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States with the fastest-growing clean energy production

  • States with the fastest growing clean energy production

    America obtained more electricity from renewable sources than from coal for the first time in April 2019. This is a big milestone for a country that has long relied on fossil fuels for energy, but we’re still lagging far behind the rest of the world: In 2015, the most recent year for which the World Bank reports global renewable energy consumption, the U.S. ranked #151 out of 200 nations and territories in the share of its energy coming from renewable sources.

    While other countries are adopting carbon taxes and building fleets of electric buses, the U.S. is mired in political turmoil and led by a president who denies the urgent reality of climate change. Legislators are trying: In July, five senators introduced a bill that would require American utilities to source at least half of their energy from renewable sources by 2050. But this bill has little chance of passing in a Republican-controlled legislature with leaders such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).

    Because of this national stalling, it’s up to local governments to make headway on renewable energy legislation and clean infrastructure. As of this year, 29 states, Washington D.C., and three territories have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require utility companies to generate a specific percentage of their electricity from renewable sources by a specific date. On an even more local level, over 90 cities and several counties across the nation have pledged to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2050; a few cities, like Georgetown, Texas, have already met this goal. And many cities, including New York City, have declared a “climate emergency,” further incentivizing public leaders and ordinary homeowners alike to mobilize in favor of a greener society.

    To more closely examine renewable energy in the U.S. on a local level, Stacker used data from the Energy Information Administration to rank all 50 states in terms of how much their clean energy production grew from 2013 to 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. Clean energy in this story includes all energy sources that do not put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: hydroelectric, wind, nuclear, geothermal, solar thermal, and photovoltaic energy. It is important to note that renewable energy and clean energy are not interchangeable terms: Sources of energy that may be clean are not necessarily renewable, or able to naturally replenish themselves (such as nuclear power), while renewable sources of energy may not be clean (such as biomass).

    Read on to find out how your state fares in cleaning up its energy act, and to learn about regulatory challenges and new clean energy projects across the country.

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  • #50. Vermont

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -72.6%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 6.4 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 1.7 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 58.2% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 17.1%
    --- Nuclear: 0.0%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 4.9%

    In late 2014, Vermont closed down the Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, a boiling water reactor that had produced the majority of the state’s energy. Environmental advocates hoped that closing the power station would lead to increasing reliance on other clean energy sources; although the state legislature is dragged its feet in 2019, the Vermont House approved strict emissions targets in a climate bill passed in February 2020.

  • #49. Mississippi

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -33.3%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 10.9 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 7.2 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 0.0% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 10.9%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.5%

    According to the Energy Information Administration, Mississippi’s Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station, in Port Gibson, is the largest single-unit nuclear power reactor in the country and the fifth largest in the world. The plant has been under scrutiny recently: It is one of three plants across the country which is not rated at the highest safety level by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and has often run at reduced or zero power since 2016.

  • #48. New Hampshire

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -7.2%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 12.7 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 11.8 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 7.9% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 2.4%
    --- Nuclear: 58.9%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.0%

    Over 1 million New Hampshire residents get their electricity from Seabrook Station, the largest nuclear power reactor in New England. In March 2019, the plant was granted a 20-year license extension through 2050, despite concerns about its safety raised by scientists like civil engineer Victor Saouma.

  • #47. Wisconsin

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -6.7%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 15.2 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 14.2 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 3.6% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 2.5%
    --- Nuclear: 15.4%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.1%

    Although Wisconsin is losing the clean energy race right now, the state’s local governments are catching up: Six communities have committed to becoming 100% carbon emission-free by 2050. La Crosse, which made this pledge in July 2019, recently allocated about $4 million to convert the lighting, heating, and cooling systems in city buildings to renewable alternatives. "In making those commitments on the municipal level, that's sending a signal to their utilities that their customers expect them to keep up with the market and to keep up with the evolution of our energy," said Kate Beaton, a member of the La Crosse City Council.

  • #46. Alabama

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -5.1%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 53.7 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 51.0 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 7.7% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 27.2%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.2%

    Browns Ferry, a nuclear power plant near Athens, Alabama, is the second-largest nuclear facility in the country. It’s been operating since 1974, and set records when it opened: Its three nuclear reactors were the first to produce over 1,000 megawatts of power. Today, Alabama is funding future clean energy development through the Energy Storage Research Center, a facility run by the nonprofit Southern Research to develop new energy storage technology.

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  • #45. New Jersey

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -2.4%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 33.8 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 33.0 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 0.0% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 42.6%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 1.3%

    New Jersey is phasing out fossil fuels. Less than one-tenth of the state’s electricity came from oil and coal in 2019, with natural gas and nuclear power making up the lion’s share. This summer, Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), New Jersey’s largest and oldest power company, pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company said it will not build or acquire any new fossil-fuel power plants.

  • #44. Wyoming

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -2.1%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 5.1 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 5.0 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 2.1% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 8.8%
    --- Nuclear: 0.0%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.0%

    Wyoming has long relied heavily on the coal industry—the state produced 40% of America’s coal in 2018. But this industry is now struggling. Six coal mining companies based in this state have declared bankruptcy since 2015, putting hundreds of miners out of work and leading to questions of who will clean up the former mining sites. A turn to clean energy could help the state recover some of those lost jobs and lost tax revenue.

  • #43. South Carolina

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: -2.0%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 57.4 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 56.2 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 3.0% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 53.1%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.5%

    Nuclear power is the biggest clean-energy source in South Carolina, with four facilities across the state. The state attempted to expand its nuclear-power capacity with a project to build two new reactors to the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, but this project failed spectacularly: It cost taxpayers $9 billion to essentially build a hole in the ground and then fill it back in. In summer 2019, the state legislature pivoted to solar with the “Energy Freedom Act,” which encourages solar developers to build and work with utility providers in the state.

  • #42. Connecticut

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: 0.4%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 17.5 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 17.6 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 1.4% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 42.8%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.3%

    Connecticut has two nuclear power plants called Millstone 2 and Millstone 3, both located in Waterford, which produce about 40% of the state’s electricity and employ over 1,500 workers. The state will probably rely on these plants for a while yet, as the local legislature is currently focusing on pushing homeowners to switch from oil to natural gas—in June 2019, the state even took tens of millions of dollars out of an energy efficiency program, to the dismay of environmental advocates.

  • #41. Louisiana

    - Clean energy production growth 2013-2018: 1.9%
    - 2013 clean energy production: 18.0 million MWH
    - 2018 clean energy production: 18.3 million MWH
    --- Hydroelectric conventional: 1.2% (of all 2018 energy production)
    --- Wind: 0.0%
    --- Nuclear: 16.8%
    --- Geothermal: 0.0%
    --- Solar thermal and photovoltaic: 0.0%

    After a harsh reminder of the dangers of extreme weather in the form of Tropical Storm Barry, a coalition of New Orleans community leaders, local businesses, and national advocates submitted a proposal to transform the city for full reliance on renewable energy by 2040. Currently, the state’s biggest providers of clean energy are two nuclear power plants, River Bend and Waterford 3, both of which have recently been renewed for operation.

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