As the UN summit on climate in New York City came to a close last week, all eyes were on the United States as the world’s leading economy. Yet, those seeking action from the U.S. should actually be looking at the states and what they’re already doing. As international climate talks open up to “sub-national” participants, states may get a chance to take their rightful place among the world’s advanced energy leaders.
It may be hard to imagine the U.S. Senate ratifying an international agreement on climate change (which requires a two-thirds vote). But every year states around the country pass legislation to move advanced energy forward to serve a growing U.S. and global market. As documented in AEE’s Advanced Energy Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Reduction, advanced energy products and services improve the electric power system in myriad ways – and reduce emissions associated with climate change as well.
What is the impact of state action on advanced energy in global context? If you were to combine the population of states that have legally enforceable renewable generation requirements, it would be the fourth largest country in the world, with over 212 million people (behind China, India and Indonesia).
Wind power leader Denmark (population 5.6 million) gets 33% of its energy from wind. But close behind is Iowa (population 3 million) at 27%. Minnesota (population 5.3 million) gets 15.7% of its power from wind – just behind Ireland (population 4.6 million) at 16.3%.
In the U.S. there are over 3,100 utilities with regulatory decisions made at the state and local level. This is very different than most countries. Even in the face of federal inaction, states have the authority to move toward an advanced energy future on their own. They are doing so – while reaping the economic and environmental benefits. Yet their accomplishments and opportunities are all but invisible on the international stage.
The UN discussions in New York are significant for a variety of reasons, but the most significant may be the introduction of “sub-national” participants through the “Compact of States and Regions.” The compact offers states the opportunity to participate on the world stage.
To join the compact, states need to do two things: 1) adopt some kind of greenhouse gas emissions target (many already have through the adoption of climate action plans), and 2) commit to a tracking regime that will report progress to the compact. Information gained from this effort and compact participation will be presented at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015. One potential opportunity could be state involvement in a global market mechanism to monetize the climate benefits of advanced energy.
The timing couldn’t be better, as states start evaluating compliance pathways to meet the pending carbon emission standards from the EPA. With most RPS policies expiring in the 2020-2025 timeframe and EPA standards focusing on 2030 reductions, states have an opportunity to look at a variety of policies to modernize their utility infrastructure and resource planning frameworks to meet a changing energy landscape. At the same time, their actions may have an opening on the international stage for participation in any agreement that comes out of Paris in 2015.
The EPA rules will drive a long overdue modernization of the electric power system, state by state. It will also provide impetus to move discussion in states toward emissions standards, creation of emissions markets, and investment in advanced generation infrastructure.
Justice Brandeis famously called states “laboratories of democracy,” but in energy they are more than just laboratories. They are manufacturing centers. They are passing the laws, innovating the markets, and building the equipment to power a new energy economy for the world.
This isn’t happening at the federal level. If you want to find international leaders and action on climate, energy, and innovation in the U.S., look to the states.