States and cities must show the way forward on renewables

Energy transition

Chris Brown
President of Sales and Service in the United States and Canada at Vestas
Published on 04th of October 2019

Despite the constant barrage of negative headlines these days, we live in a time when the leadership and technology exist to carry us toward a 100% decarbonized grid. That leadership lies not with the federal government and national policy, but with the many states and cities that have stepped up as proactive climate and economic development champions.

States and cities are uniquely equipped to grow the clean economy through their representative powers and agency resources. And they can capitalize on existing momentum and lean into the clean energy transition with persistence and speed.  According to a recent Morning Consult / Politico poll, two-thirds of voters found it somewhat or very important to commit “to generating 100 percent of U.S. power needs with clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources over a 10-year period.” Not eventually. Not by 2050. But within ten years.

However, with this leadership also comes checks and balances. It is up to us—engaged citizens—to ask tough questions. Can we count on cities and states to carry us toward a carbon-free world? Can we push them to do even more?

Unfortunately, even as 29 states and the District of Columbia have adopted RPS policies, some states have shown they are not up for the job. Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) rollback is an attack on the clean economy and desires of Ohio voters. Considerably reducing the amount of renewables utilities must deliver to their customers (by about 1 GW of wind power on our calculations), while simultaneously bailing out uneconomic coal generation, is completely against the preferences of Ohioans, no matter what side of the aisle they stand on. Polling by the Ohio Conservative Energy Forum makes this point. It found that two-thirds of Republican and Independent voters want at least half of all energy to come from renewables and want their public officials to back renewables. Monmouth University’s national findings on Republican and Independent voters’ attitudes on climate show similar support nationwide.

I commend Ohio voters that are demanding renewable energy now and in the future through a referendum to stop the nuclear and coal bailout. I hope the will of the public will rise above that of the fossil-fuel lobby in Ohio.

Beyond Ohio, some bold leaders are listening to their constituents and acting. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont recently signed an executive order setting a goal of creating a zero-carbon grid for the state by 2040 citing the strong economic case for renewables. And in Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers signed a significant 100% carbon-free pledge after the state legislature removed the original plan from the budget. Governor Evers showed courage and commitment to using all branches of government to pursue renewable energy.

Meanwhile, in a state with less than 7% of electricity delivered from renewables and a voluntary RPS, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signed an executive order calling for a carbon-free grid by 2050. It is important to note that even before this executive order, Virginia cities such as Arlington and Blacksburg took it upon themselves to commit to 100% renewable energy, showing trailblazing leadership and guiding the way for Governor Northam’s announcement.

Governors like Lamont, Northam and Evers and cities like Arlington and Blacksburg (just to name a few) show that local leaders have the tools and the power to strengthen the clean economy and tackle the climate emergency. There are many more governors, mayors and commissioners across the country who can leverage their own governance powers.

But one thing is very clear, the most powerful clean economy will come about through alignment of state legislatures, governors and mayors. Every unilateral move made by a branch of government in the fight for a cleaner world is progress and that can’t be understated. But cooperation is ultimately key to 100% decarbonization. States and cities must continue their fight with the knowledge that they are held accountable by the public—a public that supports a clean energy future.