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States Lose the Carbon and Work on Cleaner, On-Demand Energy Habits

Forecast ’24: In 2024, legislatures will continue efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while boosting the reliability and resilience of the electric grid with cleaner energy sources.

By NCSL Staff  |  November 28, 2023

In next year’s legislative sessions, expect lawmakers to continue their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a growing interest in cleaning up the high-emission building and transportation sectors. Meeting growing energy demands is another priority, and legislatures are poised to back ongoing efforts to boost the reliability and resilience of the grid while transitioning toward cleaner, on-demand energy resources.

NCSL Forecast ’24

This special report from State Legislatures News covers the topics NCSL’s policy experts anticipate will occupy state lawmakers’ time in 2024 legislative sessions. Read the full report here.

Hot Topic: Decarbonizing the Transportation and Building Sectors

As states ramp up efforts to decarbonize their economies, they have increasingly shifted their focus away from the electric sector, where significant progress has been made over the past decade. Thirty states, Washington, D.C., and two territories now have active renewable or clean energy requirements.

Instead, they have turned their attention to other high-emission sectors, namely transportation and building, which together accounted for more than 40% of total greenhouse gas emissions in 2021.

Reducing emissions from heavy industry is a growing area of focus as well.

ACTION: States have promoted electric vehicles for years, but recent federal funding has accelerated many programs. As state and federal tax credits for new and used electric vehicles spur adoption, states aim to ensure the transition to EVs is as smooth as possible. States increasingly are considering policies to expand access to EVs and EV charging infrastructure to middle- and lower-income communities and other underserved areas, including by leveraging federal funding opportunities.

In the building sector, policymakers have sought ways to reduce emissions from space and water heating in commercial and residential buildings, which rely significantly on natural gas. This has not been without controversy, however, as a growing number of local governments enacted building ordinances prohibiting natural gas hookups in new buildings over the past several years. New York recently became the first state to enact a statewide prohibition. In response, more than 20 states have enacted “fuel choice” bills that preempt local governments from restricting access to fuels like natural gas.

Perhaps threading the needle, Colorado and Minnesota have enacted “clean heat” policies, which aim to decarbonize the building sector without prohibiting natural gas. These policies aim to electrify more building appliances while reducing emissions from natural gas networks through efficiency and blending cleaner fuels. A growing number of states and local governments also have established building performance standards, which require existing buildings to meet energy or emissions-based performance targets.

Hot Topic: Expanding Clean, On-Demand Energy Resources

States and the federal government increasingly are expanding the technologies that can provide clean, on-demand energy in support of both decarbonization goals and grid reliability. These “firm” or “dispatchable” resources can deliver power whenever called upon, in contrast to variable energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

Extreme weather events that strain energy infrastructure are growing in frequency and intensity. The U.S. has experienced at least 20 billion-dollar disasters in three of the past four years; in fact, 2023 had by August surpassed the prior record for the most billion-dollar disasters in a single year. (The average since 1980 is just over eight such events per year.)

Not only have storms battered electric lines, but heat waves and winter weather events have pushed generating resources to the limit, increasing demand and straining the grid during recent high-profile events in Texas, California and the mid-Atlantic.

ACTION: Through various enactments, states are supporting technologies that can bolster the reliability and resilience of the grid during the transition to a cleaner resource mix. There is particular interest in resources such as advanced nuclear power, long-duration energy storage, geothermal, and carbon capture and sequestration. These can supply on-demand electricity while also reducing power sector emissions. States also are working to replace traditional fossil fuels with new sources, such as hydrogen and renewable natural gas, which could be blended into existing natural gas infrastructure to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

These technologies are still largely in the developmental stages; however, states, industry and the federal government have prioritized their development due to their unique operating characteristics and the anticipated needs of the grid. Recent federal legislation has only accelerated momentum, with programs and tax incentives to help commercialize many of these technologies.

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