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

Source: By Dan Gearino, Inside Climate News • Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2023

New Jersey, Michigan and Maryland are among the ones to watch, but one seems more likely than the others to pass energy major legislation this year.

Wind turbines stand along the ridge of Backbone Mountain on Aug. 23, 2022 near Oakland, Maryland. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Wind turbines stand along the ridge of Backbone Mountain on Aug. 23, 2022 near Oakland, Maryland. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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 2018calling 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.

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.