 100 percent renewable energy and 70 percent of whom want it in the near future, according to a survey by Edison Electric Institute.

Current climate commitments will not be enough to limit global temperature rise below the IPCC’s critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, however. States, cities, utilities, and corporations have made significant progress despite recent federal policies and actions favoring dirty energy over clean resources. With stronger and more permanent federal policies, these sectors would be able to transition off fossil fuels faster and take their commitments even further—for example, by time-matching their energy use to procured renewable generation, investing in energy efficiency and storage, and developing carbon dioxide removal technology. The federal government must step up and assume a leading role in driving the country toward a clean energy future.

February 13, 2020

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council





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    By: NRDC

    NRDC works to safeguard the earth—its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends.
    NRDC combines the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.

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