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US Renewable Energy Action Is Brewing in Cities and States

Viewing the progress of clean tech in the U.S. through the lens of national politics can get pretty depressing. Continual gridlock on Capitol Hill, the federal budget sequester, key leadership positions (like administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency) being held hostage by partisan politics – it all makes fertile ground for breeding cynicism and despondency.

But beyond the Beltway, there’s a much brighter outlook. Many states and metro areas in the U.S. are showing strong national and even global leadership in clean-tech development and deployment, and that leadership is on full display in Clean Edge’s 2013 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index released today.

The 2013 Index, which includes a free 52-page summary public report for the first time, is comprised of our fourth annual State Clean Tech Index (ranking all 50 states) and our second annual Metro Clean Tech Index (ranking the 50 largest U.S. metro areas). Calculated on nearly 100 different metrics across the two indexes combined, the rankings serve as a significant annual benchmark for use by policymakers, industry leaders, NGOs, investors, and other groups leading the U.S. clean-tech sector forward.

While federal policies like the production tax credit (PTC) for wind and geothermal power are certainly critical to the U.S. clean-tech industry, they are only a starting point. It’s at the state and metro level where most deployment decisions are actually made. “The federal PTC is hugely important, but it is state policies that drive our markets,” said Susan Innis, senior manager of public affairs for Vestas North America, at the American Wind Energy Association’s annual Windpower convention last month in Chicago. The Leadership Index’s unique lens of metrics across technology, policy, and capital categories gives a comprehensive picture of the nation’s clean-tech leaders and laggards.

In both the State and Metro Indexes, California is the hands-down winner. In 2012, among other highlights, the Golden State launched the nation’s first auction of carbon credits and became the first state to install more than one gigawatt of solar PV generating capacity. California takes the top spot in the State Index for the fourth consecutive year, leading by a decent margin over Massachusetts, which swapped places with last year’s No. 2 finisher Oregon, and No. 4 New York. California finished first in the Index’s Technology category and second (to Massachusetts) in both Policy and Capital. But beyond the four highest-ranking states and No. 6 Washington, the State Index top 10 proves that U.S. clean-tech leadership is not just a bi-coastal story. Top 10 finishers come from the Midwest (Illinois and Minnesota), Mountain West (Colorado), Southwest (New Mexico) and far far West (Hawaii). The South continues to be the worst-performing region, with just one state, No. 24 North Carolina, in the top 25.

California’s state leadership carries over extensively to the Metro Index as well, claiming no less than five of the nation’s top seven clean-tech metro areas: No. 1 San Francisco, No. 2 San Jose, No. 4 Los Angeles, No. 6 Sacramento, and No. 7 San Diego. State and Metro leadership go hand in hand, as four other top 10 states place their largest metro area in the top 10 in the Metro Index: Oregon (Portland at No. 3), Colorado (Denver No. 8), Washington (Seattle No. 9), and Massachusetts (Boston No. 10). The only outlier among the cities is America’s unique “city without a state,” the Washington, D.C. metro area, which ranked fifth.

In many ways, state and metro leadership in clean tech now extends even beyond the borders of the U.S. Some U.S. states – sometimes politically conservative ones – are now rivaling the world’s leading clean-tech nations for preeminence in many areas. Iowa and South Dakota, for example, each generated 24 percent of their utility-scale electricity from wind power in 2012 – trailing only the country of Denmark (at 30 percent) for world leadership in this critical clean-tech metric. Iowa wind farms actually generated more power overall than those in Denmark.

An April 2013 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “Ramping Up Renewables: Energy You Can Count On”, presented this type of “if states were countries” analysis. North Dakota (with 15 percent of generation from wind) and Minnesota (14 percent) would also make this global top 10, just below Portugal’s 17 percent and Spain’s 16 percent. Global clean-tech powerhouse Germany generated 11 percent of its electricity from wind last year, but so did Kansas, Idaho, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

On the metro front, U.S. cities have long been out in front of the federal government on climate action and CO2 reduction. The U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, created in 2005, has been signed by more than 1,000 mayors nationwide pledging to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol emissions-reduction goals. More recently, 11 large U.S. cities, including five of the top 10 metro areas in our 2013 Metro Index (San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Seattle) have become members of the global C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. In C40, more than 60 large metro areas around the world collaborate and share best practices in expanding clean tech and advancing policies to reduce emissions and use energy and other resources more efficiently. Such collaborations show that cities (and states) can exhibit leadership beyond national constraints and boundaries. “You don’t have to get Los Angeles to agree with Montana,” says C40 executive director and former L.A. deputy mayor Jay Carson.

In the U.S., we believe that quantitative, comprehensive benchmarking of states and the largest metro areas delivers the best snapshot of clean-tech progress each year. We hope that our U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index rankings encourage healthy competition, motivating laggards to catch up, and leaders to do even better in 2014 and beyond.

This article was originally published on Clean Edge and was republished with permission.

Lead image: Green energy city via Shutterstock

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