With Donald Trump in the White House and the GOP controlling Congress, all hope for movement forward on climate change and clean energy lies in the states.
Such movement will be more difficult in the absence of federal support. National mandates and incentives serve as a “floor” to state efforts, establishing a common baseline and overall direction. Programs like the Clean Power Plan ensure (or, uh, would have ensured) that every state is taking at least some action.
But the CPP is doomed, as are most federal efforts initiated by President Barack Obama. The floor is going to sink much lower.
Still, even without federal support, there is much that states can do on their own. A great deal of authority over energy lies at the state level — states have jurisdiction over their electricity systems, natural gas infrastructure, clean energy procurement, and much more.
Long story short, it’s time to start paying attention to state energy policy. One problem: There are a lot of states — 50, last time I counted! That’s a lot of legislatures, lots of governors and public utility commissions, lots of moving parts. It can be difficult to keep track.
Happily, help has arrived, in the form of the Advanced Energy Legislation Tracker, a project of the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) and Advanced Energy Economy (AEE). It’s a searchable database of energy legislation introduced or passed every year since 2012. You can filter by state; by whether the bill was introduced, passed by one or both houses, or passed into law; or by any of 10 subject categories, from economic development to energy efficiency. Endless nerd fun!
So how did state energy legislation fare in 2016?
Across the country, 344 energy bills were enacted. Here’s where:
Surprising no one, California was the busiest state: 50 energy bills! (Amazing what you can do with a supermajority.) Oddly, Louisiana was also super-active, with 27 bills passed, mostly on natural gas infrastructure and mineral rights.
Across the states, bills served a range of functions — some were tweaks to tax codes or financial incentives, some were emissions programs, some boosted renewable energy or efficiency (or natural gas), some were infrastructure. You can slice and dice them however you want with the tracker.
I’ll just focus on the two categories that are my enduring obsessions.
Big greenhouse gas bills in California and Maryland
First: emissions! There were 28 emissions-related bills passed in 2016:
The biggest category here is legislation addressing greenhouse gas emissions, but don’t get too excited — it’s mostly just California. In fact, of the 28 emissions-related bills passed at the state level in 2016, fully half were passed in California, mostly tweaking or extending the state’s famed AB32 emission-reduction program. Most significant were SB32, which put into law the wildly ambitious target of 40 percent reductions by 2030, and AB197, which gave the legislature more direct control over the program.
Outside California, the biggest news was Maryland, where the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016 reaffirmed the state’s emission-reduction program and extended the target to 40 percent by 2030. (This isn’t as ambitious as California’s target; Maryland is taking 2006 emission levels as its baseline, while California uses 1990 emission levels, a lower and more difficult target.)
Renewable energy mandates are coming under scrutiny, but are still mostly thriving
The other category of legislation of particular interest to me has to do with the electricity system, where states have an enormous amount of authority. Here’s how electricity-related bills tallied up:
The most significant set of these are the seven bills on renewable portfolio standards (RPSs), which require state utilities to procure a certain amount of clean energy. Three states substantially increased their targets:
Oregon (SB 1547) increased the RPS for large investor-owned utilities to 50% by 2040. Rhode Island’s HB 7413 increased the RPS to 38.5% by 2035. In D.C., the city’s mayor signed B21-0650 increasing the RPS to 50% by 2032.
I wrote about Oregon’s extremely ambitious bill (which would also eliminate coal from the state’s portfolio by 2030) here.
Four other states tweaked their RPSs in various ways, most significantly Ohio, where the legislature voted to make the state’s RPS, which has been frozen for the past two years, voluntary for another two. Gov. John Kasich now has to decide whether or not to veto. (Here’s my longer take on that bill.)
In other news, New Hampshire doubled its net metering cap. Net metering — whereby utilities are required to buy surplus power generated by rooftop-solar customers — has come under attack in many states, but has mostly proven resilient.
In terms of “omnibus bills” (which do a bunch of different things at once), one is worth mentioning in particular: Massachusetts passed the (compromised, but still significant) H.4568, which would have the state sign long-term contracts for 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power and another 1,200 of hydropower, onshore wind, or solar. It’s a big step, though the bill did not raise the state’s RPS, as the Senate wanted but House and governor resisted.
There were highlights in other categories as well. Michigan passed several bills on energy efficiency. Florida rejected the deceptive, anti-solar Amendment 1 (which I wrote about here) but adopted Amendment 4, which incentivizes distributed solar power. California adopted two energy storage bills (among dozens of others). Illinois passed a huge energy bill too, which keeps its aging nuclear plants open and improves its RPS.
Many of these bills are not particularly sexy on their own, but state policy is where the rubber hits the road on energy. In the absence of federal guidance — indeed, under the shadow of federal policy unabashedly devoted to fossil fuels — it will be up to the states to find a path forward on clean energy. They will need to take chances and learn from one another. There is no time to wait.