In the policy arena, the distance is widening between blue and red states over whether to promote, or resist, the shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources like solar and wind. But the economics of generating electricity from alternative sources are growing more attractive for states across the political divide. The pivotal, and unresolved, question is whether the political divergence or economic convergence will more heavily shape the next stages of the fractious debate over climate change and the nation’s energy mix.
Starting with Iowa in 1983, 29 states have required utilities to generate a fixed share of their power from renewable sources. Initially, these renewable portfolio standards found favor in states throughout the political spectrum.
But as on almost every other major domestic issue, red and blue states are now separating. In recent years, West Virginia, Kansas, and Ohio each repealed or suspended renewable-power requirements. Four other states with Republican-controlled legislatures (and in three cases, with Republican governors) chose not to extend earlier renewable requirements when utilities met the initial state goals in 2015.
Even more emphatically, 26 states, almost all of them Republican-led, sued to block federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring states to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases tied to global warming. Those EPA rules, under President Obama’s “Clean Power Plan,” would have encouraged utilities to shift more of their power generation from coal toward lower-carbon alternatives, including both natural gas and renewables. In February, the Supreme Court blocked the EPA from developing the plan while the courts consider the states’ lawsuit.