Despite Trump’s Climate Rollbacks, Renewables Charging Full Steam Ahead

April 4, 2017 | 9:33 am
andreas160578/CC0 Public Domain
Jeff Deyette
Director of State Policy and Analysis

President Trump’s recent Executive Order on Energy Independence is a cynical and dangerous assault on common sense policies to address climate change. His efforts will put Americans in harm’s way, and we must resist the president’s anti-science agenda at every turn. One of those turns is in our nation’s power sector, where the transition away from coal and toward cleaner, lower-carbon energy resources is well underway. Solar and wind power, especially, have experienced record growth in recent years, and there are multiple avenues—through utilities, states, corporations, and individuals—to keep the momentum going, with or without President Trump’s support.

It’s the market, stupid

Non-hydro renewable energy sources accounted for nearly 9 percent of our nation’s power supply in 2016, more than double 2010 levels. Since 2010, more than 86,500 megawatts (MW) of new wind and solar power capacity has come online, far more than their fossil fuel competitors. In fact, 2016 marked the first year that more solar power capacity was installed—14,762 MW—than any other power source.

Much of this rapid development has been aided by state policies and federal incentives, but simple market economics is playing an increasingly important role. Costs for wind and solar have dropped so dramatically in recent years that a recent comparison of power sources shows new wind and solar to be cheaper than new fossil fuel generation. As a result, more and more utility planners are opting to add renewables—and close aging coal generators—based largely on economics.

Consider Xcel Energy’s recent announcement to build 11 wind projects in seven states, totaling 3,380 MW of new capacity. In a statement Xcel executive David Hudson said, “The decision to add additional wind generation is purely in the economic interest of our customers.”

New Mexico’s largest utility, PNM, also recently released an analysis showing that closing their San Juan coal plant would result in “long-term benefits for consumers” and provide “an opportunity to increase renewable energy production.”

And in Ohio, Dayton Power & Light announced in March it will close two coal plants because they “will not be economically viable beyond mid-2018.” The utility also plans to invest in at least 300 MW in new wind and solar projects over the next five years.

‘Yuge’ competition among states

In addition to today’s market forces, policy drivers have been—and will continue to be—critical to ensure the swift transition to a renewable energy economy. And with the Trump Administration laying waste to federal solutions, the onus on states to step up and deliver has never been greater. Fortunately, many states are rising to the challenge through increasingly stronger renewable electricity standards (RES).

Indeed, there is stiff competition brewing among states to be a national leader in terms of commitment to renewable energy development. Just a few years ago, having a target of 25 to 30 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources would put a state among the pack of leaders. Today, six of the 29 states with existing RES policies have requirements of at least 50 percent, including Hawaii, which has set its sights on achieving 100 percent renewables by 2045.

During this legislative season, at least eight states have actively pursued significantly stronger targets. Among them are three states—California, New York, and Massachusetts—that are seeking to match Hawaii’s 100 percent target. Even in a more conservative state like Nevada, legislators are considering an increase in their RES from 20 percent to 50 percent by 2030.

If successful, these collective state actions will help ensure there is a robust market for renewables over the long term.

This Bud’s for you!

It’s not just states and prudent utilities that are driving the renewable energy revolution. Corporate demand for renewables is also a rapidly expanding market opportunity in the clean energy industry. In 2015, corporate power purchase agreements for wind outpaced new wind investments by utilities for the first time in the United States, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). RMI also estimates that at least 60,000 MW of new wind and solar will be needed by 2025 to serve the US corporate market.

Competitive pricing and increasingly stringent sustainability goals are leading many of the largest U.S. (and global) corporations to invest directly in renewable energy. A recent Advanced Energy Economy survey found that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies (and 70 percent of Fortune 100 companies) have set renewable energy or sustainability targets. Of this list, at least 23 corporations have set renewable energy goals of 100 percent, including giants like Amazon and Walmart.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser beer, has joined the growing list of companies committing to sourcing 100 percent of their power needs from renewable energy. Photo: Jack Snell CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The latest multi-national company to make a 100 percent renewable energy commitment is Anheuser-Busch InBev, makers of Budweiser and Corona beers, among others. In rolling out its announcement, the company said, “We do not expect our cost base to increase. Renewable electricity is competitive with or cheaper than traditional forms of electricity in many markets.” We can all raise our glasses to that!

(Renewable) Power to the People

Citizens all across the country also have the power to stand up against the President’s climate rollbacks and demonstrate their support for renewable energy. Thanks to a combination of falling costs and state and federal incentives, solar PV installations in the residential sector have experienced steady growth over the last six years. At the end of 2016, there were 1.3 million solar households in the United States, more than twice the number from 2014! California leads all states with a 35 percent share of the solar PV market, but all states have solar homes and tremendous potential to grow.

What’s more, you don’t need to be a homeowner to get in on the renewable energy revolution. Community solar is an exciting and burgeoning option for consumers where investing in a rooftop system may not be a viable option. In addition, anyone can sign-up for certified green power either through their utility’s green power pricing program (if they have one) or through a national green power marketer.

Despite President Trump’s misguided actions to undermine climate progress, we must keep pressing forward toward a clean and low-carbon energy future. Thanks to the emergence of wind and solar as affordable and reliable sources of power, we can.