Clean Energy Momentum in the Midwest

April 20, 2017 | 12:01 am
Jessica Collingsworth
Former Contributor

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists ranks state leadership on clean energy momentum across the country. Here’s a look at how the Midwest fared.

The analysis for the new report, called Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress, uses 12 metrics, which assess key trends in the state deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the electrification of vehicles. The metrics also gauge progress in areas of job creation, pollution reduction, and the state policy environment for driving clean energy.

Midwest findings

Jobs are one really important aspect of progress on creating clean energy momentum. Wind jobs are rapidly growing in the Midwest. In terms of raw numbers, Iowa is number one in the region, with over 6,000 people employed in the industry (the fourth highest in the country), followed by Kansas, Illinois, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The jobs metric in the UCS analysis looks at per-capita figures for each technology; for wind per-capita, North Dakota is first in the region and the country, with almost 3.8 wind jobs for every thousand residents, followed by South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.

For solar jobs, Ohio is first with 5,831 solar jobs, then Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. For energy efficiency jobs in the Midwest, Illinois is by far the winner with 89,830 total energy efficiency jobs in the state and is number three nationally. For energy efficiency per-capita, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Kansas did very well.

For a look beyond jobs, let’s dive a little deeper into some key Midwest states—what UCS’s new analysis suggests they’re doing well at, and where they might be able to build up their scores.


The Iowa State Capitol

Iowa is the shining star of the Midwest, coming in at number 10 nationally. Iowa has always been strongly committed to renewables, and was the first state to implement a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) in 1983. Iowa currently generates over 36% of its electricity from wind power, and has 6,911 MW of installed wind capacity. And the Hawkeye State certainly isn’t done; they came in second place overall based on new renewable energy capacity under development.

Iowa also scores well on the analysis’s metric that focuses most strongly on the corporate piece. States can make it easier for businesses to purchase and use renewable energy in various ways. Iowa is number one nationally in this, based on the ease with which in-state companies can buy clean energy from utilities or third parties.

UCS’s analysis also suggests ways Iowa could improve its ranking. Iowa could create a global warming emission reduction target, for example. Vermont scored first place in this category, with their GHG reduction goal that calls for a 50% reduction in emissions from the 1999 level by 2028, and a 75% reduction by 2050. Iowa could also increase their installed residential solar capacity.

Iowa currently only has 39 MW of installed solar capacity, compared to leading states that have thousands of megawatts of solar.


Minnesota is second in the Midwest in UCS’s new analysis, scoring number 12 nationally due in part to its success in reducing power plant emissions. This is a reflection of Minnesota’s progress in renewable energy generation, with 21 percent of its energy coming from renewables, and it reflects the state’s shift away from less efficient fossil-fueled power plants. Last fall, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved Xcel Energy’s 15-year resource plan that will retire nearly 1,400 megawatts (MW) of coal capacity and move the state’s largest utility towards 40 percent renewable energy by 2030.

Minnesota scored 8th nationally on their state target for reducing global warming emissions. This is due to the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which set a goal for reducing GHG emissions in 2015 to a level 15% below the 2005 level, 30% below in 2025, and 80% below in 2050.

Minnesota could improve on the amount of installed residential solar capacity per household. Possible increases in renewables in the state could be achieved through increasing the states renewable energy standard from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030. Doing so would build on the success of the previous standard as well as get more solar on roofs in Minnesota.

Another area of needed improvement is electric vehicle adoption. How quickly a state is harnessing the public health and environmental benefits of electrifying the transportation sector is another important dimension of clean energy momentum. In 2016 less than half a percent of the cars sold in Minnesota were electric vehicles. This metric could improve with the adoption of a zero emission vehicle regulation, incentive programs, or infrastructure investments for EVs.


Source: Peter Juvinall – NREL.

Illinois ranks number 19th nationally, but number two (behind Iowa) in corporate renewable energy procurement. The Land of Lincoln is also doing well on reducing harmful power plant emissions by retiring coal plants, and focusing on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

And Illinois has set itself up for a lot more clean energy, thanks to the recent passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) which will help the state continue to decrease emissions, and increase the adoption of solar in the state. Illinois currently has 70 MW of installed solar, which will greatly increase thanks to the FEJA.


Michigan came in at number 27, but performed better than any other Midwest state on electric vehicle adoption.

Michigan has had numerous coal plant closures in the state in recent years. And it looks like progress in that direction will continue; DTE Energy has already shuttered three coal-fired coal plant units, and has plans to close another eight by 2030.

Areas for improvement included the amount of installed residential solar capacity. The estimated distributed solar photovoltaic capacity in the state is 31 MW, which is equal to 8.2 W per household (way below the leading states, which have many hundreds of watts per household).

Thankfully, Michigan recently strengthened its renewable portfolio standard to 15% by 2021, from 10 percent by 2015, with requirements to build renewable energy resources within the service territories of Michigan utilities.

Next steps

With the Trump Administration’s focus on undercutting action on climate policy at the federal level, state leadership is more important now than ever. States must focus on a range of policies to keep momentum and continue to reap the benefits of clean energy including economic development, job creation, and cleaner air and reduced public health risks.