17 U.S. governors sign clean energy accord

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On Tuesday, seventeen governors of U.S. states produced a joint pledge to work together to move their states to a clean energy future, including renewable energy, grid modernization and clean transportation.

“Our states will plan for this energy transition” reads the accord, echoing the language of Germany’s Energiewende and France’s call for a “Transition Énergétique".

The Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future specifically calls for expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy “in a cost-effective way”, as well as “integrating more renewable energy into electricity grids". In sharp contrast to widely propagated myths about the integration of renewable energy, the accord notes that more renewables can “improve the flexibility of these grids”.

A second section deals specifically with grid improvements, stating that modern transmission and distribution grids are necessary to “give consumers more control over their own energy use”.

In terms of implementation, the accord calls for states to “support each other in developing, refining and implementing” state energy plans through sharing technical expertise, but all benchmarks will be set by the individual states.

Signatories include the governors of Hawaii, every state on the West Coast and all but one state in New England, but also three Midwest states and another three on the Atlantic Coast. No governors from Plains States and only one governor from a state on the edge of the U.S. South (Virginia) signed the accord. It is notable that voters in these regions lean towards President Obama’s Democratic Party.

The accord can be seen in contrast to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling to halt the development of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, at the behest of 29 state governments led by West Virginia and Texas.

The 27 other states participating in this legal effort include the entire U.S. South, all the Plains States, the majority of the Mountain West and New Jersey. These regions are dominated by the opposition Republican Party. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) is the only state executive to participate in both the lawsuit and sign the clean energy accord.

And while the signatories to the New Energy Future accord stress its bipartisan nature, several Republican signatories have at best a contradictory track record on renewable energy and clean transportation.

?Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) has appointed members to the state’s Public Utilities Commission who enacted the most severe dismantling of a net metering policy by any U.S. state to date. This highly controversial decision includes retroactive changes to the policy which will affect homeowners who installed solar under the previous rules.

And while Sandoval has tried to distance himself from this issue, he is currently the object of a lawsuit by Sunrun to make public his communication with Nevada utility NV Energy.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) likewise has promoted legislation which solar advocates said would kill the state’s solar industry, which is one factor in the state’s failure to lift restrictive caps on net metering. Legislation proposed by Baker has instead prioritized imports of hydro from outside New England over wind and solar.

Baker also does not have good credibility in terms of “clean transportation”. While the accord mentions only electric and alternative fuel vehicles, Baker has a spotty record on another form of low-emissions transportation: public transit.

In line with campaign pledges to not raise taxes, Baker has opposed revenue increases for the heavily indebted Massachusetts Bay Transportation Agency, and has instead imposed a fiscal control board which is contemplating service cuts and fare increases which will do little to meet the agency’s enormous budget shortfall.

One state which may be following with real action is Oregon. On Monday the lower house of Oregon’s legislature passed a bill which would eliminate coal-fired generation at two major utilities by 2030 and set a mandate that utilities procure 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2040.

The bill now goes to the Oregon Senate. If approved and signed by Governor Kate Brown, this would give Oregon one of the most ambitious requirements for renewable energy in the United States, behind only Hawaii (100% by 2045), California (50% by 2030) and New York (50% by 2030).

Oregon’s legislature is dominated by the Democratic Party, and Governor Kate Brown is also a Democrat.