New UCS Analysis Ranks State Progress Transitioning to Clean Energy

Ranking Examines Clean Energy Past, Present, Future of All 50 States, Finds Success Spans Party Lines

Published Apr 20, 2017

WASHINGTON (April 20, 2017)—California is doing the best job transitioning away from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives, followed by Vermont and Massachusetts, but a number of unexpected states also are leading the way, according to the report “Clean Energy Momentum: Ranking State Progress” released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Our analysis found there’s a lot of momentum for clean energy, including in states where you might not expect it,” said John Rogers, senior energy analyst at UCS and lead author of the report. “State leadership has been a consistent and powerful force for progress. While the federal government has played an important role in encouraging renewable energy, efficiency and vehicle electrification, states that have shown real leadership are reaping economic and environmental benefits like new jobs, cleaner air and reduced public health risks.”

According to the analysis, which uniquely examines each state’s clean energy past, present and future, the states leading the transition to a clean energy future, in descending order, are: California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, Washington, New York, and Iowa. Click here to see how others fared.

The analysis uses 12 metrics to rank states, crediting them with up to 10 points for each metric. The metrics examine technical progress by assessing key trends in state deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and electrification of vehicles. They also gauge progress in areas more directly visible in people’s daily lives—job creation and pollution reduction—and state policies aimed at carrying clean energy momentum into the future.

Progress was so widespread that 35 states demonstrated enough clean-energy momentum to score in the top 10 in at least one metric, while 21 states scored in the top 10 in at least three categories. Momentum was also not exclusive to “blue states.”

“The analysis showed the momentum toward clean energy spans party lines,” said Paula Garcia, UCS energy analyst and report co-author. “Four of the top 10 states are headed by Republican governors and six are led by Democrats. States of all political affiliations are making progress on various fronts.”

South Dakota, for example, topped the list for renewable energy as a portion of in-state generation, with 75 percent of its energy coming not just from hydropower but also wind. For the metric examining increases in renewable energy generation, Kansas took first place after tripling its production of wind power over four years. Similarly, Texas has made significant advances in wind power, with almost three times as much wind capacity as the next leading state, and more than 24,000 wind sector jobs. Texas scored in the top five for the ease with which in-state businesses can get renewable energy.

“The analysis clearly shows a lot of states are stepping up to the plate in different ways,” said Rogers. “In the end, though, it was the states showing multi-faceted leadership across metrics that best embody clean energy momentum. California, which ranked first overall, is one of the top five states in seven of the 12 metrics—including on electric vehicles, renewable energy, efficiency, jobs and state policies. Meanwhile, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island can only be described as going full steam ahead on clean power.”

Based on the analysis results, UCS offered a number of recommendations. One is ensuring the benefits of a clean energy future get shared equitably, which requires collecting the data needed to make those determinations.

“Historically, communities of color and low-income communities have been much more likely to suffer the harmful effects of power plant pollution, due to their proximity to plants, and are often hit hardest by climate change,” said Rogers. “Unfortunately, limitations on available data for all 50 states, kept us from being able to quantify equity dimensions in the ranking. Making sure states collect the right data—on solar adoption in disadvantaged communities, for example, or on how much of their paycheck low-income households are spending on electricity—is crucial for guaranteeing a clean energy future for everyone.”

Another recommendation is for all states to adopt a suite of clean energy policies, something leading states are already pursuing. UCS also suggested that states push for federal action to bolster their existing policies. This could include creating tax credits that accelerate adoption of renewable energy, offering investment or loan guarantees that drive clean energy innovation, and putting a price on carbon emissions.  

“While states have made significant progress in switching to cleaner energy options, the Trump administration in Washington, D.C. has been rolling back crucial climate protections and is less supportive of this shift to renewables, which means it may create additional roadblocks to progress,” said Garcia. “This makes effective state actions on clean energy now that much more important.”

“The federal government isn’t off the hook just because many states—and states of all stripes—are leaping ahead,” said Rogers. “Still, this state leadership is great to see, and important to encourage.”

Click here to view this press release in Spanish. 

A number of UCS experts have written blogs that delve more deeply into a particular aspect of this analysis or related issues. Topics include offering perspective on how the Midwest and West Coast regions fared, why the analysis matters (in Spanish), and how this analysis is connected more broadly to other climate and energy policies. Click here to view these blog posts.