Alert to the steadily improving economics of wind and solar—and growing ever more wary of natural gas investments becoming stranded on the fossil slag heap—U.S. state regulators are increasingly pushing utilities towards renewables, with Republican states leading the transition.
Reporting on a just-published analysis by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Washington Examiner describes compelling indicators that the nation’s clean energy future is being built from the ground up.
“If you look at wind development, it is the middle of the country, the mid-western, solidly red states, that have made most of the investment in wind energy, and to me that is completely a non-political issue,” said report author and WRI senior associate WRI Devashree Saha.
It all comes down to dollars and cents for state energy commissions responsible for approving the construction of new power plants, the Examiner states. “With the American power landscape so strongly determined by economic factors, natural gas plants do still dominate, and “that will likely continue because of the low cost of shale gas compared to many other resources,” Saha explained. Adding to the present strength of natural gas is the fact that it is “lower in carbon emissions and other pollutants than coal power plants, which makes it even more important for states looking to cut their emissions through 2050.”
But the WRI analysis shows the economic sun clearly beginning to set on natural gas, with state commissions in coal-heavy states like Indiana “beginning to second guess the natural gas boom,” the Examiner writes.
Case in point was the April decision by Indiana regulators to reject a US$780-million natural gas power plant proposal on the grounds that the ever-improving price points of renewable energy could leave it a stranded asset.
“Natural gas faces intensifying pressure from wind and solar power combined with storage technologies,” Saha explained. In her report, she said both solar and wind “will outpace natural gas development over the next two years, with solar and wind growing at 17 and 14%, respectively.”
And Indiana is hardly the only state anticipating a decline for natural gas, the Examiner adds, citing Arizona’s February moratorium on new natural gas plants while it takes time to consider “the cost reductions coming from solar and wind energy.” Also significant are moves by state energy regulators in California, Colorado, Virginia, and elsewhere “to promote energy storage devices like big batteries combined with solar and other low-cost renewable energy.”There are signs that even the White House is starting to see which way the (proverbial) wind is blowing, with Donald Trump recently declaring: “I’m a believer in solar energy. It hasn’t fully developed. It’s got a long way to go, but it’s really got a tremendous future.”