Why More States Are Turning to Clean Energy: Lessons From California

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The last few years have seen a surge in the number of states adopting aggressive renewable energy policies. California, for instance, recently announced a clean energy production target of 100 percent by 2045.

Clean Energy Saves Homeowners Money

As a first step toward meeting that goal, the state adopted new housing standards requiring all single-family homes and multi-family homes of up to three stories to install solar panels. The rule has two objectives. First, the measure is intended to save homeowners money. Drew Bohan, executive director of the California Energy Commission, estimates that solar energy will save the average California homeowner $19,000 over a 30-year period.

Clean Energy Is Crucial for Fighting Climate Change

The new rule is also intended to fight climate change. California is especially vulnerable to climate catastrophe. In 2018, large wildfires burned through thousands of homes and buildings, claimed over 40 lives, and inflicted some $9 billion in damage. While many of these fires were man-made, climate change has caused the state to warm by an average of three degrees since 1900. As a result, the likelihood, frequency, and intensity of wildfires is now greater than ever before.

For California, then, switching to clean energy functions as an important bulwark against these fires and other climate-related disasters, including rising sea levels and the semi-permanent drought that has afflicted the state since 2000. Instead of adding additional coal and gas-powered generating stations, which produce massive volumes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the state is committing to solar power and other clean energy sources to meet the energy needs of its growing population.

State Governments Save Money By Switching to Clean Energy

California also wants to save money. The last decade has seen the cost of solar power decline by about 86 percent and the cost of wind power decline by about 67 percent. These plunging costs are making clean energy more economically attractive than fossil fuels.

Clean Energy Helps State Governments Grow Their Economies

Finally, the state sees the clean energy market as an important way to grow its economy. While opponents of clean energy in the U.S. often characterize it as job killer, the reality is that the clean energy industry has been a tremendous boon to California’s economy. In 2006, the state passed Assembly Bill 32, which strengthened restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions and encouraged investment in clean energy technology.

Over the next decade, California decreased its carbon emissions by over 11 percent while growing its economy by 16 percent – well above the 11.6 percent rate of economic growth the nation as a whole experienced over the same period. Today, California’s solar industry alone employs almost a quarter of a million people.

Lots of States Are Going Green

Given the foregoing, it’s no surprise that California isn’t alone in adopting ambitious clean energy plans. Hawaii also intends to source 100 percent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by 2045, and over 100 municipalities have pledged to source their electricity entirely from clean energy.

Some 130 major corporations – including Walmart, Bank of America, and Anheuser-Busch – have also agreed to transition their factories and stores to electricity provided by renewable energy sources.

In addition to California and Hawaii, five other states – including New Jersey, Vermont, and Colorado – now boast renewable energy targets requiring them to source at least 50 percent of their electricity from clean energy sources by the end of the century. Overall, 29 states have adopted mandatory renewable energy targets, while another eight states have adopted nonbinding renewable energy goals.

These states are following the same logic and motives as California. Saving both the state and its citizens money is a perennial interest for all stakeholders. A public policy that favors sustainable economic growth is also a major consideration in state legislatures across the country. The renewable energy market is now worth $64 billion, and that industry creates jobs. Minnesota, for instance, saved $18 billion and added 57,000 jobs by developing a green energy program.

And while California’s struggles with wildfires make it somewhat unique, other states are feeling the pain brought on by climate change in their own ways. Across the country, states are grappling with rising sea levels, hurricanes, droughts, and other extreme weather events that underscore the urgency of the fight against climate change.

The U.S. Needs More Renewable Energy

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Still, there’s a lot of work left to be done. Fossil fuels remain the dominant energy source in the U.S.; just 17 percent of American electricity is produced from renewables.

The need to turn toward clean energy in the U.S., however, is now apparent. Since 2008, use of renewables has doubled. Over the same period, energy from coal-fired plants dropped from 48 percent to 30 percent. Environment America, an environmental nonprofit, has launched a campaign to get 10 additional states to commit to 100 percent clean energy in the next five years. “We face enormous environmental challenges.

We need solutions that match the scale of those challenges,” said Rob Sargent, Environment America’s clean energy program director. “This country has the capacity to power itself more than 100 times over with solar energy alone. We need to take that potential and turn it into reality by getting on the path toward a future of renewable energy.”

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