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.
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