100% zero-carbon energy policies advance in three states


Perhaps buoyed by the national conversation around the Green New Deal, the move to mandate the decarbonization of electricity is gaining speed. A month ago we reported on bills in six states to move towards very high levels of zero-carbon and/or renewable energy in their electricity systems.

It turns out that we may have missed some, including Senate Bill 5116 in Washington, which was filed on January 10 and would put the state on a path to removing all greenhouse gas emissions from its electricity sales by 2030. SB 5116 passed the Washington Senate 28-19 on March 1, and will now go to the House for approval.

SB 5116 likely originated at the desk of Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D), who introduced an identical plan to decarbonize by 2030 last December. And to be clear, it is easier for Washington to decarbonize than other states, as the state already gets 2/3 of its electricity from hydro. The bill also has the short-term goal of eliminating all electricity sales from coal by 2025 – including imports from out of state.

This is the latest blow to the West’s coal fleet, which is beginning to resemble an endangered species. But like the other bills that have moved forward, SB 5116 would include nuclear power under its “zero-carbon” umbrella.

That does not mean that much new nuclear is likely to be built, at least in the near-term, as conventional nuclear technology is 3-4x as expensive as large-scale wind and solar per unit of electricity delivered. However it could allow support for existing nuclear power plants, like Washingtons’ Columbia Generating Station.


New Mexico 100% zero-carbon bill moves to Senate

If you’re having a hard time coming up with a plan to decarbonize, just copy what California has done. Seriously – with how well the Golden State has led, it’s probably your best plan. And that appears to be mostly what Senate Bill 489 in New Mexico has done, as it sets an identical 100% “zero-carbon” by 2045 standard, along with an 80% by 2040 renewable energy mandate, which is more robust than California’s 60% by 2030.

SB 489 passed out of the New Mexico Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee (SCORC) yesterday on a 5-2 vote. And if this vote is any indication, New Mexico’s newly minted Democratic Party majorities in both houses of its legislature may be key, as two of the three Republicans on SCORC voted against the bill, and all Democrats in favor.

SB 489 now heads to the full Senate for approval.


Minnesota: 100% zero-carbon by 2050 (again)

No to be left out, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D) has announced his administration’s plan to move the state to 100% “carbon-free” electricity by 2050. In most other states this would be significant progress, but Walz is actually a little late to the party.

Minnesota’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, has already committed to moving to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Furthermore, there is already a bill (House File 700) in the state legislature to move the state to 100% carbon-free electricity by either 2050, or 2045 for those utilities that own nuclear power plants (Xcel).

So what makes Governor Walz’ plan any different than these two? While details are sparse, it would apply to all utilities. Second, it would allow “each utility the flexibility to choose how and at what pace they meet the standard”, unlike HF 700 which provided a definite schedule, including requiring 55% renewable energy by 2030 and 80% by 2035.

So while this proposal could allow utilities to stall their way out of the transition, it might put some momentum behind the policy, as HF 700 has been sitting idly in the House’s Energy and Climate Finance Policy Division despite a hearing on February 5.

Bills in the other four states we previously covered (Massachusetts, Illinois, Virginia and New York) have not advanced; however in Illinois an even more aggressive policy has been proposed, with a bill to move the state to 100% renewable energy by 2050 (no nuclear included) introduced.

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