Welcome back to The Planet You Save May Be Your Own, a weekly newsletter on local & state climate action.
How are we doing?
That’s a huge, messy question when it comes to slowing climate change and getting fossil fuels out of our energy system. But I wanted to take a step back and look at a slice of it. And because this is The Planet You Save, I’m going to propose a friendly competition between states.
There are a variety of places greenhouse gas emissions are coming from, but today we’re going to take a look at electricity because a) it’s a big chunk of it b) as more parts of other emissions sources (transportation, home heating) become electric, it becomes increasingly important and c) the data is pretty good.
So who’s “winning” the getting-emissions-out-of-our-grid race? Here’s two ways of looking at it:
How much of your state’s electricity is powered by renewable energy? Yale Climate Connections has made this great graph based on data from the US Energy Information Administration about the proportion of total electricity generation in each state.
Despite being a big oil refining state, South Dakota produces a relatively smaller amount of electricity within in its borders. A lot of it is wind, similar to other Plains states, but South Dakota also has a decent amount of hydropower.
If you want to rank states by total amount of renewable energy produced, the clear winner is Texas. Despite a variety of policies actively hostile to renewable energy in the state, wind and solar are significant parts of Texas’ energy mix, because the conditions for both there are quite strong.
But Texas’ vast generation means that the proportion of this huge amount of power is still under 30% of Texas’ total generation. And good conditions for solar or wind don’t automatically translate into high percentages — note how little of Florida’s production, the literal Sunshine state, is made up of renewables.
A couple caveats to this map: it includes a specific definition of renewable power sources: i.e. wind, utility-scale solar and hydropower. In fact, most of the leading states in this map are states with a combination of wind & hydropower. A separate look at this question by Motley Fool removes hydropower, which puts Iowa on top at a lower percentage.
And neither of these accountings includes nuclear power, which is creates zero greenhouse gas emissions but is not renewable. Nuclear makes significant proportions of the electricity produced in a small collection of states (for example: Illinois produces more than half of its power from nuclear alone).
This also is a map of electricity generated, not consumed. With notable exceptions (cough Texas cough) electricity crosses state lines based on demand and lots of related factors, making it trickier to quantify a state’s electricity emissions for what they’re actually using. (South Dakota exports a lot of electricity).
Yesterday, EIA published their annual data at the most polluting power plants in America in 2022. The top 10 (indeed the top 35) were all coal plants, and the top two - James Miller in Alabama and Labadie in Missouri — hadn’t changed from last year, emitting slightly more Co2 than they did in 2021. But I’m interested in how a state’s electricity generation is doing in general and relative to its size. For this, I dug into another dataset, updated through 2021, that calculates the emissions rate of electricity in each state: this is the number of how much Co2 on average the state is burning to generate one unit of electricity (megawatt hours, or MHw, if you were curious). I made my own map for this one!
No surprise here: West Virginia and Wyoming’s coal-heavy generation puts them in the lead. I will note that both of these maps don’t include the impact of rooftop solar — something that could be making different levels of impact in some states. Hawaii’s deep blue color on the map is because it has no neighbors to import electricity from and for years has been reliant on oil and coal for electricity. It’s now in the process of encouraging rooftop solar to cover the difference while large solar farms are getting built.
But it’s less the extreme outliers that interest me than how much of the country is in the middle: states can and will have different ways of going about getting this number down, but most are hovering around the same level when it comes to the power they generate. And with some exceptions, what gets generated in one state makes a difference next door. As a DC resident, knowing the emissions rate of power generated within the city isn’t particularly valuable to me (unless it’s literally solar panels on my roof) — my electricity is powered through generation in nearby states - none of which are doing particularly outstanding on either map.
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Electric Avenue: How one block worked together to replace fossil-fuel-powered appliances (KQED)
Oil Giants Lose Hawaii Climate Misinformation Appeal, Pushing Case to Trial (Bloomberg Law)
Attention Montanians: The state wants your feedback on what to do with $3 million grant to reduce emissions (NBC Montana/Montana Free Press)
Proposed hydrogen pipeline could diminish Navajo Nation’s water supply (Indian Country Today)
Michigan House committee advances wind, solar permitting bills (Michigan Bridge)
Landfills in Washington and Oregon leaked ‘explosive’ levels of methane last year (Grist)
Los Angeles Is On a Transit-Building Tear. Will Riders Follow? (CityLab)
Molokaʻi's community-led renewable energy roadmap serves as an example for other islands (Hawaii Public Radio)