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Climate Change Progress: The Southwest


Contrary to the claims of many coal state politicians, the renewable energy industry -- wind, solar, and geothermal energy -- generates far more jobs than coal, and those jobs pay well and won't end when the coal mines are depleted and shut down.


That's the conclusion of energy scientist Jack L. Kerfoot in this, the third of several Lean to the Left podcasts that explores climate change progress in the southwest, and which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the factors that contribute to their success.


Episode one, focusing on four Northeastern states, and the second episode, which analyzes five Midwestern states, are now streaming on YouTube and major podcast channels. This episode moves to five Southwestern states -- Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Each of these states have developed environmental policies that have produced very different results at reducing greenhouse emissions.


The type and power potential of renewable energy resources (wind, solar, hydropower, etc.) vary significantly across our nation. States in the Great Plains have very strong and consistent winds, while states in the Southwest have an abundance of sunny days.

Environmental philosophies and policies also vary from state to state. Identifying which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions is best done by comparing states in the same region of the country, which have similar renewable resource potential.


Jack Kerfoot is a scientist, energy expert and author of the book Fueling America an Insider's Journey. He began his career in the energy industry in 1976 when America was paralyzed by an oil embargo. He's the principal of JL Kerfoot Energy Services and blogs on his website, Our Energy Conundrum at JackKerfoot.com. Jack's a strong advocate for renewable energy as the solution for combating climate change.


Here are some questions and response summaries from the podcast:


Question

How do we differentiate between states that are making real progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions versus states that are “paper tigers” at addressing climate change?


Kerfoot

In my opinion, we should look at five factors in making our assessment, including:

1. Renewable Energy Potential - What is the renewable energy resource potential for the state?

2. Environmental Standards - What is the state doing to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?

3. Eliminating Barriers – What is the state doing to remove any barriers for the development of new renewable energy projects?

4. Eliminating CoalHow effective has the state been moving from coal-fueled power plants to renewable energy power plants?

a. Pollution - Coal ash, the product of coal burned in a power plant contains arsenic, mercury, and lead; which are toxic. In 2019, coal ash was documented to have leaked into the ground water around 241 coal-fired plants across America.

b. Economics - The cost to generate electricity from coal is more than double the cost to generate power from renewables, like wind or solar. Renewable energy power plants employ more people than coal mining and coal-fueled power plants combined in almost every state in our nation.

c. Climate Change Coal generates 40% to 45% more greenhouse gases than natural gas, which is also a fossil fuel.

5. Resilient Power Grid - What action is being taken to strengthen the regional power grid?


Question:

Let’s move to the assessments of Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota to determine which states are making real progress at addressing climate change.


Kerfoot:

ARKANSAS – Natural State


Arkansas has a diverse range of renewable energy resources including hydropower, solar, biomass, and wind. However, only a small portion of Arkansas’ renewable energy resources have been developed by state utilities. Verdict – Paper Tiger


COLORADO – Centennial State


Colorado has significant wind energy resources on the eastern plains and mountain crests of the state. Colorado also has substantial solar, hydropower, and biomass renewable energy resources. However, only a small portion of Colorado’s vast renewable energy resources have been developed by state utilities.


Verdict – Some Progress, But More Action Is Required


NEW MEXICO – Land Of Enchantment


1n 2002, New Mexico enacted a Renewables Portfolio Standard, mandating all utilities sell 40% of their electricity from renewables by 2025 and 80% by 2040. In 2019, New Mexico legislators overwhelmingly approved the Energy Transition Act, requiring utilities to sell 100% of their electricity from zero-carbon sources (renewables or nuclear) by 2045.


Verdict – Progress


OKLAHOMA – Sooner State


In 2010, Oklahoma enacted a Renewable Energy Goal for all utilities to sell 15% of the electricity from renewable sources by 2015. In 2010, Oklahoma used coal to generate 48% of the state’s electricity. In April 2023, only 2%of Oklahoma’s electricity was generated from coal.


In 2021, 3,521 people were employed in renewable energy power plants, compared to 1,331 in the lone coal mine and coal-fueled power plants in Oklahoma. In April 2023, utilities used renewable energy to generate 58% of Oklahoma’s electricity, compared to 42% from fossil fuels (natural gas and coal).


Verdict – Progress


SOUTH DAKOTA – Mount Rushmore State



In 2010, South Dakota used coal-fueled power plants to generate 35% of the state’s electricity. In April 2023, only 5% of the state’s electricity was generated from coal. In 2021, 2,536 people were employed in renewable energy power plants, compared to 168people in natural gas power plants, and 88 people in the coal power plant in South Dakota.


In April 2023, utilities used renewable energy primarily wind, to generate 86% of South Dakota’s electricity, while fossil fuels generated only 14% of the state’s electricity.


C. Verdict – Progress


Question:

What can we learn from the energy policies of these five states in the Southwest?


Kerfoot:

Two states, Colorado and New Mexico have mandated renewable energy standards. Two states, Oklahoma and South Dakota only had nonbinding, renewable energy goals or objectives. Arkansas, has neither a renewable energy standard nor a goal.

The states that have made the most progress at reducing greenhouse gas emissions are South Dakota, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.


Question:

2. How would you summarize the progress of Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota at reducing GHG emissions and addressing climate change?


Kerfoot:

Arkansas’ legislators have shown little interest at addressing climate. State utilities have been slow to develop the state’s renewable energy resources. Neither Arkansas legislators nor utilities have shown any interest at saving tax payers money, reducing pollution, or addressing climate change.


Colorado has made progress at moving from fossil-fueled power generation to renewable energy. However, the state’s progress isn’t impressive, when compared to states like South Dakota, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.


The export of coal, oil, and natural gas (fossil fuels) has been the cornerstone of the economies for both New Mexico and Oklahoma for over one hundred years. However, both states are now moving from a fossil-fuel economy to a green, renewable energy economy.


The people of South Dakota have embraced renewable energy and are reaping the environmental and economic benefits of green energy. South Dakota is already generating over 85% of the state’s electricity from renewables, primarily wind. I anticipate that South Dakota will generate 100% of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030.


Kerfoot:

The clock is ticking for the world to address climate change. In my opinion, it is imperative that voters support knowledgeable and committed legislators that will actively work to support the development of renewable energy projects in their state and continued reduction in greenhouse gas emission.


I hope your podcast followers listen to the next podcast on which states are making real and timely progress at reducing greenhouse emissions in the Southeast United States. That episode will stream September 18.


Listen to the podcast:

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