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Renewable Energy Is Growing Faster Than Many Experts Expected

It's leading an increasing number of state and local governments to commit to 100 percent clean energy goals.

Wind turbines near Beaumont, Kansas.
(AP/Charlie Riedel)
Three years after Hawaii became the first state to establish a goal of 100 percent renewable electricity sources by 2045, California has followed suit. In September, the state announced that it too was seeking to rely on zero-emission energy sources by the same year.  

Both California and Hawaii already get a hefty portion of their electricity from renewable sources. Roughly 33 percent of Hawaii’s electricity comes from rooftop solar and another 20-25 percent from wind, hydroelectric and other renewable sources. California, meanwhile, estimates that 32 percent of its retail energy sales were powered by renewables last year.

According to a report this spring by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the U.S. is moving toward renewable energy faster than many experts anticipated. In January, for instance, the Energy Information Administration announced that almost half of the utility-scale power generation capacity installed last year involved renewable energy. It also predicted that wind power will surpass hydroelectric power this year as the nation’s largest source of renewable energy. Already, renewable sources are responsible for providing more than 17 percent of U.S. electricity -- that’s almost the amount of power produced by the country’s nuclear power plants.

This fast pace, in part, is emboldening more and more governments to commit to 100 percent clean energy. Across the U.S., two states and 93 localities -- 84 cities and nine counties -- have adopted ambitious 100 percent clean energy goals. An additional six cities -- Aspen, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; Georgetown, Texas; Greensburg, Kan.; Rock Port, Mo.; and Kodiak Island, Alaska -- now generate 100 percent of their energy from clean and renewable sources. 

The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Campaign tracks the number of entities committing to 100 percent clean energy. They count a place if its “leadership has established a goal to transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy […] through a standalone resolution or proclamation, or integrated into a community’s climate action plan.”  

In all, a total of approximately 48.7 million Americans are covered by these commitments, accounting for roughly 15 percent of the population in 2017. California alone accounts for about 39.5 million people. 


SOURCES: Sierra Club (map) and 2017 Census population estimates (pie chart)

Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.
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