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Study Shows One in Three Americans in Communities with 100% RE Targets

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With renewable energy generation nearly doubling in the United States since 2008, a new report from UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation lists 11 states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, as well as more than 200 cities and counties, that have either committed to or already met 100% clean electricity targets.

What this means, writes Greentech Media, is that “one of every three Americans, or roughly 111 million U.S. residents representing 34% of the population, live in a community that has committed to or has already achieved” a 100% target.

“We’re going to look back on this moment as the moment when local action and state commitments began to push the entire nation toward this goal,” said Luskin Center Director J.R. DeShazo.

The report shows, however, that “100% targets come in different forms,” Greentech writes, with different early adopters being more or less strict about which energy resources are eligible, the path and timeline to achieve the target, and whether an escape clause is factored into the mix.

While Hawaii bases its 100% target on strictly “renewable” power sources like solar, wind, and geothermal, for example, most other jurisdictions committed to 100% electricity from “clean energy”, an umbrella term which allows for the inclusion of large hydro and nuclear.

“The binding nature of these targets is also noteworthy,” Greentech adds, with Nevada the only one among all the jurisdictions that calls its target a “goal” rather than a “mandate”. Seven states along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have legislated stakeholder participation in their 100% clean energy transition programs. As well, all the state programs and some of the city and county policies include interim targets to keep deployment on track.

Timelines to achieve the 100% target also vary, although most jurisdictions “have set deadline years between 2040 and 2050,” Greentech says. The most ambitious to date is Washington, D.C., which has committed to achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2032.

Anxious to encourage buy-in from wary stakeholders, jurisdictions like Salt Lake City have included escape clauses, or “exit strategies,” in their 100% target commitments. “We don’t think [the exit strategies] get used, but they’re there,” Mayor Jackie Biskupski told a recent UCLA summit on local and state progress toward 100% clean energy targets.

In the other direction, 44 other cities as well as California are doubling down on their ambitions, setting targets to “also transition their entire transportation, heating, and cooling sectors to 100% clean energy sources,” Greentech writes. For many of them, economics is the propulsive agent, “now that the cost calculation is increasingly in favour of renewables over fossil fuels.” Other strong social drivers include job creation, cleaner air, and relying on local energy resources to boost grid resilience.

And the climate crisis is the other huge motivator. “The now-constant threat of wildfires, droughts, severe storms, and habitat loss driven by climate change signals a crisis we can no longer ignore,” Carla Peterman, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at Southern California Edison, told Greentech. “We cannot wait and we should not wait when there are viable solutions to pursue now.”

Meanwhile, jurisdictions like California are seeing up-and-coming community choice aggregators (CCAs) which allow cities and counties to “take control of their energy procurement decisions to suit their preferences”. Under CCA protocols, explains Greentech, “investor-owned utilities no longer purchase energy for these jurisdictions, but they continue to operate the transmission and distribution grid for all electricity users”.

A second recent paper by the Luskin Center, looking at the more than 160 jurisdictions now involved in the 19 CCAs currently in operation in California, found that “64 have a 100% renewable or clean energy policy as their default energy program,” Greentech states. With CCAs only allowed in only eight states, UCLA’s Kelly Trumbull, co-author of the second report, recommended that state and federal policies “be reformed to better enable communities to meet local demand for renewable energy”.