In recent months, a number of U.S. states have been enacting new legislation to govern the use of renewable energy within their territories — for both better and for worse. Illinois, Michigan and Ohio have passed new laws that range from protecting current green energy law, to progressive new ones.
These moves by IL, MI and OH are contrary to the intended ecological policies of the new administration under President Donald Trump, policies that themselves run contrary to good ecological — and ultimately economical — sense.
"We have a very interesting message coming from the heartland," according to Henry Henderson, director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Midwest program. "These policies come from the most energy-intensive part of the country, and there has been a bipartisan embrace of clean energy as good for the public, good for the economy and good for states."
At the closing of the 2016 session, the State of Illinois passed the long-debated Future Energy Jobs bill. The bill provides funding for clean energy and energy-efficiency programs; funds for the retrofit of homes to make them more energy efficient; training for green jobs; and funds for access to solar power for communities within the state. The bill also provides provisions to help utilities reach a previous requirement to have at least 25 percent of their power generated from renewable sources by 2025. And while the bill provides funding for nuclear power, the intent here is to provide a transition period where utilities can phase out the use of this source, toward a more diverse, and evenly distributed, energy grid.
Meanwhile, Michigan has passed two bills, simply labeled Senate Bills 437 and 438, that increase the state’s energy standards, requiring energy production from wind turbines to reach 15 percent by 2021. Michigan’s goal is to boost this number to 35 percent by 2025 — ambitious, but MI lawmakers feel this is attainable, having already met their goal of 10 percent in 2015.
And in a reversal over waffling on previous green legislation, Ohio Governor John Kasich vetoed proposals to further delay the deadlines of legislation that required utilities to meet a 12.5 percent renewable energy goal by 2014. He also dismissed a bill that would have given over a quarter billion dollars in tax breaks to oil and gas companies.
Needless to say, not all states are on board when it comes to diversifying their energy sources: Wyoming has recently introduced a bill that would penalize utility companies that use wind and solar sources with a fine of $10-per-megawatt-hour. Wyoming is currently the only state that taxes wind power production — and at 8 percent of their total output, wind power is no slouch there — but Wyoming is also the country’s largest coal producer, and uses coal to generate a surplus of cheap electricity.
The government’s motivation? "Wyoming is a great wind state and we produce a lot of wind energy," explains Rep. David Miller, who co-sponsored the bill. "We also produce a lot of conventional energy, many times our needs. The electricity generated by coal is amongst the least expensive in the country. We want Wyoming residences to benefit from this inexpensive electrical generation." Miller is not optimistic about the bill’s chance of passing: given the opposition to the proposal, he only gives it a 50-50 chance of becoming law.
But why have Illinois, Michigan and Ohio bucked the trend, while Wyoming has stuck with the party line? It turns out that it’s not just to clear their consciences, but out of very practical economics: These three states have flourishing green energy industries. Renewables and energy efficiency-related companies support 113,900 jobs in IL, 87,600 in MI and 100,800 in OH. This is a growing trend, not only seen by lawmakers in the American Heartland, but by visionary captains of industry, both at home and abroad.
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