Policy and performance of the States in the USA

Map of US statesThis article reviews the climate performance of different US states and is mainly based on Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change published by the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change and on State of the States 2008: Renewable Energy Development and the Role of Policy published by the US Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Laboratory. If the information is not from these reports the source is cited.

States have primary jurisdiction over several key areas, including electricity generation, agriculture and land use planning. Many have set targets for renewable energy generation, notably California (20% by 2010) and New York (25% by 2013).

Energy efficiency policy and performance

The Federal Government has set energy efficiency standards for about 20 kinds of products, such as freezers and air conditioners. Many states, including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, have set standards for products not covered by the federal ones.

Almost half the states offer public funds for energy efficiency and renewables. Some grant programmes are designated to support only a specific technology, while others are available for a wide range of renewable resources. The grants vary in amount from as little as $500 up to $1 million or more.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy has recently published The 2009 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard, which examines state energy efficiency policy in six areas:

  • Utility-sector and public benefits programs and policies.
  • Transportation polices.
  • Building energy codes.
  • Combined heat and power.
  • State government initiatives.
  • Appliance efficiency standards.

The report concludes that the ten states doing the most to implement energy efficiency are:

  1. California.
  2. Massachusetts.
  3. Connecticut.
  4. Oregon.
  5. New York.
  6. Vermont.
  7. Washington state.
  8. Minnesota.
  9. Rhode Island.
  10. Maine.

California has strong mandatory guidelines for construction methods, materials, equipment and controls that are used in new construction and major retrofits. These have been an effective vehicle for advancing energy-efficiency standards for building equipment. Governor Shwarzeneggar’s 2004 “Green Building Initiative” set a target of 20% savings in new commercial buildings by 2015 (see ACEEE: Recession not dimming states’ growing focus on energy efficiency as “First Fuel,” with CA, MA and CT rated best on implementing energy efficiency).

In July 2009, Missouri passed a law:

“… allowing utilities to recover investment costs from energy efficiency programmes, which previously was not possible, though costs associated with building new power plants could be. Energy efficiency programmes need to be approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission, and must meet three criteria to qualify: be cost-effective or in the public interest; result in energy savings; be beneficial to the customers to whom it is proposed.

(See Environmnent News Service: Energy Consumers Save Under Missouri’s New Efficiency Law.)

Renewable energy policy

Twenty-six states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) – mandatory percentages of electricity sold that must be renewably generated – although the definition of renewable differs from state to state.

Forty four states and the District of Columbia have net-metering policies (similar to a Feed-in Tariff):

California is seeking to encourage utility customers to feed power into the grid from their renewable energy systems with two legislative bills signed on October 11 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The first bill expands California’s ‘feed-in tariff,’ under which large utilities have to pay their customers for the power they produce and ‘feed in’ to the grid, at standard rates or ‘tariffs’ that are adjusted to account for the time when the power is produced. Power produced during times of peak demand earns the highest rate. The new law doubles the maximum system size from the current 1.5 megawatts to 3 megawatts and requires long-term agreements that will be in effect for 10 to 20 years. It also increases the statewide cap for such feed-in tariff agreements to 750 megawatts, up from 500 megawatts.

(See EERE: California Expands its Rules for Feed-In Tariffs and Net-Metering.)

Several states, including the two best performing – Maine and California – have an RPS for large renewables projects and net-metering for small.

Many states require that a specific percentage of electricity used by state government buildings and other facilities is generated from renewable energy sources. Twenty three states provide a corporate tax incentive to promote renewable energy development and the same number have policies requiring generation energy providers to disclose the fuel mix of electricity provided. The policies include reporting to end- use consumers frequently and making the information available on request.

Twenty states provide a personal tax incentive to promote renewable energy development, with twenty five and Puerto Rico providing a property tax incentive to promote renewable energy development, as of June 2008.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have a general Public Benefit Fund (for renewable energy). This is a state or utility-level program that sets a charge for customers. The funds are then directed to renewable energy and/or energy efficiency projects, including R&D, education programs, financial incentives such as grants and production incentives for large-scale projects and financing incentives for smaller systems.

Installed renewable energy capacity

Some US states get half or more than half of their electricity from renewables. However, most of this is large hydro. With hydro, the top ten states were:

  1. Idaho 89.2%.
  2. Washington 78.1%.
  3. Oregon 74.5%.
  4. South Dakota 49.7%.
  5. Maine 49.1%.
  6. Montana 37.7%.
  7. California 33.2%.
  8. Vermont 27.8%.
  9. New York 21.1%.
  10. Alaska 18.4%.

Without hydro, the top ten states were:

  1. Maine 23.63%.
  2. California 11.02%.
  3. Vermont 6.35%.
  4. Minnesota 5.74%.
  5. Iowa 5.40%.
  6. Hawaii 5.34%.
  7. Idaho 5.22%.
  8. Nevada 4.22%.
  9. Oregon 3.51%.
  10. New Mexico 3.43%.

