Despite Trump Roadblocks, Full Steam Ahead for Clean Energy Transition

October 1, 2018 | 2:07 pm
Photo: Dennis Schroeder / NREL
Jeff Deyette
Director of State Policy and Analysis

With today’s public hearing on the EPA’s wretched and dangerous ‘plan’ for regulating power plant carbon emissions, the Trump administration is continuing its assault on clean energy, public health, and the climate. Whether withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement or bailing out uneconomic coal plants at the behest of his fossil fuel cronies, President Trump desperately wants to reverse progress on the transition to a low-carbon economy. But his schemes continue to flop thanks in large part to the ongoing actions of states, utilities, and corporations that are forging ahead with commitments to accelerate the adoption of wind, solar, and other clean energy technologies. And come this November, voters will have the opportunity to cast their support for clean energy as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been happening recently and what to look for come November 6.

States taking the lead

The biggest news-maker in recent weeks that exemplifies the undeniable shift toward a clean energy economy is the California legislature’s passage of SB 100. Signed into law by Governor Brown, the new law increases the state’s renewables portfolio standard (RPS) to 60% by 2030 and establishes a longer-term goal to reach 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. California has long been a national leader in renewable energy deployment, but that’s a bold goal (Hawaii is currently the only other state with a similar ambition) that puts the world’s 5th largest economy on a path toward a fully decarbonized electricity system.

And if that wasn’t enough, at the SB100 signing ceremony, Gov. Brown unveiled an executive order that sets a goal of reaching carbon neutrality across the entire California economy—electric power, transportation, buildings, and industry—by 2045.

California isn’t the only state strengthening its clean energy commitments. Earlier this year, New Jersey and Connecticut raised their targets to 50% and 40% respectively. And in early August, Massachusetts passed legislation that raises the state’s RPS to 35% by 2030 (up from 25%), advances energy storage, improves upon the nation’s leading energy efficiency efforts, and potentially doubles the requirement for offshore wind development to 3,200 megawatts by 2035. The first tranche of the offshore wind is already under contract, at a surprisingly low price that could accelerate the technology’s deployment even faster than many have anticipated.

Xcel Energy’s Comanche Coal Plant in Pueblo County, Colorado will be retired and replaced with wind, solar, and energy storage.

More utilities turning away from coal

Many electric utilities across the country are also getting into the clean energy act by accelerating coal retirements and investing in renewable energy. For example, Xcel Energy recently obtained approval from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to close 660 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity at their Comanche generating station and put in its place more than 1,800 MW of wind, solar, and energy storage by 2026. Dubbed the Colorado Clean Energy Plan, the $2.5 billion investment will result in renewable energy accounting for 55% of Xcel’s power supply and curb carbon emissions by some 60% compared with 2005 levels in 2026. What’s even more remarkable about Xcel’s plan is that prices for the new renewable energy projects are so low this plan will save ratepayers between $213 million and $374 million cumulatively.

The low cost of renewable energy was also a primary reason offered by Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) executives when they announced just last week they will move up several coal plant retirements—amounting to 1,800 MW of capacity—and be entirely coal free within the next decade. Consider that coal accounts for more than 70% of Indiana’s power generation mix today and NIPSCO’s decision becomes even more jaw-dropping. In addition, while final decisions have not yet been made, NIPSCO’s own analysis suggests that the most cost-effective strategy for replacing their coal fleet is through a mix of wind, solar and battery storage.

Corporations go for 100% renewables or bust

Despite the great leadership that many states and utilities are showing, some experts argue that the rapid increase of renewable energy procurement by major corporations has been a main driver for the clean energy transition in the last couple of years. Indeed, more than 150 major global businesses have made pledges to source 100% of their power consumption from renewable energy. In just the past few weeks, apparel industry titan PVH corporation (Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger) joined the growing list, as did Facebook, who expects to achieve the goal by 2020. Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that nearly 3,900 MW of new renewable energy will be spurred by the direct corporate purchases announced so far this year.

Cast your vote to bring clean power to the people

Of course, voters have the potential to be a far more powerful driver of clean energy than any utility or corporation. And come November, voters in three states will be able to cast ballots directly in favor of greater clean energy investments. In Arizona and Nevada, there are ballot initiatives (Proposition 127 and Question 6, respectively) to increase each state’s RPS to 50% by 2030. In Washington state, voters will have their say on Initiative 1631, which would curb carbon emissions by placing a fee on the state’s largest polluters and then reinvesting the revenues in clean energy and climate resilience programs.

Voters in Arizona, Nevada, and Washington are not the only ones that can take control of their clean energy future this election. Across the country, candidates running for local, state and congressional offices are taking a stand for clean energy and climate change solutions. Climate policy has become a hot topic in many of the 36 states with gubernatorial races, for example, with some candidates pledging to support strong renewable energy requirements and others committing to help meet US obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now is the time to educate yourself on candidate positions and cast your vote to keep clean energy momentum going strong into 2019 and beyond.  To find more opportunities to get involved this upcoming election, check out