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State mandates driving demand for renewables

At least four states have boosted their goals for expanding renewable energy this year, joining several others that are directing power generators to produce more electricity from wind turbines, solar panels and other non-polluting sources.

These mandates are increasingly driving the development of renewables nationwide, accounting for about half the growth in clean energy nationwide, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that represents state lawmakers. The latest states to adopt more aggressive goals for expanding clean energy are New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, and Maryland.

Washington has vowed to get 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2045. Nevada plans to reach the same goal by 2050.

States are adopting the ambitious mandates as the federal government reverses or weakens initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. The Trump administration, for example, pulled out of the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has moved to scale back emission standard for vehicles and power plants.

“It’s a political opportunity for states that want to show green credentials to differentiate what is going on at the federal level,” said Roman Kramarchuk, head of energy policy and technology analytics for the research firm S&P Global Platts.

Today, 37 states have renewable energy directives, including 29 states that require electricity suppliers to supply a certain share of electricity from renewable sources and eight states that have non-binding renewable goals, according to the Department of Energy.

The upgrading of state renewable energy goals reflects a growing public concern about rising global temperatures, lower costs to develop wind and solar farms, and the prospect of economic development.

“If you can build out an industry, you can get jobs,” said Meg McIntosh, senior director of North American Power & Renewables at the research firm IHS Markit.

The Department of Labor projects solar installers will be the single fastest growing occupation from now until 2026 and wind turbine service technicians will be the fourth fastest growing. Solar installers earn about $39,500 a year and wind turbine technicians earn nearly $54,000.

In Texas, regulators set a renewable energy standard in 1999 to reach 5,000 megawatts of renewable generating capacity by 2015 and 10,000 megawatts by 2025. Texas surpassed its 2025 target in 2009, according to the Energy Department. A megawatt can power about 200 Texas homes on a hot summer day.

On the forefront

The state’s grid manager the Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported that Texas recorded 26,045 megawatts of registered renewable energy in 2017, more than two and one-half times the state’s 2025 goal. The state’s wind industry accounts for most of that generation.

The last time Texas modified its renewable energy standard was in 2005. But the state has been on the forefront of renewable energy development, accounting for more than 25 percent of the total . wind power generated in the country in each of the past three years, according to the Energy Department.

Texas built more wind projects than any other state during the first quarter, nearly 6,150 megawatts of generation, greater than the total capacity of wind-generated power in California, according to the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group in Washington.

The rapid pace of development reflects the abundance of wind and its value as a low-cost power source in a state that rewards low-cost producers. Texas also invested in transmission capability to bring power from remote rural areas to major population centers. And more corporate buyers are buying power directly from wind producers through power purchase agreements.

About 70 percent of the solar capacity in Texas in the past two years has been bought by corporate and industrial customers, according to the research and consulting firm IHS Markit.