Renewable Energy: the ‘great unifier’ of 2016

Ross Sherman
Environment America
4 min readJan 4, 2017


In 2016, renewable energy emerged as a great unifier — and not a moment too soon. We know that in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we must transition completely from dirty, polluting fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy. If this past year is any indication, we’re well on our way.

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights:

We celebrated the first offshore wind farm in U.S. history

In early December, the Block Island Wind Farm — located thirteen miles off the coast of Rhode Island — started producing pollution-free energy. Although the wind farm itself is relatively small, made up of five turbines, it represents a huge breakthrough in harnessing the immense potential of offshore wind off our coasts. With Massachusetts moving forward with offshore wind plans of their own and New York recently auctioning off its first Wind Energy Area, Block Island looks to be the first of many wind-powered dominoes to fall in the near future. Along the Atlantic coast alone, we have 1,300 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind potential. Even harnessing a tiny fraction of that — 52 GW — would power fourteen million American homes. We’ve got a long way to go, but Block Island is a good first step.

We welcomed the millionth U.S. solar installation

Way back in February, the millionth solar installation came online. And in just two years, that number is expected to double. This milestone was one of many for solar this year, as it finished 2016 as the number one source of new electricity added to the grid. With prices continuing to plummet for both utility-scale and rooftop solar, we expect more and more Americans to access the power of the sun at their homes.

Cities, towns and businesses are committing to 100 percent renewable energy

It seemed like every other day this past year, another entity committed themselves to the promise of a renewable energy future. Already, towns like Burlington, Vermont, Greensburg, Kansas and Georgetown, Texas have achieved their respective 100 percent renewable energy goals, and many more are poised to join them. Massive companies like Google have made plans to completely power their operations with renewable energy. Even ski resorts got in on the fun, with Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts the most recent example.

Hundreds took action for 100 percent renewable energy

In November, we, along with our partners at the Student PIRGs and The Climate Reality Project, organized over fifty actions as part of our “100% Committed 100% Renewable Week of Action.” From California to Texas to Missouri to Michigan to Maine, we brought hundreds of folks together to discuss the potential and promise of a future powered by renewable energy, laying the groundwork for campaigns to continue winning commitments to 100 percent renewable energy.

450 organizations, businesses and leaders called on Congress for commitment to 100 percent

In December, we delivered a letter to Congress signed by over 450 organizations, local officials, academics, civic leaders and businesses calling on senators and representatives to support a shift to 100 percent renewable energy. Specifically, we urged them to support 100 percent renewable energy resolutions introduced by Senator Markey of Massachusetts in the Senate, and Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona in the House. Our hats are off to the U.S. Senators and Representatives who have already signed onto these resolutions and we will continue urging our national elected officials to be leaders in the transition to a renewable energy future.

Moving Forward

In 2017, we’ll be running campaigns to get local and state governments, colleges and other institutions to make concrete commitments to 100 percent renewable energy. We’ll be asking cities to commit to solar power. We’ll encourage states along the east coast to lead the way on offshore wind. And we’ll continue to defend solar and renewable energy progress if and when it comes under attack.

Because if there’s anything we can unite around, it’s that we all want to leave a habitable planet behind for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. After all, we still breathe the same air, drink the same water, and eat the same foods. We love our national parks, our mountains, our rivers, and beaches. More than perhaps any issue, renewable energy is able to bridge political divides — and that’s what gives us hope. Now more than ever, we must harness the progress we’ve made in 2016 and keep the renewable energy momentum going into the new year and beyond.

We hope you’ll join us.

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Ross Sherman
Environment America

Communications associate for Environment America, U.S. PIRG, TPIN.