Selected other states:

  • Oregon 3.51%.
  • Washington 2.31%.
  • South Dakota 2.09%.
  • Texas 1.96%.
  • Florida 1.95%.
  • Montana 1.86%.
  • New York, 1.83%.
  • Alaska 0.11%.

Installed wind capacity

Wind energy in the US grew in 2008 by 8.5Gw. Wind generating facilities are now located in 34 US states, with Texas still the number one wind producing state. Iowa passed California to take second place in 2008. The five leading states in terms of installed wind capacity are:

  • Texas: 7.1w.
  • Iowa: 2.7Gw.
  • California: 2.5Gw.
  • Minnesota: 17.Gw.
  • Washington State: 1.4Gw.

Installed solar power capacity

Installed solar power capacity in the US rose by 17% to 8.775Gw in 2008. It was the third straight year of record growth for the solar industry. Most of this is not connected to the electricity grid.

However, California has the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world at 354Mw with a 500Mw one under construction. Other Californian CSP projects with a total of 24Gw have been discussed, but it is not clear how serious all these proposals are. There are also proposed CSP projects in Florida, Arizona and New Mexico (see Reuters: U.S. installed solar capacity up 17 percent in 2008).

Heat pumps

Missouri promotes the use of ground source heat pumps in schools. These draw heat from the earth and reduce both costs and emissions. By the beginning of 2006, over 2000 schools in Missouri had such pumps.

Bio-energy and agriculture policies

Some states are promoting biomass, such as Iowa which has a programme to improve switchgrass to use in generation. Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, North Dakota and Illinois are promoting ‘no-till’ farming, which has climate as well as biodiversity advantages (see Agriculture and forests).

More than half the states provide incentives for alternative fuels, ethanol and low-emissions vehicles. Seven states have renewable fuels standards similar to the UK Renewable Fuel Obligation. Twenty three provide incentives for ethanol production. However, most biofuels produced and used in the US today are more climate-damaging than oil (see Biofuels).

Regulation of vehicle emissions

California has unique authority among states to set vehicle emissions Other states can either follow federal standards or adopt California’s. California proposed vehicle standards to reduce greenhouse emissions from light-duty vehicles to cut emissions from new vehicles by 30% by 2016. Eleven states have announced that they would follow California, including New York.

The Californian proposal was challenged in the courts by the automobile industry. However, in May 2009 the Obama administration proposed:

… tough standards for tailpipe emissions from new automobiles, establishing the first nationwide regulation for greenhouse gases. It will also raise fuel efficiency targets to 35.5 miles per gallon for new passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2016, four years earlier than required under the 2007 energy bill, sources close to the administration said…The administration is embracing standards stringent enough to satisfy the state of California, which has been fighting for a waiver from federal law so that it could set its own guidelines, sources said…The deal has been under negotiation since the first days of the administration. It represents a compromise among the White House; the state of California; and the auto industry, which has long sought national mileage standards and has waged an expensive legal battle against the California waiver. The industry will get its national standard, but at the price of one that approximates California’s targets. Industry officials said they would drop all related lawsuits.

(See The Washington Post: Vehicle Emission Rules to Tighten.)

This is an excellent example of why different tiers of government can lead policy development, and why not everything should be restricted to a national or federal government.

Regulation of fossil fuel plants

In 2007, California adopted an Emissions Performance Standard for new fossil fuel power plants:

The standard is a facility-based emissions standard requiring that all new long-term commitments for baseload generation to serve California consumers be with power plants that have emissions no greater than a combined cycle gas turbine plant…[This] refers to new plant investments (new construction), new or renewal contracts with a term of five years or more, or major investments by the utility in its existing baseload power plants.

(See New Rules Project: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Performance Standard for Power Plants – California.)

Washington State followed California’s lead in May 2007 (see Stoel Rives LLP: Climate Change Law Alert: Washington State Adopts GHG Emissions Reduction Legislation). In 2009, Oregon converted its law, which required new power plants to offset a proportion of their carbon emissions into an Emissions Performance Standard (see Marten Law Group: New Oregon Climate Change Laws Expand Emission Performance Standards, Renewable Portfolio Standards, GHG Reporting, and Energy Efficiency Programs).

Massachusetts and New Hampshire have policies that require emissions reductions from existing plants, but this can be met by offsetting.

Regional initiatives

Many US states have entered into climate schemes with neighbouring states:

  • The Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a ‘cap and trade’ scheme.
  • The Western Governors’ Association, which seeks to expand renewables and incentivise CCS.
  • The West Coast Governors’ Initiative, aimed at expanding markets for clean energy and setting goals for reducing emissions.
  • The Southwest Climate Change Initiative.
  • Powering the Plains, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.
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  1. Brett Stone

    This is some great info.! Keep up the good work, information like this can help make a difference in people making informed and intelligent decisions on such an important issue. thanks!


  2. Stephen Tindale

    Many thanks. We’ll certainly try to keep up the work!

  3. Great info, it’s great that you have broken down the information into percentages to make the information easy to digest.

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