Story at a glance

  • The coronavirus pandemic and a polarized political atmosphere saw renewable energy take a backseat this election cycle.
  • Small successes were still seen across the country after ballots were counted this week.
  • Standout wins for clean energy include a community choice aggregation program in Columbus and a solidified goal of 50 percent renewable energy use in the state of Nevada.

The election of 2018 saw sweeping victories for clean energy advocates around the country, leading to some pretty landmark energy legislation. The stage seemed set for what many predicted would continue to be wins for renewable energy.

Yet political priorities shifted dramatically this year as the coronavirus pandemic struck, overshadowing conversations around clean energy in exchange for necessary conversation around health, both economic and physical. 

Still, the results of this year’s elections included only wins for renewable energy, including a constitutional amendment in Nevada which will see the state using 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 as well as a ballot measure in Columbus, Ohio, that sets up a system for buying 100 percent renewable energy for residents.

"There's not a lot of oxygen left in the room with a singular focus on Covid and pro- and anti-Trump dynamic," Adam Browning, co-founder and executive director of advocacy group  Vote Solar told Inside Green News. "We're just at a moment in time right now when there are so many giant elephants in front of your face that it's hard to really get nuance and details about the path forward on a lot of things."

Step in the renewable direction

The 2020 ballots were by no means a wash for the renewable energy sector, as we saw the state of Nevada rise to meet six states (California, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Virginia and Washington) that have already passed laws requiring an eventual transition to carbon-free or renewable energy. While question 6 on Nevada’s ballot this year only mandates the state’s electricity suppliers to reach 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, its passing represents a promising shift away from the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, supporters say.

The passed initiative serves to solidify the same one that was passed in 2018 and officially amends the state’s constitution. Beyond serving as an example to other states who have yet to pass similar legislation, Nevada was rated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration as the state with the strongest solar potential in the country and one with strong geothermal potential as well. 

Renewable energy advocates are also thrilled by a development in New Mexico, where a constitutional amendment was just passed that will drop the Public Regulation Commission, — the body responsible for the regulation of public utilities, as well as companies dealing with  transportation, transmission and pipeline, insurance and other public entities — from a five-member body down to a three-member commission, which will now be appointed by the governor and approved by the state senate.

"[W]e need regulators with the credentials and experience to ensure reliable, affordable energy for our families and businesses – not career politicians," said governor Lujan Grisham in a statement. "When the PRC is guided by qualified and independent experts with professional backgrounds and technical skills in energy, technology, finance and the law, all New Mexicans will benefit."

In Columbus, Ohio, a community choice aggregation program was just established that will have American Electric Power provide the city with net-100 percent renewable energy by 2023, providing customers with sustainable power at a price that is the same or less than customers would otherwise pay from the utility. 

"It's good for the environment, it's good for jobs, it's good for the rate payers," said City Councilman Rob Dorans

Columbus’ plan will now secure the city as the third largest in the country to bulk-buy clean energy, proving that motivated city governments can take local action to greatly expand the use of renewable energy in the country. In fact, hundreds of other cities in the state have now adopted community choice aggregation programs, with Cincinnati announcing plans earlier this year to build the largest municipal solar array in the country, which is expected to cover 1,000 acres.

“What's really exciting about this particular ballot initiative passing in Columbus is that it reflects a broader trend in the state and region that is almost detached from the polarized landscape,” said Stefan Schaffer, city strategist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s American Cities Challenge. “People on both sides of the political aisle view this as an opportunity...in the path towards a broader economic recovery.”


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Published on Nov 06, 2020