Democrats came away from this year’s midterm elections with 14 governorships. The party flipped seven of those seats from Republicans. Of Democrats who ran, six campaigned on pledges to increase renewable energy in their state.
The results of those elections may open a path for more ambitious renewable portfolio standards and gigawatts' worth of solar and wind deployments, according to analysis from Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.
To estimate market potential, analysts assumed a 50 percent by 2030 RPS in states where candidates included clean energy in their campaign platform. In Colorado, WoodMac’s forecast projects an added 1.6 gigawatts of solar and 2.3 gigawatts of wind by 2030. In Illinois, meeting a 50 percent by 2030 RPS would mean adding 10.2 gigawatts of wind and 9.1 gigawatts of solar.
Some candidates called for even higher levels of renewables, such as Jared Polis in Colorado. In other states, such as Nevada and Michigan, newly elected governors didn’t run on a specific RPS increase, but said they supported higher renewables penetrations.
Those public positions can be taken as an encouraging sign for the clean energy industry. But they haven’t yet been formalized as policy. In some states, Republican-led legislatures could make pushing that agenda difficult. Colin Smith, a senior solar analyst at WoodMac and an author of the report, said the analysis should act as an indication of a positive landscape rather than a distinct forecast.
“My goal is to point out that this is a tremendous amount of upside potential,” said Smith. “It’s not an exact science quantifying how much, but it gives us a good sense of what that upper limit might look like.”
The sheer number of variables, including legislative priorities, RPS timelines and changes in the generation mix, means that calculating any actual deployment of renewables “quickly becomes complicated,” according to Smith.
Even if Colorado pursued a 50 percent RPS — rather than the 100 percent that Polis campaigned on — the target year could be 2050. Hypothetically, large-scale build-out in that case may not happen until 2030.
“It would be impossible to say [these elections] would increase our long-term five-year forecast by 5 percent,” Smith said. “What I can say is this: It creates a landscape where several states are much more likely to keep procuring wind and solar, which speaks to the strength of renewables in this country in terms of how they’re able to compete with coal and natural gas.”
This week, the Center for American Progress released a report calling for new governors to form clean energy cabinets to execute their goals.
"By announcing the formation of a clean energy cabinet during the transition, newly elected governors will highlight the importance of climate and energy policy to their agenda; indicate how they plan to manage relevant policies and programs across different agencies, mandates, and budgets; and elevate the issue for senior state officials, the legislature, and the public," say authors Luke Bassett and Guillermo Ortiz.
By announcing the formation of a clean energy cabinet during the transition, newly elected governors will highlight the importance of climate and energy policy to their agenda; indicate how they plan to manage relevant policies and programs across different agencies, mandates, and budgets; and elevate the issue for senior state officials, the legislature and the public.
The Solar Energy Industries Association sees potential, especially in the Midwest. Though Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs, said solar markets there historically have been modest, that is now changing.
The trade group expects the region to add 7 gigawatts of solar over the next five years, a tripling of the capacity installed over the last five. Although they’re starting from a smaller base, four Midwestern states — Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan — rank in SEIA’s top five states for solar growth in the next five years.
“Our member companies are seeing the Midwest, the upper Midwest in particular, as really the next set of emerging markets,” said Gallagher.
Gallagher attributes that perception to improving economics and a favorable policy environment. The Future Energy Jobs Act in Illinois, for instance, has opened up the market in that state. Minnesota has become a haven for community solar. And Michigan’s Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utilities, this year agreed to a voluntary renewables procurement of 50 percent by 2030.
Policies like those, in combination with the election results, suggest more gains on the horizon for the renewables industry.
“It’s shaping up to be, potentially, the biggest year for big-picture clean energy legislation in some time,” said Gallagher.