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Leon Kaye headshot

Renewables Dominated New U.S. Power Generation in 2016

By Leon Kaye

Fears that a new Trump administration could roll back advances clean energy may be seriously overblown. Such assumptions are belied by data released in the most recent update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Of the over 26 gigawatts of new energy capacity added throughout the United States last year, the vast majority of it came from renewables, the FERC found.

In fact, the total amount of biomass, waste heat, solar and wind power comprised over 60 percent of new power generation last year. Add the 314 megawatts of new hydropower, and 61.5 percent of the country’s increase in electrical power came from renewable sources.

In contrast, a third of all new power generation came from natural gas, which continued to be the largest factor causing the decline of coal-fired power plants. If there will be any such comeback for coal, there is a steep mountain to climb: Only 45 megawatts, or 0.17 percent of all new capacity, came from coal last year.

Natural gas is still the leader in new power generation across the U.S., with 8.8 GW of new capacity launched last year. Wind power, which was the largest source of new power in 2015, witnessed a remarkable decline, with an 11 percent decrease in new capacity last year compared to the year before. But those losses were more than compensated for with a huge surge in solar power. New solar capacity more than doubled in 2016 with 7.8 GW of new power capacity installed, more than double the 2015 total of 3.5 GW.

With this growth in renewables comes the increase in another statistic that the new administration will have a hard time ignoring: jobs.

Almost 1 million Americans now work within growing clean-energy sectors like solar and wind, along with industries such as energy efficiency and electric vehicles. And according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s latest industry employment report, the difference is stark when looking at electric power generation. Employment within the renewable power generation sector now outpaces fossil fuel energy jobs by almost by 5 to 1, according to the DOE.

And for those who insist the renewables debate is marked by a red state-blue state divide, think again: Some of the largest renewable energy projects were installed in America’s heartland. Those projects include the 400 MW Grande Prairie Wind Farm Project in Nebraska; the 301 MW Ida Grove Wind Project in Iowa; and the 250 MW Hidalgo Wind Farm in Texas. Large wind farm projects of 200 MW or above were also launched in Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Oklahoma. In fact, the list of new electrical power installations is dominated by states that voted for Donald Trump.

"The focus of the new Trump administration on fossil fuels is not only environmentally irresponsible but totally wrong-headed in light of the latest FERC data," Ken Bossong, executive director of the Sun Day Campaign, told TriplePundit in an email. "Year-after-year, renewables are proving themselves to be the energy sources making America great again."

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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