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State Mandates for Clean Energy Improving But Not Fast Enough

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Leadership & Transparency

In June of this year, the Obama administration announced new carbon standards for power plants. With the comment period for the proposed rules expected to close on December 1*, we thought we would take a look at how states are doing.

The innovative aspect of this plan is that it is tailored to the carbon emissions of each state through a progressive transition to renewable energy. So Illinois, for example, has a recommended goal of a 9 percent transition to renewable energy sources by 2030 (established by the Environmental Protection Agency). The state, however, has set its own goal of 25 percent renewables by 2026. Pennsylvania has set its goals above those of the EPA at 18 percent and 16 percent respectively, but the state is still struggling to cut its dependence on coal (39 percent of its power generation). California is aiming for a 33 percent benchmark by 2020; the EPA, however, set the bar at 21 percent by 2030.

Needless to say, not all states are making inroads as aggressively as California, which has its own clean energy initiatives already in the works. It trumps most states in its accomplishments right now, not only because of its proactive stance on renewable energy, but also because it has the resources at hand. Although a whopping 60 percent of its energy comes from gas, at least 14 percent comes from hydroelectric power and 4.9 percent from wind. Its solar is still fairly small (only 0.70 percent) but is liable to grow in coming years.

Then, there are those states that to date have not set goals. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky are among the states that seem unmoved by the clean energy initiative. Ironically, many of them bask in a plethora of sunlight or have great access to wind energy. Florida, the Sunshine State, also has coastlines that most wind energy cooperatives would die for (seasonal hurricane concerns notwithstanding).

According to Earth Justice, which put together an infographic of individual states' clean energy progress, only seven states are ahead of the proposed goals. Fortunately, the bulk of the states have adopted mandates and are making strides. Still, with more than 20 percent of states failing to set individual mandates, one has to wonder why the imperative of clean energy isn't being heard.

Are the goals too low? Florida, with its abundant options, is only being encouraged to attain a benchmark of a 10 percent transition to renewable energy sources by 2030. Arkansas' goal is even lower: 7 percent. Of course, the entrenched supply of non-renewable sources such as coal in states like Alabama, which gets 30 percent of its power from dirty sources, plays a role in whether states either have the incentive or the ability to make such a leap. And its landmark suit against the EPA for the new standards sets the scoreboard when it comes to the likelihood of the state meeting the 2030 EPA standards after they are finalized in June 2015.

North Carolina, another state known for its use of coal power  (which represents 44 percent of its power generation), did set its own goal -- coming out just above the EPA's proposed minimum of 10 percent. That is in part because of locally-based environmental organizations like the NC Clean Energy Technology Center that can offer incentives and a push-back to organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which lobbies support for coal interests.

Clearly the issue isn't entirely partisan politics. Alaska was handed a recommended goal of 2 percent by 2030, and has set its own threshold at 50 percent by 2025. Again resources play into the picture: Alaska's ample access to water bolsters its hydroelectric generation, which stands at 23 percent. But the benchmark that has been set by this generally Republican-leaning state is still not binding.

It will be interesting to see how the states' mandates shake out as the 2016 deadlines get closer and climate change issues become an even greater topic for debate in state capitols.

*Please see EPA: How to comment on the proposed rule

Solar panels, Bethell AK: Andrea Pokrzywinski

Hydrant/Clean energy depiction, Pittsburg PA: Tacomabibelot

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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