Impatient with the U.S. federal government’s lackluster conservation efforts, many states are moving to cleaner energy policies and practices on their own.
According to the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of business, labor, environment, community, and socialjustice leaders, states from Oregon to Florida have embraced portions of the Alliance’s New Energy For America plan and hope to reap the rewards of greater energy independence and improved public health as a result. The plan calls for a national commitment of more than $300 billion over the decade in order to produce 3 million new jobs and an additional $1.4 trillion in U.S. gross domestic product. The 10-point plan is intended to highlight the best and most feasible policies to reach energy independence within a decade.
Below is the Alliance’s framework and some examples of how different states are leading the fight for cleaner energy and the development of alternative energy sources.
1. Promote Advanced Technology and Hybrid Cars. According to the Apollo Alliance, Massachusetts is getting a handle on this issue in a number of ways. Corporations with fleets of more than 50 vehicles receive tax credits if at least 10% of their fleet runs on alternative fuels. Private citizens who own a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle receive an income tax deduction and the right to travel in carpool lanes.
2. Invest in More-Efficient Factories. Pennsylvania established a special authority to finance clean, advanced energy projects in that state. Solar energy, wind, low-impact hydropower, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, fuel cells, coal-mine methane, and demand-reduction measures all qualify for special funding.
3. Encourage High-Performance Buildings. Utah recently updated state building codes for both residential and commercial buildings to meet with International Energy Conservation Code standards. Meanwhile, New York-where consumers spend $32 billion on energy annually-has enacted its own more stringent codes that experts predict will save New Yorkers up to $80 million per year in energy costs.
4. Increase Use of Energy-Efficient Appliances. According to the Apollo Alliance, “California’s appliance standards are the oldest and most extensive in the United States. They cover 43 different commercial and consumer appliances, 12 of which are not covered by federal law. These standards have saved Californians at least $3 billion a year since they were implemented in 1978.”
5. Modernize Energy Infrastructure. Under current pricing schemes, utility companies generate more profit when they sell more units of energy, which provides little incentive to adopt conservation measures. To address the issue, Oregon has established a “revenue cap” for utility companies. “In this way,” according to the Apollo Alliance, “the utility’s revenues are disconnected from the amount of electricity it distributes, eliminating any reason to discourage customer generation or energy conservation efforts.”
6. Expand Renewable Energy Development. Minnesota has enacted a biofuel mandate (the first of its kind in the United States), which stipulates that nearly all diesel fuel sold in that state include at least 2% biodiesel fuel. Hawaii now offers tax credits for ethanol production and incentives to use molasses and other agricultural waste as the feedstock for ethanol.
7. Improve Transportation Options. Massachusetts has adopted a “Fix-it-First” policy that allocates money to repairing existing infrastructure options rather than funding new projects in outlying areas. The Massachusetts bill also proposes money for mass-transit improvements. Mass-transit can be particularly effective in reducing unemployment in low-income areas.
Oregon encourages people to bus more and drive less by providing a tax credit for insurance companies that offer mileage-based rates-the less you drive, the better your rate.
8. Reinvest in Smart Urban Growth. In Maryland, Baltimore is promoting smart growth with “transit-oriented development.” The city has laid out plans to develop a 110-acre site in the heart of historic midtown. The site will include a cultural center, subway and light-rail stations, and 3,200 new mixed-income residential homes. The plan also includes a four-acre park and an improved transportation system that provides access to and within the site for all modes of transportation.
9. Plan for a Hydrogen Future. Increasing the number of renewable energy systems (e.g., wind turbines, biogas generators, solar arrays, and hydrogen fuel cells) will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help reduce blackouts. New Jersey currently has the most comprehensive set of laws for screening and certifying the reliability of these sorts of dispersed energy-generating systems and for ensuring such systems are properly hooked up to the larger electrical grid.
10. Preserve Regulatory Protections. The Apollo Alliance plan calls for certified professionals to be in charge of installing and operating renewable-energy and energy-efficiency systems. Nevada promotes the use of certified solar installers to ensure fair wages and quality control.
According to the Apollo Alliance, these steps, undertaken by state officials of varying political affiliations, point toward more energy independence in the future, regardless of the actions (or lack thereof) undertaken by the federal government.
“We have the natural resources, technical ingenuity, manufacturing and other capacity needed to achieve, relatively quickly, far cleaner energy generation and far greater energy efficiency, [which] will also help save the planet from the mounting threat of global warming,” the Alliance states.
Originally published in THE FUTURIST, July-August 2006.