Clean Energy is Happening, With or Without the Trump Administration

Folks waiting for leadership at the federal level to drive our ongoing clean energy transition better get comfortable. It might be a while. Fortunately, one only has to turn one’s eyes outward from D.C., in just about any direction, to find utilities, corporations, cities, and states taking the reins of our transition to clean energy.
Whether it’s a sense of moral obligation to tackle the threat of climate change, the benefits of being perceived as “green”, or just economic good sense, there’s a strong argument to be made that clean energy is the right way to go. Wind and solar, increasingly being paired with battery storage, continue to impress with low costs and reliable performance. Energy efficiency continues to be our cheapest and most readily available resource out there.
And as utilities and large corporate purchasers of energy navigate our ongoing and historic transition away from coal, these clean energy resources are proving to be a cost-effective, low risk, and clean option for meeting energy needs.
Utility commitments show a desire to diversify away from fossil fuels
There’s a powerful recent wave of utility announcements to cut carbon emissions and invest in clean energy (see here or here, for example). Just in the Midwest for example, we’ve seen significant commitments from utility powerhouses such as Xcel, Ameren, Consumers Energy, and MidAmerican, just to name a few.
The great news is that the new wave isn’t limited to one region of the country. It’s not about red states or blue states. It isn’t driven by political ideology or, in most cases, regulatory or policy requirements. It’s driven by economics and a growing awareness, by utilities and their customers, of the urgent need to reduce carbon emission and avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.
Of course, these commitments aren’t necessarily binding, and there’s legitimate concerns that utilities are promising clean energy later to bolster arguments for natural gas investments now (as we’ve noted in DTE Energy’s pursuit of a large natural gas plant in Michigan). But the overall trend is unmistakable and promising for our ongoing clean energy transition. More work lies ahead to hold utilities accountable to these commitments and ensure clean energy investments are prioritized in the near term.
Corporate purchasers choosing renewables to power our economic growth
Another area where key players in our energy future are taking clean energy matters into their own hands is in the world of corporate purchasers. These large energy users are increasingly looking beyond their local utility to procure low-cost renewable energy to meet sustainability goals and ensure long-term price stability.
Unlike fuel-fired energy sources, renewable energy prices can be locked in for 20 years or more because the cost of that energy is not dependent on sometimes volatile prices for fuels like natural gas and coal.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s 2018 Sustainable Energy Report, corporate purchases of renewable energy took off in 2014 and have been a significant player in the renewable energy development growth ever since. Forty US-based companies have signed on to the RE100 Initiative and pledged to source 100 percent of their energy consumption from renewable energy.