Nevada Becomes Latest State to Make Aggressive Carbon Reductions

Key Takeaways:

  • Nevada setting aggressive renewable energy targets for 2030, then 2050
  • Current generation portfolio is covered, showing where Nevada is now
  • Targets backed by both industry and power providers in-state

In late April the Nevada Senate approved a bill requiring the state to produce half its electricity from renewables by 2030, joining a raft of U.S. states moving swiftly to increase solar and wind generation as market forces continue to pound coal. For a state with excellent solar conditions like Nevada, it is an ideal moment to seize the windfall opportunity of utility scale solar power, which has become cheaper than ever.

Nevada currently receives 70% of its electricity from gas-powered generation and 9% from coal—though its last coal plant is scheduled to be retired in 2025. The bill, which passed in the legislature in April, seeks moreover to make Nevada’s energy production 100% carbon free by mid-century. The state’s renewable portfolio standard that mandated 25% renewables by 2025 targeted only the utility NV Energy, while the new law rightly applies to electric co-ops, retailers and all electricity providers statewide.

Nevada’s case is a bit different from other states moving aggressively to curb their carbon emissions—like Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois and New York, to name a few—because geothermal power plays an outsized role in the current renewables mix, representing more than 40% of Nevada’s clean energy production. That’s about to change, as NV Energy has unveiled plans to add more than 1 Gigawatt of solar generation along with 100 Megawatts of battery storage to its capacity.

Significantly, businesses and power providers throughout Nevada threw their weight behind the bill, recognizing the strong long-term financial incentive of investing in solar generation infrastructure. With Tesla’s Gigafactory outside Reno leading the way, the state is demonstrating how the economics and policies favoring renewable power can go hand in hand.

What We’re Reading: “Nevada passes bill for 50% renewables by 2030, 100% carbon free by 2050”, as published on Utility Dive.

More Cities & States Commit to 100% Renewables

More than 100 cities in the U.S. are leading the transition to 100% renewable energy. (Energy Manager Today Dec 2018).

Communities are committing to 100% clean energy or carbon-free energy to power their municipal buildings and fleets.

States mandating 100% renewable or carbon-free generation for all users include California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. And the list is growing!

Their commitments vary from 100% clean energy or renewables to 100% carbon-free energy which includes nuclear for all power sold in the state.

Interest is especially strong in communities and states located in the country’s solar and wind corridors.

Map Showing States with Commitments to a 100% Renewable Energy Goal

Let’s take a closer look at some of the cities and states committing to a Path to 100% renewable energy transition:

  • Abita Spring, Louisiana (population 2365 in 2010) Mayor Greg Lemons called the policy change to 100% renewables by 2030 a “practical decision” for the environment, the economy and for what constituents want in his small town. “Politics has nothing to do with it for me. Clean energy just makes good economic sense,” according to Lemons.
  • Norman, Oklahoma (population 122,843 in 2017) is the first in that state to set renewable goals: 100% renewable for all city buildings by 2035 and across all city facilities and fleet by 2050. A citizen-run committee is looking at plans for new wind and solar power generation.
  • Madison, Wisconsin (population 255,214 in 2017) Common Council member Alder Zach Wood says he and his fellow leaders support the transition to 100% renewable energy to create more local jobs, keep air and water cleaner and electricity more affordable and sustainable.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio (population 301,301 in 2017) Late last year the city council passed a resolution setting a goal to power all of the city-owned and operated facilities with 100% clean, renewable energy by 2035. This comes on the heels of council endorsement of construction of a 25-megawatt solar array—the largest city-owned solar installation in the country.
  • Kansas City, Missouri (population 488,943 in 2017) This spring, city council members unanimously approved the transition of all of its municipal electricity to carbon-free sources by the end of 2020! The city will locate 25 acres to develop a 5-megawatt community solar installation. City employees will have the option to subscribe to the farm. Also, all-electric or hybrid-electric vehicles will be purchased for city use.
  • The State of California (5th largest economy in the world) Officials passed a measure in 2018 in response to climate change to accelerate its timeline to move to carbon-free power generation by 2045 for all retail electricity sold in the state. This includes renewables like solar and wind and nuclear power to generate electricity. (Sacramento Bee, Sept 2018)
  • Massachusetts and Minnesota are each considering legislation that mandates the use of renewables or carbon-free energy

Fossil Fuel States:

It’s understandable that the transition to renewables is more difficult in areas where coal, oil, and gas production has been a mainstay of the economy.

