2017 Clean Energy By the Numbers: A State-by-State Look
By Amanda Levin
As part of its Electric Power Monthly series, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its year-end 2017 energy figures this week, detailing electricity production, use and costs at a state-level. 2017 was another big year for wind and solar, with many leading states continuing to add to their clean energy portfolios and a few states getting into the game for the first time.
You can click on a state in the interactive map below to see where they rank on wind and solar energy, as well as preliminary carbon emissions for each state (from the U.S. EPA). Click on the legend (far left arrow on the screen) to turn on and off information about wind, solar and carbon pollution.
Over the last few years, the U.S. has seen remarkable growth in clean, renewable energy like wind and solar power. In 2017, renewables—such as hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energy—made up 16 percent of the electricity powering the nation's homes and businesses. This is almost double their contribution at the start of the decade.
While this is positive progress, much more still needs to be done: a recent NRDC report concluded that the U.S. should generate at least 80 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2050 in order to meet the Paris accord's target of holding global warming to no more than a 2-degree increase. Without stronger policies in place, the most recent government forecast has America achieving only half that, or 40 percent from renewables, by 2050. However, there's reason to think that the forecast is overly conservative, as wind and solar continue to grow across the country and states, cities and corporations continue to ramp up their climate and clean energy commitments.
U.S. Electricity Mix: 2000-2017
The State of Wind: The Great Plains Leads
At the end of 2016, wind became the largest source of renewable power capacity in the nation, overtaking hydropower. In 2017, the U.S. added another 6,250 megawatts (MW) of capacity, which is enough to power 2 million homes.
While one may not think of Iowa, Kansas, or Oklahoma as leaders on clean energy, these states actually have some of the cleanest power in the nation. The Midwest has some of the best wind resources in the country, and utilities, policymakers, and U.S. businesses are taking advantage of this low-cost energy resource. Iowa's largest electric utility, MidAmerican, expects to be generating 85 percent of its electricity from wind by 2019. In Kansas, the utilities are on track to supply 50 percent of the state's power with wind by the beginning of 2019.
Below are the top five states, as of the end of 2017, both in terms of total wind power and greatest proportion of power from wind. Texas, alone, hosts more than a quarter of all wind capacity in the country, and the state expects to add even more wind farms in the next four years before the expiration of the renewable tax credits. (In fact, Texas now has more wind power capacity than coal-fired capacity in the state).
While wind is still non-existent in certain parts of the country, it is making footholds in a number of states, including New Mexico and Missouri. In 2017, these five states saw the greatest growth in wind energy generation: And while wind power has historically been strongest in the Great Plains and Midwest regions, improvements in wind power technology—such as taller turbines—have allowed for more economic wind development in other parts of the country. Currently, nine states have no wind installed at all, including almost all of the southeast. Some of these states, like Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, have large offshore wind potential. The U.S. currently only has one offshore wind farm operating, but as costs fall for these offshore wind projects across the world, there is a growing interest by many states to support new offshore wind projects.
The State of Solar
The solar industry faced some significant setbacks in the last year. The threat of a solar import tariff loomed over the industry for most of the year (and Trump did impose tariffs on solar cell imports in January of 2018). Given this market uncertainty, the U.S. saw less solar growth than it did during a record-breaking 2016 and the solar industry reported its first year-over-year job loss, shedding around 9,800 jobs last year after multiple years of double-digit growth.
However, solar energy still enjoyed lots of bright spots in 2017. The Department of Energy officially hit its "Sunshot" Goal of $1-a-watt solar—about three years early. Minnesota, which has seen a massive increase in "community" solar projects, saw almost a 50 percent increase in solar jobs in 2017. Utilities in the west have reported record-low costs for solar generation projects, including solar + storage and smaller-scale projects. And businesses across the U.S. are still making new investments in solar energy to power their operations.
However, states that may currently find themselves at the bottom of the list can quickly turn things around. In 2016, Mississippi was in the bottom five—but the state has seen remarkable growth in 2017. Mississippi added more than 160 MW of solar—or enough to power 25,000 homes every year. That is also a 25-fold increase in the state's solar capacity, in just one year. While solar is cheapest in the sunniest places, like the Southwest or Southeast, we see solar growing across the country. Every state has at least one megawatt of solar operating as of today, though many could be adding much more.
Increasing renewable energy development, a switch to lower-carbon fuels, and energy efficiency have helped the power sector slash its carbon pollution—the main contributor to climate change—over the last few years. And 2017 follows this trend. In 2016, emissions from the power sector fell to 25 percent compared with 2005 (the highest emissions year for the U.S.). In 2017, emissions have fallen by another 4 percent, down to 28 percent below 2005 levels.
Clean energy is thriving in the U.S., but there is much more we can be doing. Leading states, cities, and businesses have proven that clean energy is a smart investment for the economy, our pocketbooks and our climate. In the next few years, it will be up to them to continue to pursue the many clean energy opportunities and investments available. Hopefully next year's EIA numbers will reflect such progress.
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A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
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