In a time of intense partisan animosity in the U.S., a bipartisan group of governors from 17 states has found common ground in renewable energy. In an accord, signed on February 16, the governors pledged to accelerate their efforts to create a green economy in the U.S. by boosting renewables, building better electricity grids and cutting emissions from transportation. The accord exemplifies a larger trend toward vast renewable energy expansion throughout the U.S. It acknowledges that “by developing renewable, cleaner and more efficient energy solutions, we can make our national economy more productive and resilient.” It also recognizes that “American prosperity has always depended on embracing new ideas and technologies” and renewable energy is no exception.
Renewables are booming for a multitude of reasons, from their associated benefits of energy security and independence, to a more resilient infrastructure, to the improvement of public and environmental health. In fact, an EPA study notes there are vast environmental, economic, and human health benefits of renewable energy The EPA predicts that the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy will increase net economic output by $6.1 billion, a result of “positive economic gains through energy costs saved, avoided medical costs, higher disposable incomes, increased labor productivity, and more jobs.”
The data point to a major upswing in renewable resources last year, a trend that’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Renewable resources provided 68 percent of the new electrical generation capacity last year and are growing faster than fossil fuels. A recent Bloomberg report, “Sustainable Energy in America” states, “The already rapid de-carbonization of the U.S. power sector accelerated with record numbers of coal plant closures and solar photovoltaic system commissionings” Wind, they say “is the second-most prevalent renewable technology, standing at almost 75GW at the end of 2015, roughly triple its installed capacity at the end of 2008 (25GW).” Wind was the single largest source of new generating capacity last year, adding 8.6 GW of capacity, more than natural gas and solar.
Cooperation by state executives is a milestone in the renewable energy field. This groundbreaking pledge is just the latest in a parade of developments driving the renewable energy boom in the U.S. Although this boom in renewables is bringing wide-ranging benefits to society, EO has found that more renewable energy projects will likely mean more conflicts over land rights and community consultation, both in the U.S. and abroad. In a recent case study, EO found wind development in the Mexican state of Oaxaca is fraught with resistance from local and indigenous communities. This trend is already visible in the U.S., and is set to intensify as renewables development accelerates.
These pressures could profoundly disrupt the transition to renewable energy if they are not handled with care. Governments and private developers will need to apply the right tools to prevent conflicts through more equitable use of renewable resources and through environmental conservation. EO has worked on a number of projects that evaluated and provided guidance for addressing concerns regarding social and environmental impacts energy development, and is poised to support community interests and help avoid conflicts that could delay renewables projects. A robust standard for social performance by energy developers like the EO100TM Standard can act as a valuable compliment to political and policy support for renewable energy like the governors' pledge to pave the way for a efficient, fair, and successful renewable energy boom in the U.S. and beyond.