Menus Subscribe Search

States: Playing to Clean Energy Strengths

• March 29, 2011 • 1:08 PM

Index of Clean Energy Leadership finds Midwestern upstarts mixed among the usual suspects.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing these days about the mediocre American record on clean energy. No federal climate legislation. No federal mandates for clean electricity. And when Americans look to incentive-laden Europe or to the huge clean-tech investments being made in China and Korea, we feel like an aged, belching Geo Metro being passed on both sides by sleek bullet trains. President Obama calls it our “Sputnik moment,” referring to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite into space, which kicked the U.S. space program into high gear and led to quick creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA. He’s hoping the nation will be similarly spurred into a new age of innovation — this time on energy.

But a recent report on state-level progress in clean energy shows the age has already begun: In the absence of clear federal leadership, a lively and varied innovation landscape has taken shape across the country. Beyond the usual suspects like California, Oregon, Massachusetts and Washington state, Midwestern states — blue, red and purple — have used state funds and incentives and recent federal stimulus money to build on local strengths and become leaders in things like electricity generation and cutting-edge research.

California is far and away at the top of December’s Clean Energy Leadership Index from industry consultants Clean Edge. The index charts 80 different measures, from pro-climate policies to the number of smart electricity meters to hybrid cars per capita to research institutions and green MBA programs in each state. California has a slew of things to recommend it — the nation’s most stringent climate law that will regulate greenhouse gases starting in 2012, incentives that make it the third largest solar energy market in the world, clean-tech-hungry venture capitalists, and hot companies like Tesla Motors in Silicon Valley.

Massachusetts, at No. 3, has mandated massive reductions in greenhouse gasses by 2050, while Oregon (No. 2) and Washington state (No. 4) have switched to hybrid cars and cleaner electricity at a rapid pace.

But in places like Iowa, Michigan and Ohio, there is also much intrigue.

The Hawkeye State leads the nation in clean electricity, with 14 percent of its electrons flowing from emission-free sources (not including hydro-electric installations). In Iowa, this means wind. Developers and manufacturers have flocked to the state to take advantage of ample open and windy farmland, tax credits for each kilowatt-hour of clean energy produced and tax exemptions for new equipment. With eight major manufacturers, industry employment topping 2,300 and transmission lines crisscrossing the landscape, the state is now exporting wind-generated electricity to other Midwestern states trying to meet renewable energy targets.

Michigan, meanwhile, has the most clean energy patents awarded of any state in 2009, the result of an aggressive push by university and private auto-industry researchers to retool cars — and Detroit’s rusted reputation — for a cleaner era. The patents are for things like battery technology and electric vehicle parts, fuel cells and even some solar innovations.

Both Michigan and Ohio are undergoing a transition from Steel Belt to Solar Belt, with close to 8,000 jobs in solar manufacturing between them as of October 2010. Stimulus funds have helped companies like DuPont revive shuttered factories in the region.

“Detroit and Michigan have near perfect infrastructure, and they have managerial know how,” says Ron Pernick, Clean Edge’s managing director. “If any place can capture the transport electric market it’s going to be Michigan or California.”

Competition among states for industry is often seen as a race to the bottom, with economic development officials serving up sweetheart, tax-free deals to lure big employers. But industry watchers say that the competition to build clean energy prowess and develop states’ homegrown competitive advantages could end up serving the nation well.

“All of these innovations — from smart meters to economic incentives to better battery storage systems — are necessary for the future,” says John Harte, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. “Different states will prove innovative in one area or another, and, ultimately, states that didn’t develop innovations start to copy others. We have to start borrowing from each other.”

Pernick says one of the drivers behind Clean Edge’s report was to make information about what’s working available to bottom-feeding states in clean energy.

That information will come at a cost — full access to the regularly updated index starts at $15,000.

But, for the sake of keeping clean-tech investments at home, the faster innovations and companies grow up and spill across state lines, the better. And the more federal policy supports that, the better.

Clean tech got a huge boost from the federal stimulus package passed in 2009, which allowed companies to take up 30 percent of the cost of projects like wind installations as a direct federal grant. But a report from the Washington-based Investigative Reporting Workshop found that a staggering 85 percent of the $1.05 billion in clean energy stimulus grants went to foreign-owned wind companies.

Clean energy advocates have often said that long-term policy, like federal tax credits for each kilowatt-hour of wind and solar energy produced, will allow domestic industry to sink deeper roots across the country. As it stands now, the wind portion of this on-again, off-again tax credit is set to expire yet again at the end of next year.

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Oakley Brooks
Oakley Brooks writes about science and the environment from Portland, Ore. His new book about living with tsunamis in Sumatra is forthcoming in North America.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 22 • 6:17 AM

The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.


August 22 • 6:00 AM

Long Live Short Novels

Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments comes in at less than 300 pages long, which—along with a plot centered on a sex-tape scandal—makes it a uniquely efficient pleasure.


August 22 • 4:00 AM

Why ‘Nature Versus Nurture’ Often Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense to try to separate the social and the biological.


August 21 • 4:00 PM

Julie Chen Explains Why She Underwent Westernizing Surgery

The CBS news anchor and television personality’s story proves that cosmetic surgeries aren’t always vanity projects, even if they’re usually portrayed that way.


August 21 • 2:37 PM

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There’s heightened functional connectivity between the brain’s emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.


August 21 • 2:00 PM

Cracking Down on the Use of Restraints in Schools

Federal investigators found that children at two Virginia schools were being regularly pinned down or isolated and that their education was suffering as a result.


August 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, School Principal?

Noah Davis talks to Evan Glazer about why kids aren’t getting smarter and what his school’s doing in order to change that.



August 21 • 10:00 AM

Why My Neighbors Still Use Dial-Up Internet

It’s not because they want to. It’s because they have no other choice.


August 21 • 8:15 AM

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.


August 21 • 8:00 AM

To Fight the Obesity Epidemic Americans Will Have to First Recognize That They’re Obese

There is a void in the medical community’s understanding of how families see themselves and understand their weight.


August 21 • 6:33 AM

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.


August 21 • 6:00 AM

The Fox News Effect

Whatever you think of its approach, Fox News has created a more conservative Congress and a more polarized electorate, according to a series of recent studies.


August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.


Follow us


The Impossibility of the Night Shift

Many night workers get “shift-work sleep disorder.” And no one knows how to treat it.

How the Brains of Risk-Taking Teens Work

There's heightened functional connectivity between the brain's emotion regulator and reason center, according to a recent neuroscience paper.

When Mothers Sing, Premature Babies Thrive

Moms willing to serenade pre-term infants help their babies—and themselves.

One Toxic Boss Can Poison the Whole Workplace

Office leaders who bully even just one member of their team harm everyone.

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.