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Top 10 States Leading the Renewable Energy Revolution

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By Ralph Cavanagh

California continues to lead the way on clean energy, but energy efficiency and renewables are gaining major ground across the country, a new ranking of states and cities shows. Six states now get at least a fifth of their power from non-hydro renewable sources such as wind and solar—further confirmation that regardless of the Trump administration's efforts to promote fossil-fuel interests, clean energy is making undeniable inroads.


The Golden State and Massachusetts lead the eighth annual U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index from the research firm Clean Edge for a fifth year in a row, the latter bolstered by its strong record of energy efficiency and private investment in clean tech. Vermont, Oregon and New York round out the top five.

The ranking scores each state on the policies, capital (both financial and human), and technology each has deployed to scale up clean energy. California, of course, has long been a leader in all three areas, with more solar energy generation than any other state, 1.2 million electric and hybrid cars on the road and $9.5 billion in clean-tech venture capital funding over the past three years.

San Francisco, San Jose, Washington, DC, San Diego and Portland, Oregon, top the cities ranking, based on criteria including green buildings and transportation. "There are no weak spots in the City by the Bay's performance," the report said, highlighting San Francisco's strong adoption of clean vehicles and an increased commitment to measuring, reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Washington rose two spots in the ranking this year in part on the strength of its building stock and public transit ridership.

The adoption of clean energy across the U.S. is a trend that supersedes politics. The top 10 list for renewable electricity generation as a share of the total is split evenly between red states and blue states, with Iowa showing large gains in wind since 2009 and Nevada adding geothermal power.

Overall, wind and solar accounted for 61 percent of the new electric capacity added in 2016, the report said. And while the clean energy sector helps the nation cut planet-warming carbon emissions and clear the air, it is also creating jobs, an indicator that Clean Edge added to its analysis this year for the first time.

In Vermont, which fell to third in the rankings overall, clean energy jobs accounted for the largest share of total jobs (four percent) compared to other states. As the group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) has noted, the clean energy sector supports three million jobs nationwide, from wind turbine technicians to installers of energy-efficient appliances.

Falling costs for wind and solar, combined with state and local policies that promote renewable energy, are driving the shift to renewables, Clean Edge said, noting that five states increased their clean energy targets to 25 percent or more in 2016, while five more states are aiming for at least 50 percent. Cities, too, are setting ambitious goals, with Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta and San Jose all planning to be entirely powered by renewables within the next few decades.

Seventeen states now get at least 10 percent of electricity from non-hydro, utility-scale renewables, a more than fivefold increase from when the index debuted in 2010. Clean energy growth was under way long before Trump's ascendance, and will continue long afterward.

Top 10 Rankings by State:

Top 10 Rankings by Metro Area:

1. California

1. San Francisco, CA

2. Massachusetts

2. San Jose, CA

3. Vermont

3. Washington, DC

4. Oregon

4. San Diego, CA

5. New York

5. Portland, OR

6. Connecticut

6. Los Angeles, CA

7. Colorado

7. Boston, MA

8. Washington

8. Seattle, WA

9. Minnesota

9. Salt Lake City, UT

10. Hawaii

10. Austin, TX

Ralph Cavanagh is co-director of the energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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