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California not alone in clean energy push; red states help lead charge

The dramatic growth of clean energy over the past decade has brought surprises, including data showing Republican states outperforming California in some areas.

California’s aggressive environmental policies have helped it lead the nation in the growth of solar energy and electric car sales, according to a new report by Environment California, “Renewables on the Rise 2020.”

But seven of the eight states that get the largest share of their electricity from solar and wind are politically red or purple, with California ranking ninth. Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa lead the way when it comes to wind-generated electricity alone.

“In a similar way that California incentivized rooftop solar, Texas put in place programs to incentivize wind,” said environment California’s Elizabeth Nickerson, specifically citing policies that led to new transmission lines and good pricing.

“Those two things combined allowed wind to compete with fossil fuels in Texas and other middle-of the-country states.”

The report documents the rapid growth in renewable energy from 2010 to 2019. Wind, solar and geothermal went from supplying 2.7% to 10% of the nation’s electricity during that stretch, with Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota now getting more than half their electricity from wind and sun. In 2010, virtually no electric vehicles were sold while more than 300,000 plug-ins were purchased in 2019.

But despite the growth in these and other areas, environmentalists say much more needs to be done to reach 100% renewable energy. California and five other states have set goal of being 100% renewable by 2045, a transformation that state leaders say is needed nationwide to address global warming and the growing consequences of wildfires, sea-level rise, flooding and wildlife displacement.

“This report gives us hope that we can get to 100% renewable energy before 2045,” Nickerson said. “We can do it, this proves we can do it, but we still need key policies in place. Our elected officials need to accelerate our 100% goal, our utilities need to build out more charging stations and our state needs to pass rules that make our buildings so efficient that they put energy into the grid and not the other way around.”

While much of the push for clean energy has come at the state level, many are calling for more federal leadership on the issue. To that end, three Democratic congressmen — including Rep. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano — on Tuesday, Oct. 20, introduced a bill calling for all new car sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

California established its zero-emission vehicle program in 1990 and has quotas for zero- and low-emission vehicle sales, with the California Air Resources Board estimating that 8% of all car sales will be zero emission or plug-in hybrids by 2025. The state already sells more electric vehicles than the rest of the country combined.

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom increased the ante with an executive order calling for an end to new gasoline-car sales by 2035. It’s estimated the change will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 35%.

Red-state wind

California’s dominance in the solar arena saw it adding 42,000 gigawatt hours since 2010, with North Carolina a distant second at 7,500 solar gigawatt hours. Helping fuel California’s growth is the Million Solar Roof Initiative of 2006, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Over roughly the same period, solar costs in the state have fallen from 50 cents a kilowatt hour to 2 cents a kilowatt hour, contributing to the popularity of sun power.

Meanwhile, other states began focusing on wind energy.

“The key expense with wind is the transmission — moving it from the windmill to the city,” Nickerson said. “But in Texas and other middle America states, the wind lobby convinced the state utility regulators and the utilities to build more transmission lines, so the cost is not very high and low cost wins out.”

Contributing to the nation’s transition toward renewable energy are energy efficiency efforts. LED lighting, for example, uses 80% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb. U.S. per capita energy consumption has fallen by 3% since 2010, according to the report.

Yet the potential for growth of renewable energy remains vast.

“The United States has the technical potential to meet its current electricity needs more than 75 times over with solar energy and more than 10 times over with wind energy,” the report says.

Key to this is more — and better, cheaper — batteries to store solar and wind power when the sun isn’t shining and the air is still. And the trend is clearly in that direction, according to sources cited in the report.

“Bloomberg NEF predicts that the cost of utility-scale lithium batteries will fall by 52% between 2018 and 2030, and that the U.S. will exceed 100 gigawatts of installed battery storage by 2040, an almost 100-fold increase from current capacity,” it says.

Clean-energy critics have pointed to recent California blackouts as evidence that the state is not ready to ween itself off fossil fuels and is not in a position to charge electric cars for the entire population. Environmentalists brush such criticisms aside, pointing to a Newsom-ordered report that it was poor planning — not a lack of available electricity — that led to the outages.

The blackouts also drew attention to the need for more storage as clean energy becomes a bigger part of the electricity portfolio. Beside batteries, a key storage tool is re-pumped hydropower — releasing dammed water when electricity is needed and pumping it back up into the reservoir when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing and electricity is plentiful and cheap.

“We need investments in long-duration storage, and battery storage, to satisfy the electricity needs of Californians and to combat inherent intermittency in renewables,” Nickerson said.

Source: Orange County Register

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