States Jump-Start 2019 Energy Initiatives

Governors and legislatures fast-track plans to cut their states' carbon footprints and expand alternative sources.

In a trend that could indicate a long-term shift, state governments are kicking off 2019 with a flurry of energy-related legislation and other initiatives. Although some of the activities aim to bolster traditional carbon-based sources, most of the recent developments are aimed at redirecting energy policy toward greener practices.

A sign of the shift is the growing membership of the U.S. Climate Alliance, an association of governors formed after President Trump announced the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords. The group’s stated goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions at least 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025; expedite strategies for reducing the carbon footprint and expand clean energy; and apprise the global anti-climate change coalition on progress. Since the beginning of February alone, the governors of Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine and Nevada have signed on, expanding the alliance’s membership to 23.

To some extent, the state initiatives result from state houses and legislatures switching from Republican to Democratic control. But they may also reflect a broader movement toward renewable sources. In 2018 alone, 47 states and Washington, D.C., took a total of 267 actions related to distributed solar energy, said the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center in January.
“The number of distributed solar policy actions has increased every year from 2015 to 2018,” commented David Sarkisian, a senior policy analyst at the center, which is sponsored by North Carolina State University. “The complexity of the policies under consideration has also increased as states move to account for temporal and locational value in compensation frameworks and to address the interaction of solar with complementary technologies like energy storage.”

Carbon phase-out

The most far-reaching state initiatives set deadlines for drastically reducing and ultimately phasing out carbon-based electricity sources. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham got the ball rolling in her state soon after taking office in January, signing an executive order that sets a 2030 deadline for reducing carbon emissions 45 percent below 2005 levels. Lujan Grisham also ordered state agencies to evaluate operations in light of climate change. The order also calls for the establishment of a Climate Change Task Force that will assess the state’s greenhouse gas reduction policies, among other tasks. The state’s Energy Transition Act, approved on March 13 and awaiting the expected signature of the governor, calls for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

Another western state is weighing similarly bold proposals. Nevada’s renewable energy standard would reach 50 percent by 2030. Minnesota’s new leadership is moving forward on similar proposals. If approved, “One Minnesota Path to Clean Energy” would complete the transition to non-carbon sources by 2050. Illinois would draw on renewables for 50 percent of its power load by 2031 and 100 percent by 2040, and creating a carbon-free power industry. In other states, small steps are expected to precede larger actions.

Maine is putting clean energy front and center with legislation that would restore net metering for solar customers. That followed an executive order signed in January by Gov. Janet Mills that allows offshore wind projects.
Other states have started 2019 by pushing back against the demise of conventional carbon-based energy formats. In March, Kansas regulators declined a proposal to mandate smart meters, and Kentucky repealed net metering for solar customers.

Meanwhile, early adopters of strategies to cut renewable consumption are introducing new initiatives. On March 6, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York introduced a $30 million program to promote buildings that generate little or no carbon emission and also provide attractive working and residential spaces. Projects in design, under construction or targeted for energy upgrades may qualify for consideration. Dubbed “Buildings of Excellence,” the competition will unfold in three rounds, starting with multifamily properties. The state’s energy plan calls for 2030 deadline for a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels.