Tuesday, November 09, 2004

States take the lead in renewable energy

The U.S. sorely lacks any national energy policy to help us move away from oil and gas toward sustainable energy sources. Some states, however, are beginning to offer serious support to individuals who install wind or solar power systems.

Vermont offers up to $12,500 to residents who install a solar- or wind-power system and up to $7,500 for a solar hot-water system.

More than a dozen state governments are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote power production from wind, sun and other renewable sources. Some states are even requiring residents to help pay for it.

In last week's election, Colorado voters approved a ballot measure that requires the state's biggest electric companies to buy a share of their power from renewable sources. California is giving grants to dairy farmers to turn cow manure into methane gas, which is then burned to make electricity.

The states' efforts so far still only affect a small portion of the country's energy production. Renewable energy now supplies about 2% of the nation's electricity, not counting hydropower. Present state efforts could double that figure to 4%-5% by 2020 to more than 20,000 megawatts.

At least renewable energy has become a bipartisan issue. “It makes common sense to me that we do everything to reduce reliance on energy that's imported,” says Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who recently signed a bill calling for the state to get 20% of its power from renewable energy. “To sit here and stay as we are is not an option.”

Other efforts include:

Last year, the Austin City Council approved a plan directing the local electric company to get 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

In October, New Haven, Conn. spent thousands of dollars to buy wind energy as well as landfill energy, which is made by burning the gas emitted by rotting garbage.

In September, New York State adopted a goal of obtaining at least 25% of its power from renewable sources by 2013. The goal was first proposed by Republican Gov. George Pataki.

These efforts may be too little and too late to avoid serious problems when oil and gas hit peak production, but it is heartening to see a growing number of efforts to switch to renewables.


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