Case in point: New Mexico.  Elected state officials in the “Land of Enchantment” recognize the state has a $1.2 billion budget surplus due to revenue from oil and gas production in the prolific Permian Basin, making it the third largest oil producing state in the U.S. However, they also don’t want to see their oil, gas and coal producing state left out of the transition to renewables and want to cut greenhouse gas emissions in their state.

It’s important to note that more than half of the electricity currently used by New Mexico homes and businesses is generated from coal, which is on the decline due to rising production costs compared to other forms of generation and environmental concerns.

New Mexico also sits in the top 15 of states for wind power, and its solar energy resources are described as among the best in the country by State Representative Nathan Small.

Just this month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the “Energy Transition Act.” It mandates “that the state’s publicly regulated utilities get all of their electricity from carbon-free sources” like solar and wind (and possibly nuclear) by 2045. (NPR, March 2019) The act sets interim goals, also: 50% carbon-free generation by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.

Bottom Line:

All of the commitments to renewables can be traced to market forces, regulation, and concern about the environment. Communities and states are leading the way to secure sustainable, affordable and reliable power for the future.

What’s Driving Clean Energy Job Growth in the Midwest?

The Path to 100% clean energy transition puts more people to work to meet the evolving needs of business, government and consumers.

A 2019 report by the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs (as reported on by the Energy News Network) shows the top clean energy employer in the Midwest is still the energy efficiency sector producing products such as double-paned windows, insulation, smart thermostats, and power sensors. It is responsible for 526,800 out of the total 737,031 clean energy jobs in the region.

The report covered by the Energy News Network goes on to identify several factors that drive the creation of tens of thousands of additional clean energy jobs in varying Midwestern states:

  1. Strong manufacturing base.
    Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana were in the top four last year for clean energy employment in the center of the U.S. This is according to data collected for the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report. All three have strong manufacturing to produce components used in the advanced transportation and manufacturing supply chain sectors. Advanced transportation is the transition to alternative and renewable fuels for transportation. It also describes the move to technologies used in hybrid and electronic vehicles.
  2. Strong state and federal policies.
    State and community approved energy standards or emission-reduction goals also drive clean energy job growth in Midwestern states, such as Illinois.
  3. Utility commitments.
    More electric utilities are contributing to growth as they add solar and wind power to their generation portfolios.

What We’re Reading: “Auto, Manufacturing help drive clean energy job growth in the Midwest” by Andy Balaskovitz, as published on the Energy News Network with reference to the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs Report

Balancing the Benefits and Challenges of Renewable Energy

The rapid expansion of renewables into the energy market in recent years has led to cheaper electricity for utilities, greater savings for consumers, and reduced emissions. The growth in wind output in particular has been staggering; wind capacity stood around 40 Gigawatts in the U.S. in 2010, and by late 2016 it had nearly doubled to more than 75 Gigawatts, transforming the way utility companies produce and manage power supply.

However, the dramatic rise in renewable energy production has also created challenges as utilities, power planners, and grid operators consider new factors impacting their business models and the bottom lines.

Decreases in Traditional Power Plant Revenues

The decrease in traditional power plant revenues due to the increase in energy coming from renewable sources is one such challenge. Instead of producing all of the electricity for a community, coal plant operators now generate less energy to make room for the influx of solar- and wind-generated power. This means less average load and less operating hours for power facilities, and since energy plants in the U.S. traditionally bid and sell power on open electricity markets, it also means a potential decline in profits.

At the same time, wind and solar energy production depend on fluctuating weather conditions—whether or not the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. This variability forces power plant operators to continuously adapt their coal or gas output in order to meet demand. Inflexible thermal power plants, like coal and Combine Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) facilities, are now required to stop and start frequently to accommodate the flow of renewable energy into their systems. But regularly stopping and re-starting is costly, time consuming, technically challenging, and not how these plants were designed to operate.

Weather Patterns Affect Renewable Energy

Facing these challenges, dispatchers and plant operators are forced to monitor weather patterns as frequently as possible—working almost in the capacity of weathermen as they forecast natural conditions in order to predict when wind and solar energy output will be high or low, then calibrate the plant accordingly. For this reason, accurately forecasting the weather has become an essential job for plant operating teams—particularly when managing inflexible power plants that aren’t designed for an easy start and stop.

The continual ramp-up and ramp-down depending on the weather has thus made plant operators’ jobs more difficult than in the past when renewables played a more marginal role in power production. In the words of one energy journalist: “Grid operators don’t control variable renewable energy (VRE), they accommodate it, which requires some agility.”

