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Twenty-nine States of Renewability

Authors: Ingrid Behrsin*, University of California, Davis, Anthony Levenda, University of Oklahoma, Sarah Knuth, Durham University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Energy, Economic Geography
Keywords: renewable energy, climate change mitigation, political-industrial ecology, environmental history
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Across the United States, communities are advocating for renewable energy transitions to fight against the climate crisis and create new jobs. At the policy level, 29 states and the District of Columbia have created renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) that set timelines and percentage targets for states to procure electricity from renewable sources. RPSs also stipulate which types of energy sources are eligible for inclusion as a renewable source. While each state’s RPS is an important step towards increasing renewable energy adoption, no two standards are alike. This paper examines the variation in energy sources classified as renewable in state RPSs. Building on approaches from political-industrial ecology and environmental history, we situate particular technologies’ inclusion in state RPSs within broader historical, environmental, and economic, contexts. In particular, we argue that classifying energy sources as renewable is a political process, rooted in specific long-term trajectories of (energy, agriculture, etc.) industrial development. These place-specific contexts condition the possibilities for renewable energy policy today. We provide four case study vignettes that demonstrate the regional variations of renewability, some of which also include carbon-intensive energy resources, environmentally destructive processes, and unjust social relations.

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