The U.S. is producing more power from renewable energy sources, creating jobs and looking beyond politics to build a greener future state by state.
With all the talk in the news media about reviving the flagging coal industry and increasing oil and gas drilling in the US, one simple fact is getting lost in the hype: Renewable energy production in the United States reached record highs in 2016. Almost every state is seeing growth in clean energy — and the jobs that go with it. When you step back and look at the big picture, the numbers are impressive: renewable sources cumulatively accounted for 19 percent of total available installed generating capacity (up from 14 percent 5 years ago). And across the country, if you add up jobs state by state nearly 414,000 people go to work in the renewable energy sector (solar and wind are the largest employers).
States Are Choosing Clean Energy
Whatever happens at the federal level with regard to investing in renewable energy this coming year, it’s clear that private business owners and state and local leaders are committed to supporting and growing renewable energy. As the nations older fossil-fired and nuclear power plants age out and come off line, opportunities for clean energy abound. And it’s not just big states such as California (the nations leading solar producer in 2016) that are making headlines.
The tiny state of Rhode Island made a big splash a few months ago when it completed construction of the nation’s first offshore wind farm. Just off the coast of Block Island sits five wind turbines that make up the 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm.
Jeffery Wright, president of Block Island Power Company, told Rhode Island Public Radio that switching to wind energy means cleaner air: “The biggest benefit is we’re not going to burn nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel a year.”
Further inland, Midwestern states are poised to keep gaining momentum in the clean energy surge that is going on there. In 2016, the renewable energy sector employed nearly 70,000 people in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Iowa remains a big stand out: In 2016, the state generated 35 percent of its energy needs from wind. South Dakota is a close second at 30 percent. What’s more, 82 percent of Iowa’s renewable energy jobs come from wind power, accounting for roughly 6,400 jobs.
And according to an article in the Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest utility is moving forward with a $3.6 billion investment in wind energy that seeks to erect 1,000 more turbines on top of the 2,020 it already has around the state over the next few years. “We will be able to virtually serve 89 percent of our customers’ needs with an energy resource that requires no fuel,” said CEO Bill Fehrman, who has led the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary’s march into renewable energy.
Taking It To The Next Level
Probably one of the best indicators for the future of renewables in America was delivered this spring: 73 percent of Americans prefer emphasizing alternative energy rather than gas and oil production, according to Gallup’s annual Environment poll conducted March 2-6, 2017
With popular opinion about renewable energy at an all-time high, it’s encouraging to learn that state lawmakers around the country are hearing the message and moving to enact far-reaching energy policies:
- California state senators recently introduced legislation that would require the state to draw all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045.
- Massachusetts lawmakers want to require the state be free of fossil fuel electricity by 2035.
- In Nevada, a bill was introduced to update the state’s energy portfolio to require 80 percent renewables by 2040. The current standard calls for 25 percent by 2025.
- To date, Hawaii has the most aggressive renewable energy portfolio: 100% by 2045.
If lawmakers hold firm and truly deliver the will of the people, then a future primarily powered by renewable energy may be closer than we think.