Inflexibility of Current Utility Systems

The problem is therefore two-fold. A key factor limiting the more robust expansion of renewables into utility systems is the inability of old-model inflexible power stations to go offline when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, then quickly come back online once those conditions change. At the same time, uncertainty—the fact that renewable energy producers cannot predict with perfect accuracy how much sun or wind power will be generated at any given time—forces grid operators to produce excess energy from coal or gas to ensure there is enough to meet peak electricity demand. The trick for operators is knowing how to compensate for all the time when renewables aren’t producing their share.

Low Capacity Factor for Renewable Energy Systems

Low capacity factor is another feature that is somewhat hampering the rollout of renewable energy systems. This refers to the actual production from renewable energy sources compared with their potential production. For example, in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, utility-scale solar energy production had an actual capacity of about 28% while wind had an actual capacity of 34%. The difference between what renewable energy systems could be producing versus the actual amount of power they generate is still a work in progress. It’s also another reason why conventional coal and gas plants are still required to compensate during low production hours for renewables.


Another challenge facing clean energy producers is over-generation, that is, the production of “too much” power. This can occur at certain times of the day when renewables output is high and consumer demand is low, or likewise when demand is high but the generation from renewable sources is higher. As described by specialists in the California energy market: “Over generation sounds like a non-problem, but when there is more electricity being generated than places to store or export it, it must be turned off or it threatens reliability of the grid.”

Currently around 1,100 Gigawatts of solar and wind capacity exist globally. The boom in renewable sources has coincided with a steep fall in their costs; wind power, for instance, cost nearly $1,500/kW in the 1990s, but only around $900/kW in recent years—a 40% drop. The decrease in solar production costs is even more dramatic: whereas 15 years ago the cost of generating a kilowatt of solar was $4,000, today the price is around $300, a decline of more than 1,000%. But ubiquitous sun and wind power, in themselves, are not enough of a solution.

Finding the right Balance between Clean and Traditional Power

As we are learning, successful renewable energy production is also about finding the right calibration—or one might say collaboration—between clean and conventional forms of power generation. Expanding and improving transmission infrastructure, improving day-ahead and near-term weather forecasting, and using advanced modeling tools to help grid operators understand how much renewable capacity they can integrate into the grid are all part of the solution. Replacing old generation coal plants with new flexible generation technologies, which provide the capacity to easily turn on and off, will help utilities maintain system reliability, increase their value, and operate at the lowest cost.

All of this so long as the system is being built to take on the amount of volatility that comes with renewable energy. This includes accurate foresting tools and models, and the system flexibility that allows for following the intermittency of renewable energy. Since the power grid changes continually and rapidly on any given day, plant operators need the best information available in order to manage intermittency and maximize the generating capacity of their systems. These are challenges that can and will be met as the renewable energy market matures—and meanwhile, wind and sun power are becoming the most reliable and economical forms of power generation across the land.

NREL Offers Resources to Help Achieve Green Energy Goals

The Path to 100% renewable energy transition requires a tailored approach depending on the current energy system, weather, regulations, funding, population, energy use patterns, and land availability of a community, region or campus.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) offers help to local, state and tribal government and universities with specific sets of tools to create tailored solutions. NREL is under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Fact sheets, videos, webinars, reports, and research on the NREL website provide guidance for the following:

    • Market analysis
    • Disaster resiliency and recovery
    • Financial policy analysis
    • Sustainable community design
    • Strategic planning and energy management
    • Request for proposals and performance contracting
    • Training
    • Workshops

Focus on Universities One example is the set of resources for universities seeking to go solar. It provides information about purchase power agreements, financing solar deployment and advice about writing solar RFPs.

One of the case studies on the website highlights the solar journey of Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. CSU entered solar PV in 2009 with a rooftop installation on one of its teaching buildings. The school increased it solar generation so that by 2016 it ranked fifth in total installed PV capacity among U.S. universities. To read more about the decision-making process, campus engagement strategies and relationship with local, state and utility partners, click here: CSU Case Study.

What We’re Reading: “NREL: Decision Support for State, Local and Tribal Governments” as published on

Renewable Energy Job Boom Creating Economic Opportunity

States formerly reliant on coal and other fossil fuels are seeing a surge in renewable energy employment as a new “Clean Jobs America” report announces that 3.26 million Americans were employed in the green energy sector in 2018, according to a recent Forbes article. There are now three people working in clean energy—with solar topping the list, at 335,000 employees nationwide—for every one person employed in fossil fuels.

The growing number of states and utilities setting high renewable targets has added to the rise, creating increased demand for workers in the solar and wind sectors. More and more, market evidence reveals that a steady drop in the cost of renewables coupled with the rising price of coal is reshaping the energy sector as companies and cities move aggressively to invest in renewables technology and infrastructure.

