Minnesota Has Passed a Landmark Clean Energy Law. Which State Is Next?

With remarkable speed, Minnesota lawmakers have passed a bill requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

The legislation, signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, means Minnesota joins a group of 10 states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington) plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in having laws that require a transition to 100 percent carbon-free or renewable electricity.

In addition, Maine and Nevada have laws that set 100-percent goals, rather than requirements, so I’m putting them in their own category. The governors of Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin have issued executive orders calling for a transition to 100 percent carbon-free electricity, so they also are in their own category.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2023, I’m wondering which states are most likely to join the 100 percent club with new laws. I asked a bunch of people who would know, and these are the places they suggested I watch most closely:

New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, issued an executive order in 2018 calling for a transition to carbon-free electricity. But an executive order doesn’t have the same durability as a law.

This may be the year that the New Jersey Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, takes the ideas behind the executive order and turns them into a law.

Lawmakers have introduced a measure they are calling the New Jersey Clean Energy Act of 2023, which says the state would obtain all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035.

A 2035 target would be one of the most ambitious in the country by any state, and it is getting pushback from some in the business community, as NJ Spotlight reported last week.

Whether or not this is the bill that ends up passing, there is momentum for New Jersey to pass something this year that codifies a requirement for moving to carbon-free electricity.

New Jersey is “certainly a state that should be leading on clean energy,” said Bill Holland, vice president of state policy and advocacy for the League of Conservation Voters. “They’ve made massive commitments to offshore wind, but they don’t have legislation for 100 percent clean energy. And we expect (legislation to pass) this session.”

Michigan: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is entering her second term with an agenda that focuses on one of her main issues—improving the state’s roads—and she also is talking about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is our shared duty to face climate change head-on and protect our land and water,” she said last month in her inauguration speech. “We must pursue climate action while creating jobs, lowering costs, and becoming a hub of clean energy production.”

Trish Demeter, Midwest managing director for Advanced Energy United, a trade group for clean energy companies, said Michigan is the Midwestern state most likely to pass major clean energy legislation, now that Minnesota has passed its law.

“Michigan, I would say, is a very exciting place to watch,” she said.

Whitmer issued an executive order in 2020 calling for the state to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Her office released its annual budget proposal on Wednesday, which includes funding for some of the priorities in the executive order, but this looks like a part of a piecemeal approach to climate policy, rather than trying to accomplish just about everything at once.

A piecemeal approach may make sense, considering that Democrats have tiny majorities in both houses of the legislature. The party gained control of the legislature following the November elections, but it has just a two-vote edge in both the House and Senate.

So the party needs to be unified or must get Republican votes to pass anything.

That isn’t easy, but it’s possible, as Minnesota showed. Its legislation passed by just one vote in the state Senate, which is in line with Democrats’ one-vote majority.

At this point, I’m not seeing signs that Michigan is going to pass a bill like the one in Minnesota. But, as Demeter recommends, I will be watching to see if that changes.

Maryland: Last year, Maryland adopted the Climate Solutions Now Act, which includes a target of reaching net-zero emissions across the economy by 2045. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, allowed the measure to become law without signing it, which isn’t a veto but isn’t an endorsement.

The 2045 target doesn’t have a lot of specifics for the electricity sector, so newly elected Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, has his work cut out for him to put the state on a path toward cutting emissions from this sector.

Moore supports a rapid transition to carbon-free electricity, a point he reiterated in his inaugural address last month.

“We will protect our jewel the Chesapeake Bay and address toxic air pollution that shapes our cities,” he said. “And we will put Maryland on track to generate 100 percent clean energy by 2035 and create thousands of jobs in the process. Clean energy will not just be a part of our economy. Clean energy will define our economy in Maryland.”

But people who follow Maryland energy policy say Moore is unlikely to pass a major clean energy bill in the current legislative session, which would end on April 10 if it concludes without going into overtime.

“I think you’re going to see very aggressive legislation next year,” said Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.

Why not this year? Tulkin explained that the 2022 law requires the state to create a plan for how to make the initial cuts in emissions, and the plan needs to be completed by the end of this year. Many of the people who would be involved in major energy legislation are focusing on that plan, whose contents may help to guide legislation that follows.

Minnesota is a useful comparison when trying to understand the planning that precedes a major energy proposal. There, Gov. Walz, a Democrat, did work to prepare for energy legislation in his first term and is now starting his second term. Also, the Minnesota Legislature had debated different versions of a clean energy bill in prior years, so members were familiar with the main ideas in the legislation. This background helps to explain how the bill was able to move so quickly, going from its introduction to final passage in less than a month.

In contrast, Maryland is just getting started.

Zooming out, the country is clearly on two tracks, with about half of the population in states that are planning for a transition away from fossil fuels, and the other half in states that are doing much less, if anything.

