In a quest for clean energy, solar takes center stage. Today’s ambitious clean energy mandates are shaping the electrical grids of tomorrow.
Throughout the United States, municipalities, corporations, and utilities are all pushing to break away from the yoke of fossil fuels by advancing efficiency and clean energy. Currently, studies show that one in three people live in a state or city that is dedicated to transitioning to a 100 percent emissions-free, renewable energy.
Millions of businesses and households are also being served by utilities that have willingly committed to offer 100 percent emissions-free energy. Many are living in communities that have made ambitious climate targets focusing on clean energy.
A push is underway to transition towards clean electricity with state and local governments taking the lead with clean energy mandates. California is one of the states’ paving the way.
“An enormous amount of authority still rests with the states for determining your energy future. So we can build these policies that will become a postcard from the future for the rest of the country,” stated David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission at the UCLA summit about state and local progress toward 100 percent clean energy.
The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation released a report outlining that 13 states, 200 cities, and counties, and numerous territories and counties are committed to clean energy and dozens of cities in the report have already achieved the impressive target. Currently, one in every three Americans (around 111million U.S. residents) or 34 percent of the population are living in communities that are dedicated to achieving 100 percent clean electricity.
J.R. DeShazo, the director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation states, “We’re going to look back on this moment as the moment when local action and state commitments began to push the entire nation toward this goal.”
The last five years have seen the passage of several landmark energy standards that share the common goals of tackling climate change and improving air quality.
While we can all unite behind climate action, some energy analysts forecast a steady rise in utility rates as new power generators are constructed, older units are upgraded, and transmission infrastructure is made to accommodate the changes.
Here are the details you need to know about some of the nation’s most ambitious clean energy standards, and what you can do to power your business with renewable energy without carrying the financial burden.
An enormous amount of authority still rests with the states for determining your energy future. So we can build these policies that will become a postcard from the future for the rest of the country.
Clean energy mandates bring solar to the forefront
The 100% renewable energy movement has hit the ground running with states and cities passing mandates to achieve the goal. However, it should be noted that not all 100% clean and renewable energy mandates are created equal. Below, we will examine several states and their mandates.
You’ll see that some states are leading the way with strong moves toward actionable clean energy solutions such as California and New York, but others such as Massachusetts might have a 100% renewable energy mandate, but the timeline is so far into the future that the entire process seems almost meaningless and virtually impossible to have a positive impact on the current climate crisis.
Many of the mandates that have passed have target dates of 2045 or 2050 where they hope to achieve full electrical decarbonization. However, the dates are so far in the future that they don’t seem like a very realistic solution. Luckily, states like California are emerging as real trailblazers with renewable energy mandates dating 2030 or sooner.
New York: 70% by 2030
The state of New York is emerging as the second most aggressive clean energy maverick in the nation (following California). The clean energy provisions span multiple sectors and create an impressive 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from dirty fossil fuels. The state’s goal is “exercising a global leadership role on greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation.”
New York’s groundbreaking climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), mandates that 70% of New York’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% clean energy by 2040. This enforceable law covers all sectors of the economy. The CLCPA builds upon the earlier New York Clean Energy Standard (CES) to move up the timeline and enshrine core provisions into state law.
The bill’s goal is as follows:
- 2025 achieve 6 GW of distributed solar
- 2030 achieve 3 GW of energy storage
- 2035 achieve 9 GW of offshore wind
Lawmakers crafted the new regulations to clean up the air and greatly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses. They plan to reach these accelerated goals by requiring that utilities serving the state quickly increase their solar, wind and battery storage capacities while promoting energy efficiency upgrades.
New York already has one of the highest average commercial electricity rates in the nation. As of July 2021, the Empire State’s commercial average rate of 18.36 cents per kilowatt hour is 59% higher than the national average.
Now, New York utility National Grid is asking for a series of rate hikes totaling 11.8% over the next three years. The utility claims that the rate hike would help pay for electrical grid upgrades. For the average commercial facility in New York, this would amount to an increase of $86 every month, totaling over $1,000 in additional facility operation costs each year.
California’s clean energy mandates
California’s solar success is fueled by the forward-thinking and innovative policies of the state’s government set forth by the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and its strong clean energy goals.
In 2018, California lawmakers passed the California Renewable Energy Act (CREA) which requires that 100% of retail electricity comes from zero-carbon sources by 2045.
A plan detailing how California plans to achieve the goals outlines needed investments in renewable energy, battery storage capacity and modernized infrastructure. There are skeptics, but the world’s fifth largest economy already hit 95% renewable energy for a brief period on April 30, 2021.
