A dramatic shift has occurred this past year in clean energy and climate protection strategy. Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan are now bringing this incredible momentum to our nation’s capital.
With support from national think tanks and labor unions, Smith and Lujan have introduced a bill for a 100% Clean Energy Standard, requiring carbon-free electricity nationwide and forging a net-zero emission U.S. power grid by midcentury.
Across America, policymakers and utility executives are declaring that a very deep reduction in carbon emissions from the electric system is achievable and economic. Because plans to eliminate CO2 from the electric grid include a broad range of technology options, they’re also entirely practical. A 100% Clean Energy Standard eclipses old debates about a 25%, 33% or even 50% Renewable Energy Standard — and it’s what the climate science says we need.
We can and must dramatically clean up our electricity supply and then electrify absolutely everything that makes sense to run on electricity.
If this policy sounds bold yet somewhat familiar, that’s because it’s taking off nationwide. California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Washington state and Washington, D.C., have all passed various versions of 100% clean and renewable energy requirements into law. Four more states are debating it now. Whether the Minnesota Legislature will adopt Gov. Tim Walz’s call for 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050 is currently in the hands of House and Senate conference committee negotiators. The House has passed the bill off its floor, but the Senate has not yet debated it.
In U.S. presidential politics, Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee both recently proposed net-zero emission energy, and other candidates nationwide likely will follow with carbon-free plans of their own.
Carbon-free energy extends beyond state and federal policy. Companies all over the world are leading the way to 100% renewable or net-zero energy, including Minnesota’s own manufacturing powerhouses 3M and Ecolab. Cities worldwide are committing to bold 100% action, including four of Minnesota’s largest cities, Rochester, Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis, and many smaller cities as well.
Utilities are leaning in too. In December of last year, Xcel Energy pledged to achieve 100% emission-free electricity in all eight states where the utility works, and now more than 20 major electric companies have made huge, public commitments to carbon-free electricity, ranging from 80% to 100%. They’re doing it because carbon reductions of 80% (and more) already make good business sense — and because their customers are demanding it.
What’s the projected impact of this massive shift over the past year? A study released this week by Clean Air Task Force added up the new state laws, pending legislation and utility commitments. Shockingly, 41% of all U.S. electricity sales are now on a path to very deep reductions in carbon emissions. This percentage doesn’t even count the commitments announced by non-utility companies or cities.
The bill introduced in Congress this week sets forth a practical and forward-thinking plan for a federal Clean Energy Standard to speed our nation’s progress toward 100% clean electricity. Under the plan, every company selling retail electricity would increase the amount of clean energy sold to its customers, with the acknowledgment that different regions of the country will start in different places and move at different paces. If the price of clean energy falls faster than conservative estimates (which it historically always has), then the timetable automatically speeds up.
By keeping the tent big for all carbon-free technologies, a national Clean Energy Standard can attract traditional opponents of climate action and gather big momentum. People will argue that this year’s Congress is too polarized to act, but when the public demand for action becomes unstoppable, some version of a 100% Clean Energy Standard will be at the center of the debate. Because that’s what’s already happening in American states, cities, companies and utilities. It’s time to catch up with them and commit as a country to 100% clean and renewable energy for a net-zero emission electric grid.
Michael Noble is the executive director of Fresh Energy, a policy organization in St. Paul.