And there’s no denying the main factor that differentiates the two categories: The states taking action are almost all controlled by Democrats, while the others are controlled by Republicans or under split control.

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In the states that want to reduce their emissions, there is a clear pattern of how to make it happen. The states begin by adopting big goals or requirements, like Minnesota now has done. Then, they move into the finer points of figuring out how to meet the requirements, which describes a lot of the activity in California and other states that were on the leading edge of setting goals.

So there is a playbook, and states are learning from each other, and the map above keeps getting more green.

About that map: There are many ways of categorizing states based on their energy and climate laws. I’m being narrow in which states I’m counting as having 100 percent carbon-free or renewable energy laws. But I can understand why others might include Maine and Nevada (which have goals rather than requirements), Maryland and North Carolina (which have economywide net-zero emissions targets but few specifics about the electricity sector) and maybe even Colorado (whose 2019 law covers only the state’s largest utility, which serves a majority of the state’s population). If you want to dig deeper into what states are doing, Clean Energy States Alliance has a helpful rundown, with links to the relevant laws and executive orders.

Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:

Walz Signs Carbon-Free Energy Bill, Prompting Threat of North Dakota Lawsuit: In Minnesota, Walz signed the state’s clean energy legislation into law at an event in St. Paul. Meanwhile, in Bismarck, North Dakota, state leaders are threatening to sue, arguing that the new law illegally harms North Dakota power fossil fuel plants that sell electricity to Minnesota, as Dana Ferguson reports for Minnesota Public Radio. This threat was discussed during the Minnesota legislative debate, but supporters of the law say they are confident that the law is written in a way that doesn’t exceed the state’s authority to regulate its own utilities. “I trust that this bill is solid,” Walz said about the possibility of a lawsuit. “I trust that it will stand up because it was written to do exactly that. And just to be clear, Minnesota is not staking our future on coal and carbon and I can’t speak for our neighbors, but I think it would be more productive to join us and move the rest of the country in this direction.”

Biden Takes a Victory Lap on Climate Bill in State of the Union Speech: President Joe Biden spent some time in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday touting the Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark climate and clean energy bill he signed last year. “The Inflation Reduction Act is … the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis, lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, and leading the world to a clean energy future,” Biden said. Biden presented the law as an investment in resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, as Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. “I’ve visited the devastating aftermaths of record floods and droughts, storms and wildfires,” Biden said. “In addition to emergency recovery from Puerto Rico to Florida to Idaho, we are rebuilding for the long term: new electric grids able to weather the next major storm, roads and water systems to withstand the next big flood, clean energy to cut pollution and create jobs in communities too often left behind.”

Here’s a Primer on Permitting Reform, the Drive to Fast Track Energy Projects—Both Clean and Fossil Fuel: At a Congressional hearing last week, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), lamented that it took longer to get regulatory approval for an Arizona power line than it took for the United States to put a man on the moon. His comments, about the Ten West Link project, are part of a larger discussion of permitting reform in which newly empowered Congressional Republicans want to make it easier for projects to get through environmental reviews. Many Democrats agree with this in principle, but the parties disagree about what kinds of projects they would like to see get built, as Kristoffer Tigue and I report for ICN. Republicans are often talking about wanting to make it easier to build fossil fuel projects, while many Democrats see permitting reform as an opportunity to build more interstate power lines and other projects that contribute to a transition away from fossil fuels. At the same time, environmental justice advocates are skeptical of the whole idea of permit reform, which they see as an attempt to minimize the ability of people to make their voices heard in debates about major energy projects.

Electric Vehicles Can Now Power Your Home for Three Days: When the power goes out at Nate Graham’s New Mexico home, he is now ready with the equipment to draw electricity from the battery on his Chevrolet Bolt. He is a preview of what some automakers say will be available to anyone with an EV, as Michael J. Coren reports for The Washington Post. “Beyond serving as an emissions-free backup generator, the EV has the potential of revolutionizing the car’s role in American society, transforming it from an enabler of a carbon-intensive existence into a key step in the nation’s transition into renewable energy,” Coren writes.

Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to dan.gearino@insideclimatenews.org.

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                <h4 class="profile-subtitle">Clean Energy Reporter, Midwest, National Environment Reporting Network</h4>

                <span>Dan Gearino covers the midwestern United States, part of ICN’s National Environment Reporting Network. His coverage deals with the business side of the clean-energy transition and he writes ICN’s <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/tags/inside-clean-energy/">Inside Clean Energy</a> newsletter. He came to ICN in 2018 after a nine-year tenure at The Columbus Dispatch, where he covered the business of energy. Before that, he covered politics and business in Iowa and in New Hampshire. He grew up in Warren County, Iowa, just south of Des Moines, and lives in Columbus, Ohio.</span>

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