In August, the California Energy Commission took it a step further by establishing a new mandate on top of the CREA that requires all new commercial and residential buildings to have solar and battery storage.
Aside from any costs that California’s largest utility will incur in the transition to zero-carbon future, PG&E has already requested an unrelated 18% rate increase that will go towards wildlife prevention programs.
Will the California Renewable Energy Act lead to even higher rate increases? It’s too soon to know for sure, but significant capital investments will be needed to bring grid infrastructure up to the mandated standards. Just the possibility and PG&E’s track record have many looking to go solar on their own terms.
Businesses and residential homes account for a quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and use nearly 70 percent of the state’s electricity. The approved proposals will reduce emissions considerably over the next 30 years and will be comparable to taking 2.2 million autos off the roads.
The projected increase in construction costs due to solar additions are expected to be minimal. In fact, adding solar power and storage during construction is considered more cost-effective than retrofitting.
The state’s building code was changed and approved in 2018. It requires that all newly constructed single and multi family homes be equipped with solar power. The rule took effect on January 1, 2020.
The reports by Energy Sage project the upfront cost of solar will average about $8,400 for single family homes. It is believed that the addition will raise a mortgage payment by $40 per month but the electricity savings will average $80 per month which works out to a net savings of $500 per month.
San Francisco and the Bay Area
As a locally based utility for San Francisco residents and businesses, CleanPowerSF has been central to the region’s successful climate initiatives thus far. San Francisco’s carbon emissions have already been reduced to 41% below 1990 levels.
On Earth Day 2021, CleanPowerSF announced a commitment to achieve 100% clean energy by 2025, just three years away. If successful, this landmark achievement would be reached two decades before the state mandate.
San Francisco isn’t the only Bay Area city committed to climate action. San Jose consistently ranks in the top five for most installed rooftop solar capacity in America, a reflection of the superb economics for going solar in the Bay Area.
Massachusetts is a leader of climate action
In March of 2021, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed the Clean Energy and Climate Plan (CECP) for 2025 and 2030 into law. The bill, also known as An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Climate Policy, represents a significant commitment beyond the scope of the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.
Under the new law, Massachusetts must achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050. The law also details two benchmarks: by 2030, the state’s carbon emissions must be 50% below 1990 levels, and 75% below 1990 levels by 2040. To get there, the mandate requires that Massachusetts utilities like National Grid, Eversource and Utilities increase their renewable energy portfolio by at least 3% every year beginning in 2025.
Momentum is building across the map. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have active renewable energy portfolio requirements with plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions within the next few decades. In 2020, Virginia joined Nevada, Washington and the dozens of other states committed to clean energy.
Notably, many of the states that pioneered renewable portfolio standards are approaching important milestones. This means that the transition to renewable energy is just ramping up. By 2030, much of America will source at least a third of its electricity from solar, wind and hydropower.
Massachusetts lawmakers proposed a bill that would require rooftop solar on new residential and commercial buildings.
The Solar Neighborhoods Act (H.D.3098) in Massachusetts mandates solar panels on the roofs of any newly built homes, office buildings or apartments. A companion bill,S.D.159, was filed in the Senate. The new buildings must be constructed so they are ‘solar ready’.
After the bills’ pages, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) must develop and adopt amendments that help ensure the roofs can sufficiently support solar panels, that all roof space is maximized for the panels’ benefits, and that all newly constructed buildings also have the needed electrical infrastructure.
With single-family homes, the installed solar energy system must produce a sufficient amount of electricity to meet 80% of the household’s needs. Other buildings will have set solar energy system requirements. In some cases, a building might be exempted if the rooftop area is too shaded or if there is some other form of renewable energy installed such as a solar hot water system. Exemptions will also be granted for affordable housing developments.
Additional states transitioning to clean energy
In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report titled, “Quantifying the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.” Within the report on the transition of states to clean energy, it was found that some states appear to be making the change quicker and with greater efficiency than others.
Utah has been a trailblazer when it comes to clean energy. From 2013 to 2017, The state increased its renewable energy production by an impressive 212.29%.
Some states are seriously lagging in making any effort to embrace clean energy. West Virginia's renewable energy consumption has actually decreased by 22.14%
Oregon relies heavily on renewable energy. In 2017, 99.86% of the state's energy production came from renewables. The Beaver State also has the third highest number for policies and incentives focused on the use of renewable energy.
