The 5 red states leading America in green energy

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The 5 red states leading America in green energy

Idaho sunset on a power county wind farm
Blatant Views I Flicker CC

With Donald Trump officially putting an end to the so-called war on coal, states whose economies were hampered by clean air and emissions regulations are finally free to return to the days of rugged, fossil fuel–dependent industry.

But will they?

Certainly, the states that have long relied on coal and mining jobs for economic stability will benefit from the end of Obama-era regulations. But among those states — the overwhelming majority of which swing conservative — a select few have made strides in renewable energy, recognizing that advances in green technology are often accompanied by cost savings. Duke Energy, which has one of the largest fleets of coal power plants, just announced it will build three solar power plants in Kentucky, and it's not the only renewable-energy effort under way in the heart of coal country.

Renewable energy comes from a source that is naturally replenished and not depleted when used. The U.S. Energy Information Administration classifies solar, wind, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal energy as renewable. It opts not to include nuclear energy, which — while emission-free — relies on finite uranium deposits. Some of the accepted sources also attract their own controversy as "renewables," including hydroelectricity and biomass.

But based on the EIA's renewable-energy definition and 2016 data, five red states turned to renewables for more than 29 percent of their electricity production. Here are those five, along with a breakdown of which renewable-energy sources are powering their state.

  • 5. Kansas — 29.79% (14,193 GWH)

    Home to the geographic center of the contiguous United States, Kansas is among the flattest states in the country. But it was only in the last decade that the state began taking advantage of its vast wind-energy resources, growing from less than 1 percent of net electricity production in 2005 to nearly 30 percent in 2016. Kansas is still largely dependent on coal, however, and is one of the country's top hubs for crude oil and natural gas production. And in 2015 the state government signed legislation that turned its renewable-energy standard — which required utilities to purchase or generate 20 percent of peak demand from renewable sources — into a "voluntary" goal.

    Solar: 0% (0)

    Wind: 99.44% (14,113)

    Biomass: 0.44% (63)

    Hydroelectric: 0.12% (17)

    Geothermal: 0% (0)

      Mammatus clouds gather over a wind farm in rural Kansas.
      Jason Persoff | Getty Images
    • 4. Alaska — 32.56% (1,713 GWH)

      The largest state in the country is also the most uninhabited, meaning that its total annual electricity production is among the lowest, at 5,137 gigawatt hours. Even so, Alaska's energy demand per person is the third highest in the nation, and the oil and natural gas industries have long been key pillars of its economy. In recent years, warmer temperatures have reduced the amount of time energy companies can explore onshore oil, due in part to drilling equipment that can only be used during the coldest months. Gradually, the state's 12,000 rivers have allowed Alaska to turn more to hydropower, which in 2016 accounted for about 30 percent of its total electricity production. The massive Alaskan coastline also provides significant wind resources, and its volcanic fields — though largely untapped — mean there may be a future for geothermal energy.

      Solar: 0% (0)

      Wind: 9.57% (164)

      Biomass: 0% (0)

      Hydroelectric: 90.43% (1,549)

      Geothermal: 0% (0)

      Design Pics Inc. | Getty Images
    • 3. Montana — 43.85% (12,313 GWH)

      Montana's energy portfolio is a case of two extremes. On the one hand, the state is believed to hold one-fourth of the nation's total demonstrated coal reserves and is a net supplier of fossil fuels to the rest of the United States. On the other hand, its elevated terrain creates fast-running waterways that flow into the Missouri River and its tributaries, providing the resources for Montana to become the seventh-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the country. Eastern plains also offer excellent utility-scale wind potential, but Montana's low-density population means that new wind projects must depend on demand from other states.

      Solar: 0% (0)

      Wind: 17.3% (2,130)

      Biomass: 0% (0)

      Hydroelectric: 82.7% (10,183)

      Geothermal: 0% (0)

      The NaturEner USA LLC Glacier wind energy farm in Ethridge, Montana, is run by Accion SA, the second largest wind farm owner in the world.
      Bloomberg | Getty Images
    • 2. South Dakota — 70.26% (7,279 GWH)

      Without any coal production or reserves of its own, South Dakota must rely on shipments from other states to meet internal demand. For the rest of its electricity consumption, the state's population of 858,000 — which is actually outnumbered by livestock — relies on renewables. South Dakota benefits from excellent hydroelectric infrastructure, with three of its five largest power plants reliant on the Missouri River. In 2016 hydroelectric power accounted for 39.9 percent of South Dakota's net electricity generation, allowing residents to enjoy electricity prices significantly lower than the national average. That same year, the state ranked second in the nation in percentage of net electricity generated by wind, falling behind only Iowa. South Dakota also boasts significant undeveloped geothermal and biomass resources. It's one of the nation's leading producers of corn and ethanol but has yet to begin any utility-scale biomass electricity generation.

      Solar: 0% (0)

      Wind: 43.21% (3,145)

      Biomass: 0% (0)

      Hydroelectric: 56.79% (4,134)

      Geothermal: 0% (0)

      Gavins Point Dam on the Missouri River has three hydroelectric generators, each with an installed capacity of 44,000 kilowatts.
      Patrick Ziegler | Getty Images
    • 1. Idaho — 78.65% (12,212 GWH)

      Idaho is an anomaly. The last time the state voted Democrat in a presidential election was in 1964, but party lines haven't stopped its residents from enjoying the fruits of green labor. Idaho's rivers provide excellent sources for hydroelectric power, allowing utilities to offer the sixth-lowest electricity rates in the country. Idaho ranks second-lowest, next to Washington, among states that are not dominated by coal or natural gas. Idaho's wind power industry has also begun to flourish, recently developing an export market to meet other states' energy needs, and it's one of only seven with commercial-scale geothermal electricity generation. Its three largest utilities also offer net metering programs for commercial, residential and agricultural customers who generate their own electricity from renewable resources.

      Solar: 0.24% (29)

      Wind: 19.87% (2,427)

      Biomass: 1.74% (213)

      Hydroelectric: 77.35% (9,446)

      Geothermal: 0.79% (97)

      Hells Canyon Dam on the Snake River is the third installment of the Hells Canyon Project, a hydroelectric initiative started by Idaho Power Company in 1959.
      Harald Sund | Getty Images