A solar-panel roof at the University of Illinois (Flickr)

Trump Can’t Stop This: Climate Action in the Midwest

Despite President Trump’s push to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and other climate action, the Midwest is charging ahead to become a leader in clean energy.

This post was written by my colleague, Elisheva Mittelman.

Welcome to the second blog in our monthly series highlighting the clean energy achievements and climate action continuing across the United States―despite the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back federal climate policies. Each blog will focus on a different region of the country. Up this month: the Midwest. (Last month’s post on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic can be found here.)

While President Trump and the Republican-led Congress have been working to undermine environmental protections throughout the country, the Midwest has taken big steps to advance groundbreaking clean energy policies and investments. From the Future Energy Jobs Act in Illinois to the record-shattering wind generation levels in Iowa, it’s clear that the heartland states―and their Republican governors―realize what the Trump administration does not: Good clean energy policies just make sense, promoting strong economic development and a healthy environment.

Champions of Clean Energy Policy

In the weeks following the 2016 election, something remarkable happened in the Midwest: Several sweeping clean energy victories took place in Republican-led states―with bipartisan support.

The comprehensive Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA) in Illinois has been lauded as a landmark accomplishment due to its scale and the diverse group of stakeholders that helped it come together. FEJA aims to recharge renewable energy development and improve energy efficiency in Illinois, and the resulting decrease in energy consumption will translate to lower electricity prices and utility bills. For example, electric utility Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) will be required to reduce energy use by 21.5 percent by 2030―one of the most ambitious targets in the country―and its customers will save $3 for every $1 it spends on energy efficiency measures.

Michigan became another Midwest success story when it passed a bipartisan clean energy bill of its own at the end of 2016. The bill, which was officially enacted on April 20, extends the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) to 15 percent renewable energy by 2021 and allows for the continuation of energy efficiency resource standards for utilities. Several of its provisions also ensure that utilities can invest in the lowest-cost and cleanest energy resources possible as they transition to a modern energy economy.

Data source: Energy Information Administration. Map created by Emily Barkdoll, Energy and Transportation Program. Renewables generation includes wind, utility-scale solar, and geothermal.

Governor John Kasich of Ohio continued the Midwest streak by standing up for his state and for clean energy when lawmakers advanced a bill that would have weakened renewable energy and energy efficiency standards in Ohio. Kasich recognized that it would have devastating consequences if it was enacted, so he vetoed the bill. Kasich cited the economic reasons for his decision, stating at the time that the legislation would have amounted to “self-inflicted damage” to Ohio’s economic competitiveness by taking away energy generation options that are “prized by the companies poised to create many jobs.”

Advocates for Aggressive Climate Targets

Wind turbine parts in St. Paul, Minnesota (Michael Hicks/Flickr)

As climate action at the state and city level becomes increasingly necessary, leaders throughout the Midwest are stepping up to the plate and setting ambitious climate goals. For example, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago recently announced that the city will power all government-owned buildings with 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, making it the largest city in the country to do so.

The city of Madison, Wisconsin, also made a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy with net zero carbon emissions. The city’s Common Council is currently in the process of allocating funds and developing a time line for reaching this ambitious goal.

At the state level, Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, recently spoke out about the state’s bipartisan push to increase its RPS from 25 percent by 2025 to 50 percent by 2030. The state’s Public Utilities Commission also approved Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy’s plan to move away from coal toward cleaner energy sources by delivering 63 percent carbon-free energy and doubling its renewable energy portfolio by 2030. These efforts will allow Minnesota to continue reducing carbon pollution while creating thousands of jobs and minimizing customers’ monthly electric bills.

Leaders in Wind and Solar Development

Smoky Hills Wind Farm, Ellsworth, Kansas (Brent Flanders/Flickr)

Midwestern states have some of the cheapest wind prices in the country, allowing the region to become a leader in wind energy investment. More than 29,250 MW of wind capacity is installed across 12 states, and four states place in the top 10 for installed capacity nationwide: Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Minnesota. And with that investment comes thousands of jobs: Nearly 569,000 workers in the Midwest are employed in clean energy sectors, primarily in energy efficiency and renewables.

Many major utilities are taking advantage of the low wind prices: MidAmerican Energy announced that, largely due to the low cost of wind investment, the utility is aiming to reach 100 percent renewable energy while keeping its customers’ rates frozen until at least 2029. After announcing plans for a multistate wind investment, the CEO of Xcel Energy declared: “We’re investing big in wind because of the tremendous economic value it brings to our customers. With wind energy at historic low prices, we can secure savings that will benefit customers now and for decades to come.”

Data source: Energy Information Administration. Map created by Emily Barkdoll, Energy and Transportation Program.

Utility photovoltaic power also expanded considerably throughout in the Midwest in 2016, largely as a result of investments by utilities such as Xcel Energy. However, most solar growth in the region can be attributed to smaller, community solar programs. For example, officials in St. Paul, Minnesota, adopted an agreement last month to power a quarter of the city’s municipal buildings with electricity from community solar gardens. Such projects allow communities and individuals to support clean energy at the local level while creating thousands of jobs and opportunities for economic growth.

Climate Action Continues

The midwestern states continue to be champions of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Republicans and Democrats have been able to work together to demonstrate their commitment to a clean energy future and their willingness to prioritize public interest over politics as they transition to a more affordable, reliable, low-carbon energy system. While we will need federal leadership to achieve our long-term climate goals, the Midwest should serve as an example of just how much progress can be made by states, cities, and the business community.