According to the study, clean energy employment increased by 3.6% last year as 110,000 new jobs entered the market, with 6% growth expected in 2019. Perhaps most notable was the increase in solar energy jobs in states like Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, where fossil fuel extraction has traditionally been an important employer. Promises to revitalize the coal industry have largely fallen flat, as coal jobs nationally decreased from 86,000 in 2009 to 50,000 in 2017. The trend mirrors declining coal consumption across the U.S. as more coal plants close their doors in the face of cheaper electricity from wind and solar.

According to Forbes, “even Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the country’s largest coal-producing region, is facing this new reality. The PRB has produced 400 million tons of coal annually, but could see output fall to 175 million tons within 10 years, risking 13,000 coal-dependent jobs.” Clearly, there’s a new industry lined up to replace them as the “coal-to-clean transition” gathers steam. Clean energy jobs are offering higher wages (8%-19%) than the national average for blue-collar work. In economically hard-hit places like Appalachia, this sends a strong signal that the future of energy work is in clean energy.

What We’re Reading: “Renewable Energy Job Boom Creates Economic Opportunity as Coal Industry Slumps” published in Forbes

Latest US Study Finds New Wind and Solar Cheaper than Coal

Three-quarters of America’s coal plants are now more costly to operate than the price of replacing them with new wind and solar. That’s according to a recent report on InsideClimate News based on a new analysis published by Vibrant Clean Energy and Energy Innovation. For those following economic and energy trends over the last decade, this isn’t so much news as confirmation of what was expected—with numbers making the case for renewable energy better than ever.

According to the report, by 2025 not a single coal-fired power plant operating in the southern states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina or South Carolina—nor any coal power station located along the entire stretch of the Ohio River—will be cost-competitive with new wind and solar installations being built today.

In fact, the analysis found that 86% of coal plants nationwide will become money losers within six years as market and investment trends for energy production continue to swing heavily in favor of renewables. One of the authors of the study, Mike O’Boyle, points out: “My big takeaway is the breadth and universality of this trend across the continental U.S. and the speed with which things are changing.”

While the report doesn’t explicitly call for an immediate closure of coal plants operating in the U.S., it makes the latest, strongest case why electricity generation from wind and solar is the clear economic investment of the future—particularly in southern states where clean energy jobs, in communities from Jackson to Birmingham to Charleston, can provide economic revitalization.

What We’re Reading: “New Wind and Solar Power Is Cheaper than Existing Coal in Much of the U.S., Analysis Finds” published on Inside Climate News

Washington Stalls As Utility CEOs Move Aggressively into Renewables

From Michigan to Texas to California, CEOs of major energy companies are acting faster than ever to move their businesses into renewables, saying a raft of coal plant closures and the continuing fall in costs for wind and solar are making them change course despite congressional inaction in Washington to cut emissions, according to an E&E News report.

This confirms what industry leaders have known and understood for years about the clean energy transition—which is conveyed in this report. Speaking this spring at CERAWeek by IHS Markit in Houston, the chief executives of CMS Energy Corp., Vistra Energy Corp., NRG Energy Inc., and Edison International all voiced optimism that market and technology trends will favor renewable energy investments over coal and fossil fuels, and that there’s no going back.

Patti Poppe, the CEO of Michigan-based CMS Energy Corp. said: “While they’re discussing it, thinking about it, arguing about it in Washington, D.C., I can speak for our team: In Michigan, we’re going to be doing what it takes. There’s no room, in my opinion, for coal-fueled generation in a clean and lean future.”

Poppe’s utility, like others nationwide, is taking a lead on renewables because it’s the economically smart thing to do. CMS plans to cut its emissions 90% by 2040 compared with 2005 levels; it closed down 1 Gigawatt of coal-fired generation in 2016 alone.

Similarly, Vistra Energy in Texas shuttered 4 Gigawatts of coal-powered generation last year and has confirmed it will unplug another 2 Gigawatts in Illinois. Vistra’s CEO Curt Morgan said he loves coal-fired generation but sees economic and climate headwinds, and expects a rash of U.S. coal plant closures over the next two decades. “I think gas will be the companion technology along with renewables,” Morgan said.

In the words of NRG’s CEO Mauricio Gutierrez, “Perhaps one of the catalysts is just the vacuum of, you know, things coming from Washington.” Which is a nice way of saying: Follow the money today, not the politics of yesterday.

What We’re Reading: “As DC Dawdles, CEOs Shift Power Companies to Green by Edward Klump” published in E&E News