In January 2021, President Joe Biden announced an ambitious program to address climate change. The President is proposing a carbon free power sector by 2035 and a net zero-carbon emission economy by 2050.
The President’s announcement immediately prompted the question – Is it technically possible to achieve a carbon free power sector by 2035? The short answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Department of Energy studies confirm that a carbon-free power grid can be achieved with existing technology.
Most states began implementing greenhouse gas reduction policies over the last 20 years. State policies included mandating electric utilities use renewable energy, establishing home insulation standards, and providing electric vehicle incentives.
Eleven states now require electric utilities to use 100 percent carbon-free power sources within the next 30 years. An additional 26 states now mandate electric utilities use a specified percentage of carbon-free power sources.
Economics have also encouraged electric utilities to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy. The cheapest form of power without any incentives is onshore wind, followed by solar, and then hydropower.
State policies and economics have prompted electric utilities to increase the use of renewable energy from 8.8 percent in 2005 to 19.8 percent in 2020. The move to renewable energy has contributed to a decline in greenhouse emissions in the United States over the last 15 years.
Environmental philosophies and policies vary significantly from state to state. The most successful states conduct a thorough study on the most effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, before they implement legislation.
The type and power potential of renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower, geothermal, etc.) varies across the country. Identifying which states have the more successful environmental policies is best done by comparing states in the same region of the country.
Two states from three different regions across the country were selected to illustrate the inconsistencies in greenhouse gas emission policies. June 2021, U.S. Energy Information Agency data was used for each specific state.
In the Northeast, New Jersey and Massachusetts both have renewable energy standards for their electric utilities. However, each state’s environmental policies have produced dramatically different results at reducing greenhouse emissions.
– New Jersey: Zero-Carbon energy generated 47 percent of the state’s electricity. The state has recently implemented clean energy policies that will achieve a carbon free-power sector before 2035. New Jersey has been a leader in the development of major offshore wind projects.
– Massachusetts: Zero-Carbon energy generated only 18 percent of the state’s electricity. In 2019, the state’s only nuclear power plant was closed. As a result, electric utilities increased the use of natural gas to meet power demands, which caused an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
In the Midwest, Illinois has a renewable energy standard for electric utilities, while Indiana has only a renewable energy goal for electric utilities. Each state has diametrically different policies on zero-carbon emissions.
– Illinois: Zero-Carbon energy generated 60 percent of the state’s electricity. The state recently passed clean energy legislation to achieve a 100 percent carbon-free power sector and accelerate the development of new, utility scale renewable energy projects.
– Indiana: Zero-Carbon energy generated only 8 percent of the state’s electricity. Indiana has shown little interest in developing the state’s significant wind and solar resources.
In the Great Plains, South Dakota has a renewable energy standard for electric utilities, while Nebraska has neither a renewable energy standard nor a renewable energy goal. The two states have polar opposite views on the importance of renewable energy.
– South Dakota: Zero-Carbon generated 79 percent of the state’s electricity. State utilities are actively developing new wind and solar projects to replace the existing fossil-fuel power plants. South Dakota is on track to achieve a carbon free power sector by 2035
– Nebraska: Zero-Carbon sources generated 37 percent of the state’s electricity. State utilities have shown limited interest in developing Nebraska’s vast wind potential.
In 2020, United States electric utilities produced 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Achieving a carbon-free power sector in the United States by 2035 will have a significant impact on the global reduction of greenhouse gases. It is time our country unites behind President Biden’s program to address climate change.
Jack Kerfoot is a scientist, energy expert, and author; who has been interviewed on over eighty radio and television stations from New York City to Los Angeles.