Renewable energy gaining ground in states

That's the message of a recent thoughtful analysis by reporter Rob Gurwitt in “Stateline,” a publication of the Pew Center on the States. Writes Mr. Gurwitt:

“It’s hard to escape the sense that politically, renewable energy and energy efficiency are approaching a tipping point in many states. 'We do not pretend to have the same sway in the governor’s mansion or the general assembly as the investor-owned utilities,' says Ohio Advanced Energy’s Chris Montgomery, speaking of his own state but in terms that could apply to most others. 'But we do have much more momentum and much more legitimacy than the industry did just a handful of years ago — there’s a track record of real jobs being created and a manufacturing industry that’s growing, and there’s no doubt that people are paying more attention.'”

We can think of more states than the several mentioned by Mr. Gurwitt. One that immediately comes to mind is the large and windy state of Nebraska, where the Unicameral (the state's unique single-house legislature) unanimously passed a major bill in April, 2010, that paved the way for development of wind farms that could export electricity to neighboring states. Since passage of the legislation, several new wind projects have gone forward in the Cornhusker State.

Why are the renewable energy industries getting more attention at the state level than in the U.S. Congress? One reason, of course, is that they are proportionately more important in states where they are prominent. Nationwide, even though wind today is more than 10 times the size it was a decade ago, it still generates just over 2% of U.S. electricity–but the story is different in Iowa, where wind generated an estimated 14% of all electricity used in 2009.

My personal theory, though, is that states are used to competing with each other, all the time, every day, for jobs and economic development, and zero in like a laser on an industry like wind that not only provides new manufacturing jobs, but can bring new life to rural farming communities in the form of hard cash for land rental payments and property taxes. I think competition is the engine that is driving state-level support for renewable energy.

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