8 States That Made 2016 a Huge Year for Clean Energy

By Jessica Collingsworth

With the Clean Power Plan's future up in the air and concerns about how science might fare given the recent election results, some may think 2016 wasn't a great year for clean energy. However, lots of great state level policies were passed—some with bipartisan support—and there's even some good news on the national front. Looking back at the last year I see a lot of clear signs that the clean energy transition is moving forward in the U.S.

Here are eight states that really stepped up to become climate leaders:

1. California

In August, the California legislature passed remarkable climate change legislation. SB 32 builds on Assembly Bill 32, the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 that required California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. SB 32 now sets the next target, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Another bill, AB 197 increases legislative oversight and transparency for the state's climate change programs and emphasizes the state's commitment to ensuring these policies help communities most impacted by climate change and air pollution.

California is on track to meet its emissions reductions goals and its overall economy is growing. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) brought in our scientists and passage of these two bills cemented the state's commitment to leading the fight against climate change.

2. Illinois

On Dec. 1, Illinois passed the Future Energy Jobs Bill (SB 2814). The bill was passed with bipartisan support, and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (which UCS is a member of) worked on the bill for nearly two years. The bill includes several big wins for clean energy including a meaningful fix to the state's existing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) law that corrects flaws in the policy, new in-state renewable build requirements for wind and solar, the state's first community solar program, and a new Illinois Solar for All program which is a comprehensive low-income solar deployment and job training initiative. The bill also increased the state's energy efficiency policies; ComEd will achieve a 21.5 percent reduction and Ameren will achieve a 16 percent reduction in energy use by 2030.

3. Maryland

The state passed landmark legislation, the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act (SB 323), which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The law requires Maryland to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2006 levels by 2030. This target was unanimously recommended by the state's bipartisan Climate Change Commission in fall 2015. The legislation was supported by a diverse group of stakeholders and is expected to create and maintain thousands of jobs.

4. Massachusetts

This summer Massachusetts legislators passed an omnibus energy bill that will once again make Massachusetts a clean energy leader. The bill includes a large scale clean energy procurement requirement for hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources and the necessary transmission to power the state. The legislation also calls for Massachusetts utilities to solicit contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind development by 2030. That's enough to meet 15 percent of Massachusetts's electricity needs. In all, up to 40 percent of the state's electricity could come from clean energy sources by 2030.

5. Michigan

This month the state passed Senate bills 437 and 438, that make progress on Michigan's clean energy future. The legislation strengthens the state's renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from 10 percent by 2015, to 15 percent by 2021, and requires renewable energy resources to be built within the service territories of utilities that serve Michigan. The strengthened RPS ensures a baseline level of diversity in Michigan's energy mix.

For energy efficiency, the legislation changes the state's current standard to a regulatory-focused process in 2021, but it will preserve current levels of energy efficiency by requiring utilities to regularly submit efficiency plans that must maintain efficiency investments deemed reasonable and prudent. The legislation also removes the existing cap on energy efficiency program spending, and provides a new incentive structure that could drive utilities to achieve annual savings of 1.5 percent.

6. New York

The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) gave approval to Gov. Cuomo's plan for New York to obtain 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, through the state's Clean Energy Standard. The PSC order established an overall legally binding renewables target for 2030, and requires New York state utilities to ramp up long-term purchases of renewable energy credits to meet those targets. This builds on the state's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by signing the Under 2 MOU in 2015, which sets a laudable target to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

7. Oregon

In March, the Oregon Legislature passed the Clean Energy and Coal Transition Act (Senate Bill 1547) with bipartisan support. The legislation doubles Oregon's existing renewable portfolio standard (RPS) from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2040 and requires the state's two largest utilities (Portland General Electric and Pacific Power) to phase out coal generation imports by 2035. A huge advantage of Oregon's coal phase out is that it creates room in the power supply for cleaner energy sources. The legislation had true consensus with support from environmental groups, the state's consumer advocate, businesses and the state's two largest utilities.

8. Rhode Island

The state passed HB 7413 that will increase the state's renewable energy standard by 1.5 percent each year, requiring 38.5 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewables by 2035. Also, the state's Block Island became the site of the first offshore wind project in the Western Hemisphere. The project consists of five wind turbines adding up to 30 megawatts which became operational this year and more offshore wind is coming!

Wait, There's More!

Sometimes good news comes in the form of stuff that didn't happen. Florida's Solar Amendment 1, an anti-solar ballot initiative, didn't pass. The amendment was backed by utilities and fossil fuel interests, and was an attempt to deceive voters and limit solar development in the state.

National Level

And on the national level, the five-year extension of federal tax credits for wind and solar signed into law late last year was a huge driver for clean energy development this year and in the coming years. One million solar installations are now turned on in the US. Solar is being installed throughout the U.S. thanks to falling prices and a vast supply of sunshine. And U.S. wind generation set new records in 2016 as costs continue to fall.

More wind generation will be installed in 2017 due to the current administration approving the Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project. The project is one of the biggest renewable energy projects in the country and will allow construction of approximately 4,000 megawatts of wind power. This project will expand the reach of large scale renewables from the Plains into the Southeast.

Peter Juvinall / NREL

Job growth occurred in both the wind and solar sectors this year. According to the American Wind Energy Association U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2015 American wind power supported 88,000 jobs at the start of 2016, which is a 20 percent increase from the previous year. And nearly 209,000 Americans work in solar and that number is expected to rise to 420,000 workers by 2020 according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Next Steps

These victories—many of them bipartisan—across the country give me hope for 2017. Our work isn't done. We must continue to fight for clean energy polices to create new jobs and curb the harmful effects of climate change. And we must continue to fight anti-science rhetoric. But for now, let's celebrate our 2016 victories!

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