Energy Surprise: Which States Generated the Most Renewable Energy in 2022?

by | Mar 20, 2023 | Climate & Environment

A West Texas wind farm. The state produces far more electricity from wind than any other state, but it’s also the biggest generator of coal-fired power. (Sarah Fields Photography/Shutterstock)

Energy Surprise: Which States Generated the Most Renewable Energy in 2022?

by | Mar 20, 2023 | Climate & Environment

A West Texas wind farm. The state produces far more electricity from wind than any other state, but it’s also the biggest generator of coal-fired power. (Sarah Fields Photography/Shutterstock)

Even though no congressional Republican voted for the biggest climate bill in the country’s history, red states were among the leaders in green power generation last year.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden pushed his climate agenda in an unexpected direction by announcing he had approved ConocoPhillips’ Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. The decision “greenlights a carbon bomb,” the nonprofit Earthjustice responded. The executive director of the Sierra Club warned of the project’s potential to “entirely undo the clean energy progress we’ve made.”

A mix of politics, economics and legal obstacles pressured the president to rethink a campaign promise to end drilling on federal lands. It’s hard not to see the announcement as a setback, emblematic of the difficulties in getting all stakeholders to make steadfast commitments to emission reductions.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the most ambitious climate legislation in the nation’s history, made it into law without a single Republican vote. Now that Republicans have control of the House, there are rumblings that one of their first priorities will be to reconsider provisions in the IRA designed to support the growth of clean energy.

This is more an indicator of the politics around climate than a signal of an imminent policy change. But it suggests a stark red/blue divide that is not always reflected in what is actually happening at the state level.

Three of the top five solar electricity-producing states in 2022 have Republican-controlled legislatures. The same is true of half of the 10 states producing the most renewable electricity from all sources (excluding hydropower). Four of the five also have GOP governors.

Texas, already producing far more wind energy than any other state, is expected to come close to California in solar energy in the near future. Vulnerable to drought, fire, flood and sea-level rise, Texas has come under fire for a lack of interest in policies to address the impacts of climate change, and in addition to its green energy prowess it produces the most electricity from coal.

Carbon pollution allowed (or prevented) isn’t confined to state borders. Uneven commitments to clean energy, within or between states, stand in the way of progress toward preventing the worst effects of warming.

What About Economics?

Green power generation in the U.S. has increased more than 300 percent in the past 10 years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts disruptions in the global energy market resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are only likely to speed the growth of the clean energy economy,

Higher fossil fuel prices resulting from the war have benefited producers and harmed consumers, while higher shares of renewable power have correlated with lower energy prices. Solar power is now the cheapest energy in history, the IEA reports.

David Roland-Holst, a research economist at the University of California, Berkeley, points to factors that give solar and wind advantages that will never disappear. Both create electricity from sources that cannot be exhausted. The exponential growth of technology to harness their power will continue to make generation cheaper and cheaper.

In contrast, fossil fuels are finite. As the supply decreases, it is more and more expensive to access them. Moreover, scientists with the International Renewable Energy Agency estimate that doubling renewable energy production by 2030 would avert costs from health and environmental damage 15 times greater than the cost of increasing the share of renewables.

Solar Generation

Texas and California have sun and land resources that are factors in their high levels of solar production. But these don’t explain the fact that California solar production is orders of magnitude greater than states such as Kansas and Oklahoma that are considered to be among the sunniest in the U.S.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been criticized for focusing more on helping Floridians survive climate disasters than on reducing emissions, but even so the state was third in solar energy production.

Wind Power

Texas produced seven times as much electricity from wind as did California. Other red states — Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and North Dakota — also generated more wind power, some more than twice as much as the Golden State.

Still, a number of states have yet to get off the ground with this technology, with eight having no capacity at all. Offshore wind leases could increase generation by 30 gigawatts by 2030.

The Big Picture

A national map of renewable generation reveals considerable inconsistency in progress toward a carbon-free energy supply. As an independent indicator, total generation does not account for variations in population or consumption. But comparing production in states of similar size, or in similar regions, may provide perspective on where gains are possible.

A study published in 2022 in the journal Nature found that about 7 in 10 Americans support the goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. The authors also found that “supporters of climate policies outnumber opponents two to one, while Americans falsely perceive nearly the opposite to be true.” In some cases, state-level data regarding renewable energy production reveal similar misperceptions.

Republished with permission from Governing Magazine, by Carl Smith

Governing Magazine

Governing Magazine

Governing: The Future of States and Localities takes on the question of what state and local government looks like in a world of rapidly advancing technology. Governing is a resource for elected and appointed officials and other public leaders who are looking for smart insights and a forum to better understand and manage through this era of change.

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