The Green Elite: The Top 10 States for Renewable Power

Nationwide, renewable electricity makes up a tiny share of the economy. But one state generates a whopping 84 percent of its power from green sources.

615_California_Solar_Reuters.jpg

Solar panels in California. Reuters

When you step back and look at the country as a whole, the United States only generates just small fraction of its electricity from renewable energy sources -- about 10.4 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That's the entire contribution of hydro power, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and the other assorted green forms of energy that many hope our economy will transition to in the 21st century.

That fraction is growing, but slowly. The EIA expects non-hydro renewables to meet 9 percent of our electricity needs in 2035, up from 4 percent in 2010.

Sixteen states beat the national average of renewable electricity, and in the slideshow below, I've ranked the top ten, using the EIA's recently released data for 2010. The number one producer (Hint: it begins with an "I" and rhymes with "Idaho") generates a whopping 84 percent of its power needs from green energy sources. 


There are a few clear regional patterns. The top states for renewables are in upper New England,  the Mountain States, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast. The bottom tend to be in the rust belt, the Southeast, and Mid Atlantic -- coal country, in other words. There are exceptions; Tennessee, for instance,  gets more than 11.1 percent of its electricity from renewables. But those are the broad outlines. The bottom ten generators: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and (last and least) Ohio. All ten generated less than 3 perent of their power from renewable sources.  

The number one renewable source for all of these states was hydro power, which provided 6 percent of the country's electricity in 2010.* But a few states have made significant strides with wind power, which provided 3.8 percent. Iowa was the grand champion, with a full 15.9 percent of its electricity coming from spinning turbines, followed by South Dakota at 13.6 percent and North Dakota at 11.8 percent. Texas, with its massive energy needs, managed to derive 6 percent of its power from wind.

Which brings us to an important caveat: there are a few states that manage to generate a large amount of renewable power, even though it's only a small percentage of what they use. Measured in sheer gigawatts, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Iowa would all be in the top ten. 

So where does this all leave us? Renewables play just a small role in the national energy picture. But some states are a whole heck of a lot further along than others. 

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*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that hydro power provided 6 percent of the nations renewable electricity. Thank you to reader Buckland for catching the mistake. 

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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