Businesses and states are united on clean energyMindy Lubber
You may not know it from the headlines, but Washington is not the only energy game that matters these days. Companies that buy massive amounts of energy and states that set the policies that shape the energy mix of their economies – whether with clean energy or climate-warming fossil fuels – also play a major role.
Corporate and state efforts are driving the country’s extraordinary progress in growing the economy while reducing carbon pollution. Since 2000, according to the Brookings Institute, the U.S. GDP has grown by 30 percent while carbon pollution has fallen 10 percent.
And, judging from business and state actions in recent weeks, interest in using more renewable energy and energy efficiency is getting stronger and shows no sign of abating.
From Mars Inc.’s pledge to expand wind energy to Smithfield Food’s goal to slash its carbon pollution to Google powering all of your map and email requests with emissions-free energy, we have seen a steady drumbeat of new and strengthened green commitments by iconic American businesses. Many of them have announced plans to power 100 percent of their operations with wind and solar. Others are greening their global supply chains with renewables and more efficient water use.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough was Google’s announcement last week that it will power all 100 percent of its global operations with renewables by 2017. That’s 2,600 megawatts of wind and solar energy from one company alone – enough power for all of San Francisco.
And further adding to this momentum are state lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – who are enacting critical state policies that will accelerate these clean energy gains, while adding thousands of new jobs.
Just last week in Michigan, the legislature approved a bipartisan law that strengthens energy efficiency efforts and boosts the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The new law, backed by major giants like General Mills and Nestle, increases the state’s renewable energy goal from 10 to 15 percent and removes artificial caps on efficiency investments – meaning utilities can now do more to help consumers save money on their electricity bills. “Our energy will be more affordable, more reliable and more green,” said Gov. Rick Snyder (R-Mich.) of the new law.
Even before passing the new law, the state’s old renewable energy standard had generated $3 billion in new investments while the efficiency provisions have saved ratepayers $1 billion on their electric bills.
Illinois passed an even more sweeping energy law this month, which strengthens renewable energy, energy efficiency, low-income rooftop solar and solar job training efforts. While the overall renewable goal remains at 25 percent, it includes a far bigger focus on distributed energy and community solar projects, which will allow customers (whether homeowners or not) to invest in small-scale solar projects. The clean energy provisions are expected to generate tens of thousands of jobs and more than $12 billion in private investment, including $750 million for low-income solar programs.
So why all this clean energy love from state lawmakers and U.S. businesses?
The answer is pretty simple: first, wind and solar energy costs are plummeting, making them cost competitive in many parts of the country with natural gas and other fossil fuels. Solar photovoltaics (PVs) have seen the biggest price drops – more than 50 percent since 2010 – which helps explains the record 4,300 megawatts of new PV capacity installed in the US in third quarter 2016 alone. This astounding number represented 60 percent of total new electric generating capacity additions last quarter in the US.
Second, businesses, now more than ever, are clamoring for renewable energy because it is cleaner and less prone to volatile price swings than fossil fuels. Ten major Michigan businesses, including JLL, Staples and Worthen Industries, made this exact point last month when they sent a letter to Michigan lawmakers calling for stronger renewable goals, citing the “significant economic opportunity” and “competitiveness.”
Businesses are pushing for similar clean energy policies in Ohio and Virginia. Just last month, Microsoft, Walmart and Ikea and 15 other companies wrote to Virginia lawmakers calling for policies to expand access to renewable energy from utilities and third-party sellers.
The US business community is firmly united behind the inevitability, irresistibility and irreversibility of clean energy, and policies that will hasten that transition. As 365 U.S. businesses wrote to the President-elect last month, “We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.”