The state has many renewable clean energy options that it relies on such as hydroelectric and wind. By 2025, Oregon hopes to produce 25% of its electricity from solar.
The state of North Carolina ranks third in the nation for the most energy produced via solar according to a report “Renewables on the Rise 2021 published by the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group.
Krista Early with the Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center states in an interview with WRAL TechWire, “Our solar growth and progress in other areas puts us in league with states like California, Texas and Iowa. North Carolina has seen a more than 265-fold increase in the amount of electricity it gets from the sun since 2011 and we’ve seen a notable increase in electricity savings from energy efficiency programs.”
Early goes on to say, “Our report ranks North Carolina 10th in the nation in energy efficiency progress from 2011 to 2021,” she explains. “This analysis comes as North Carolina just passed a bipartisan energy bill that sets goals to reduce heat-trapping carbon pollution. Beyond top-ranking growth in solar energy, North Carolina has also seen a 546 GWh [gigawatt hours] increase in wind power. Supportive state policies, like NC’s renewable energy standard, have been key drivers of progress. Roughly half of all growth in renewable electricity in the United States since 2000 has been attributed to state adoption of renewable electricity standards.”
Arizona mandates solar
Arizona’s mandate has been set to achieve 100% clean energy use by 2050, but many skeptics are not happy. An independent analysis conducted by Ascend Analytics believes that resident’s electric bills will increase by $60 per month as a result of the mandate. Defenders of the mandate believe that the data isn’t steadfast due to the changing nature of technology which will ultimately help to lower costs.
Nevada: one of the sunniest states set to embrace solar
Beginning in 2022, the states of Nevada must get at least 22% of its electricity from clean energy choices. The amendment goes on to increase the required percentage incrementally over the course of 8 years until it reaches 50% (by 2030). The initiative does not stipulate the required source of renewable energy, but it does list solar, geothermal, and wind as acceptable generation options.
As one of the sunniest states in the U.S Solar is a natural option and will save the state a considerable amount of money considering that Nevada spends $700 million per year to import fossil fuel derived energy from other states. Pushing for the use of solar as an energy source statewide has become a necessity.
Pushing solar in 10 states
Environment America has been pushing a campaign to push solar on new house construction across the following ten states:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
The group’s goal is to introduce legislation by mid-2022 in each state requiring solar on new homes. Every year, two hundred thousand homes are built across the ten states so ensuring solar for each one is a lofty goal. Three of the states, Colorado, Texas, and North Carolina are expected to experience significant new construction so will definitely bolster the move towards solar with the new home solar mandates.
California’s mandate on housing up to three stories tall will achieve more than a 1GW of solar within the state in the next five years.
Depending on where someone lives, the types of housing covered by the mandates will vary.
The transition to clean energy
Things are rapidly changing with federal, state, and local governments along with electric utilities pushing the use of renewable energy and even requiring it. There are many pathways towards helping transition to clean energy.
Below are just a few things that are being used to assist the conversion.
Grants, tax credits, loan programs
Federal government grants, tax credits and loan programs are currently available to help many qualify for renewable energy technologies and projects.
For those wanting to transition to clean energy, they might want to check with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of interior, and the U.S. Department of Interior to learn about possible loan or grant programs. Most of the state’s offer some financial incentives to help subsidize and support the installation of any equipment classified as renewable energy.
Federal incentives/credits include:
Renewable portfolio standard
A renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires that a certain set percentage of all electric power sales be gathered from renewable energy sources. Some states are mandating renewable energy, but others are going the route of voluntary goals in the hopes that residents and business owners will opt to embrace and transition to clean energy without needing a legal push. In some cases, compliance with RPS policies will allow and require the trade of renewable energy compliance.
Renewable energy certificates
Renewable energy certificates or credits (RECs) are products that are offered for sale or trade that let buyers pay for the production of renewable energy without actually obtaining energy from an actual renewable energy source. The products are often known as renewable energy certificates or credits (RECs) which are then used by electric utilities to help comply with renewable energy portfolio standards.
Green tags or green certificates are also often available for purchase which help facilitate renewable energy production in areas where local utilities are not offering a green power option. These are ways believed to help further the transition to clean energy.
The Takeaway: Commercial Solar Can Help You Take Control of Your Energy Future, Starting Today
Forward-thinking localities around the nation are plotting a path to a clean energy future. Even the federal government is considering a clean energy mandate. New energy infrastructure will be another expense for utilities, and it’s no surprise that they would pass the cost on to customers. But businesses have another option.