New mapping tool showcases clean energy policies and projects

A new state “community power” mapping tool released this month gives policymakers and activists a national scorecard on state and local clean energy initiatives.

John Farrell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance developed the map to showcase the link between what his group regards as good state energy policy and the number of community energy projects and renewable policies now underway.

No organization had mapped the relationship before, at least in the way ILSR did, he said.

“I was surprised how well the mapping shows what we intended it to show, which is that states which have a better policy regime…tend to have more of the things we were tracking,” Farrell said.

Those include dots on the map for renewable projects and energy efficiency efforts, many for wind and solar, in every state. Viewers can add projects which Farrell may have missed.

The map also offers a state community power score based on a complex metric of attributes, among them net metering, community solar, state and utility tariffs for renewables, residential building codes, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing and renewable portfolio standards.

Community choice aggregation, which allows communities to select energy providers, was also included in the list.

The map also details community groups planning for a cleaner energy future and cities which have made a commitment to obtain 100 percent renewable energy.

The map shows few surprises, with states such as New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont having strong connections between policies and large numbers of projects. They have a state community power score of 28 or higher.

In the Midwest the leaders are Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio. They have scores from 19 to 27.

There are signs of growth even in places such as Ohio, said Farrell, where the Legislature has put on hold the state RPS.

Ohio allows for community choice aggregation, which provides local authorities the power to buy energy on behalf of residential customers and small commercial clients.

Farrell’s point system gives community choice the highest number of points, seven, of all the different categories.

“At the local level community choice gives more authority to a city to do something around renewables in a way that’s not true in North Dakota, South Dakota or Minnesota, for that matter,” he said. “We think Ohio has more upside than we originally thought.”

On the other hand, a low score and weak policies in the state have propelled local activists who have decided not to wait for their legislatures to pass more progressive energy policies, Farrell said.

For example, Wisconsin has back-pedaled on renewable energy, but organizations such as RePower Madison and Renew Wisconsin are advocating, with some success, for more projects in the state.

“Sometimes it’s local efforts (that) come up because we realize we have not had traction at all at the state level and we need to do something,” he said.

Minnesota has had a “spillover effect” on surrounding states, especially because of its community solar law that passed in 2013. Iowa and Wisconsin are seeing more community solar, in part because they share wholesale suppliers and distribution costs with Minnesota utilities, he believes.

Farrell came up with idea of a map to people working on energy issues see where things are happening and where projects are occurring. The East Coast and California remain leaders but “Minnesota stands out in the middle of the map and I think that’s very meaningful,” he said.

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