Clean Energy: The State of the States

One of the problems we have in making a quick transition to clean energy in the US is the fact that energy production and distribution is typically regulated by states, and some states are not as smart as other states. Or, if they are smart, they are controlled by political forces intent on maintaining fossil carbon based fuels as our primary energy source, which of course, is a totally bone-headed policy.

When it comes to the transition to clean energy, we can do this the easy way, or we can do this the hard way. The easy way is to encourage the picking of low hanging fruit, such as solar panels on flat spots, at the same time we work towards tackling some of the more expensive projects that require more up front investment but that will eventually pay off. The hard way, of course, is the total collapse of civilization. Most imaginable post apocalyptic worlds don't use to much fossil fuel!

And, whether the hard way or the easy way is the most likely path at any moment in time is often a matter of what is happening on the state level. Here are a few examples of what is going on right now around the US.

In Maryland, a state commission is calling for the state to pledge slashing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. That sounds like a large amount, but it is actually a modest and easily attainable goal. They should probably be going for more.

The goal — which if passed into law would be one of the most ambitious set so far by a state — drew unanimous support of the 26-member panel, which includes lawmakers, environmentalists, representatives of business and labor, and top officials in the Hogan administration.

The recommendation is likely to lead to legislation in the General Assembly, which must decide next year whether to stick with the goal it set in 2009 of reducing climate-warming emissions 25 percent by 2020.

Meanwhile, Texas and California are leading the nation in carbon emissions. The overall pattern of carbon emissions by state (using two year old data because for some reason those who keep track of these things haven't discovered twitter and spreadsheets) is largely a matter of population size and similar factors.

But while we might expect California to be high on the list, Texas is way way higher, to the point one wonders what they are up to down in the Lone Star State.

Data released this week by the administration shows each state’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2013. Texas doesn’t just top the list, its emissions — 641 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — are almost double those of California, the nation’s second largest carbon emitter, which spewed 353 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

On a per-capita basis, Wyoming leads all the other states in greenhouse gas pollution.

In New Mexico, Santa Fe has an interesting program in mind. There, The Heath Foundation, a private 501c(3) representing the community interests of Jim Heath, has a plan. Here's part of it:

  • HeathSUN will provide a complete rooftop photovoltaic solar system for homeowners in Santa Fe County at no charge to the customer. HeathSUN owns and maintains each rooftop solar system, and the ancillary metering and control equipment, and there’s no lien on the house.
  • Under HeathSUN’s set-up, customers will continue to have access to electricity from PNM when needed. For solar energy from the rooftop system, the customer pays HeathSUN 80 percent of the going PNM rate, so the solar power’s cost would rise and fall with how much PNM is charging. The customer gets separate bills from HeathSUN and PNM.
  • In a new twist, HeathSUN says there will be no “net metering” in this model, meaning no HeathSUN solar power would flow through a PNM meter, the standard way to provide a seamless household electrical system. When someone turns on an appliance in a HeathSUN house, technology in the home’s own electrical control box decides whether to pull from the rooftop solar system or from PNM...
  • In Hawaii, there is a plan to charge up some big batteries with a big solar array, for use to meet evening/nighttime demands.

    The nation's leading residential installer is building the project near Lihu’e on Kaua’i’s southeast corner. The project includes a 13 MW photovoltaic solar array, but is unique in that it includes its own solution to the intermittency problem that solar power faces.

    The power generated by the PV cells will be used solely to charge a 13 MW battery array capable of providing 52 MWh to customers of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC), the island’s sole electricity provider. That means the solar cells will charge the batteries during the height of the day, and the batteries will discharge the stored power to customers during the evening peak between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

    "Anyone that's been out to Kauai will notice that they have a lot of solar on the island and really don't have any appetite at all for solar at midday," Rudd said. "If anything, they were already in a bit of a curtailment state during certain days. So, they love solar, they want more because it's cheaper than what they otherwise would realize, but they don't need it during the day."

    New York State is working out the details of how to deploy meters to allow the grid to become smart.

    There is a big waste-to-energy project in the works in Oregon.

    And that is a sampling of the news that came across my desk just today.

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    I thought Texas was doing better recently having heard about a lot of wind generation there but says

    "Renewable sources provide 2.55% of Texas's energy production, totaling 303,697 billion BTUs. This is 4.03% of total U.S. renewable energy production."


    By Doug Alder (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

    #2 thanks. So according to figures in that pdf they are averaging 1.68 MW per tower - by today's standards that on the low side. I've never been to TX so is the wind there, while plentiful enough for generation, not fast enough to get into the 2.5-5MW range that other places are, or is it a case of the hardware they are using?

    By Doug Alder (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

    " 'You are going to find people in this town who say they are for ‘all of the above’ energy, but they’re really for none of the above and all of the below,' he said, underscoring his support for aboveground wind and solar resources."…

    The "he" is Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. The article shows that an increasing number of Republicans accept the reality of climate change, and that some of them are pushing for positive changes in American energy policy. It seems that the party's presidential candidates are in line with the fossil fuel companies, but not with a large number of their voters.

    By cosmicomics (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink


    If you look at the upper left hand map, you'll notice that there's a corridor from North Dakota to Texas with excellent wind resources. Even though these states are governed by Republicans, they're among the country's leaders in wind energy, and have wind lobbies that can block initiatives designed to make electricity from wind more expensive.

    I don't know how the size of Texas turbines compares to that of other states, but you could easily look into it by clicking on as many states as you want and doing your calculations. You might also find something by googling: U.S. wind turbines average size/capacity 2015.

    By cosmicomics (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink

    One more thing. The higher you go, the better the resource. The important wind speeds are the cut in and optimal speeds. Large, modern turbines would have no problem with the Texas wind, so the current average size would be due to other (historical, political, economic) factors.

    By cosmicomics (not verified) on 30 Oct 2015 #permalink