Some are calling recent clean-energy actions by New York, Massachusetts and Iowa “game-changers.” That might very well prove true in the medium-term. But we can say with confidence that they are immediate game-advancers. Why? Energy markets are affected by policy, but they are driven by price. The underlying business reality is that the real cost of wind power has dropped below that of new fossil-fuel generation. And it’s making wind and renewables a no-brainer choice for major corporations, utilities and power producers of almost every stripe. Today, states are at the epicenter of America’s renewable energy revolution. And, because we have 50 state energy markets, big positive advances in state policy can accelerate the pace of this historic shift.
The Iowa Utilities Board approved MidAmerican Energy’s $3.6 billion plan to build up to 2,000 megawatts of wind power -- a major step toward realizing the company’s goal of supplying Iowa customers with 100 percent renewable energy at no additional cost. The "Wind XI" project is the largest wind energy project approved in the U.S. to date, and may be just the first in a series of mega wind projects to advance in the coming months. With last week’s approval notice, MidAmerican said it is now finalizing plans to begin construction of the 1,000 wind turbines. Wind XI will consist of multiple project sites across Iowa that will be placed into service over a three-year period, from 2017 through 2019. Upon completion of the project, renewable energy will support 85 percent of MidAmerican’s annual customer sales in Iowa.
A fight over the route of a new pipeline is gaining momentum while it plays out in court. Hundreds of Native Americans from tribes across the United States are protesting in North Dakota. They're setting up camp at the site where the pipeline is slated to cross under the Missouri River. Reporter Amy Sisk of the public radio collaboration Inside Energy says the group is finding an eager ally in environmental groups.
The Iowa Utilities Board has unanimously denied a request from landowners for a permanent stay to stop Dakota Access from building the Bakken oil pipeline until a court decides if the company can use eminent domain to get access to their land. The three-member board heard roughly 45 minutes of testimony from each side and asked several questions before going into a close meeting to deliberate.
California lawmakers voted to extend the state’s landmark climate change law — the most aggressive in the nation — by another 10 years, resisting fierce opposition from oil companies and other business interests to keep the program alive at least through 2030. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, a strong advocate of the state’s climate initiatives, has said he’ll sign the bill when it comes to his desk. The move keeps alive the legal framework that underpins California’s wide-ranging efforts to fight climate change, from a tax on pollution to zero-emission vehicle mandates and restrictions on the carbon content of gasoline and diesel fuel.
Picture a steady breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree. Now imagine these leaves could do more than simply churn in the current of air—what if they could capture the wind and transform it into renewable energy? Last December, two “wind trees”—or arbres à vent—quietly churned in a plaza in Paris, as world leaders met for the historic climate talks at the Le Bourget conference center nearby. Developed by a French company called New Wind, the “trees” had plastic “leaves” painted green, with curves that held dozens of tiny blades soundlessly harnessing the wind no matter which way it blew. Unlike larger industrial turbines, which need winds of over 22 miles per hour to function, the leaves captured energy from wind speeds of less than five mph.
It was supposed to be the largest wind farm in North America, with 1,000 turbines spinning above 320,000 acres of southern Wyoming. But after investing more than $50 million and nearly a decade seeking approval to build a wind farm on public lands, the Power Company of Wyoming’s landmark project is still tied up in required scrutiny of its environmental impact. "We understood that this is a complex process," said the company’s vice president Rocanne Perruso. "We did understand that it was going to be several years. We did not anticipate nine." The Wyoming project is hardly an outlier. Although the Obama administration has given initial approvals to 46 wind and solar projects on 216,356 acres of public lands since 2009, just 15 are in operation. Others have been abandoned, are still being built or are undergoing years of required environmental analysis.
The kinds of energy policies we'll all have to adopt in the coming decades are already on display in New England. The region barely uses any coal, and the six states there are embracing renewables like it's 2050. In 2014 Rhode Island and Vermont were the only two states in the US that didn't use any coal at all. That makes Rhode Island the most logical place for the nation's first offshore wind farm, called Block Island Wind Farm. The wind farm will generate 30 megawatts of energy — enough to power every home on Block Island. Steady, reliable winds off the coasts could provide substantially more energy than turbines located on land. While it's a first for the US, the wind farm is just the next step in Rhode Island's impressive clean energy policies. All of New England combined uses less coal than each of the 35 most coal-heavy states did on their own.
At COP21 last year, the EU committed to cutting its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. As part of its climate and energy plans, the EU also has set an objective to achieve at least 27 percent renewable energy use by 2030. The European Commission already has signaled that these ambitious objectives will require substantial 12 to 20 percent GHG emission reductions and 12 to 14 percent renewable sources in transport. Decarbonizing Europe’s transport sector is vital because it accounts for 25 percent of Europe’s total GHG emissions, recently becoming the largest source. With combustion engines expected to dominate still in 2030, increasing the use of ethanol blends is the most immediate and cost-effective solution to achieve these objectives. But, without a binding policy framework that promotes low carbon fuel replacements for petrol and diesel fuels used in Europe, the needed emissions reduction in transport simply will not be achieved. This is confirmed by a recent study by E4Tech that found the absence of a binding policy to decarbonize traditional transport fuels will lead to increased use of fossil fuels in transport, completely undermining Europe’s 2030 climate strategy.
The US uses an astounding amount of energy: about 97 quadrillion BTUs, or about 18% of world's total energy consumption. And demand is only going to increase over time. The majority of the energy the country generates — which powers America's homes, internet, and urban infrastructure — coems from fossil fuels, and isn't renewable or sustainable. A possible solution? Wind farms. GE and Deepwater Wind, a developer of offshore turbines, are installing five massive wind turbines in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They will make up the first offshore wind farm in North America, called the Block Island Wind Farm. Over the past several weeks, the teams have worked to install the turbines 30 miles off the coast of Rhode Island, and are expected to finish by the end of August 2016. The farm will be fully operational by November 2016.