The nation’s two largest coal-producing states, Wyoming and West Virginia, have emerged as leaders in renewable energy and energy storage, respectively, according to a new report.
States that voted red in the 2016 presidential election occupy seven of the top-ten spots for wind and solar generation as a percentage of their electricity consumption, according to Environment America’s Renewables on the Rise 2020, released last week.
“There are clean energy leaders in big states and small states, red states and blue states, states on the coasts and states in the heartland,” say the authors, Tony Dutzik and Jamie Friedman of Frontier Group and Emma Searson of Environment America’s Research & Policy Center. Environment America is a branch of the Public Interest Network.
Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota generate enough renewable energy to meet more than half their electricity demand, according to the report. Oklahoma is not far behind at 45 percent. Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota also appear on the top-ten list.
It remains to seen whether the growth of clean energy in red states will turn them purple or encourage cleaner Republican energy policy, but some signs of influence have appeared.
Just after the 2018 Midterm election, a post-election voter survey “found strong support among Republicans and Democrats alike for government action to accelerate development and use of clean energy in the United States,” according to the survey sponsors, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Forum and the Conservative Energy Network.
“Further, results showed a supermajority of voters (81%) across party affiliations and all four regions of the country say they would vote for elected officials who support clean energy development such as wind and solar.”
West Virginia still generates more than 90 percent of its electricity by burning coal, and Environment America puts it in 48th place in solar growth, 24th in wind. Its unlikely leadership in energy-storage growth—5th place nationally—may derive from its participation in the 14-state PJM power pool.
When the AES Corporation AES installed 32 megawatts of energy storage alongside its 98 MW wind farm on Laurel Mountain, West Virginia, it heralded the batteries not only as a way to resolve variability in wind, but also to provide the larger PJM territory with regulation service, “delivering instantaneous response to grid operator requests for power, helping to match generation and demand.”
While half of coal mining jobs have vanished since 2012, the solar and wind industries offer two of the three fastest growing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most of those jobs are opening in sunny, windy states currently tinted red.
“Republican-represented congressional districts host 85% of total installed wind capacity,” Amy Farrell of the American Wind Energy Association told CBS Marketwatch. “Workers and families in states like Texas, Iowa, and North Dakota where wind power is the strongest recognize the jobs and economic benefits that wind brings to their hometowns.”