Illustration: Thoka Maer

Climate Action Guide

How You Can Help Fix the Electric Grid

To make a real dent in climate change, we have to go big on renewables—but an outdated power grid is getting in our way.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

Power flows for most Americans through an aging morass of substations and infrastructure that make up the U.S. electric grid—actually a network of local grids linked together. Various utilities and energy companies essentially run regional monopolies, and while some have taken strides to convert the systems they oversee to cleaner technologies, many remain resistant to change. Here are six kinds of policies you can fight for, or against, to hasten the transition to a renewable future. 

Policies to Support 

100 Percent Clean Energy: To chart a clear course toward a greener grid, states are writing laws to accelerate the transition to 100 percent clean energy in the coming decades. Once passed, these laws can be used to justify other climate policies.

Energy Storage: In an antiquated grid, fossil fuels are burned as needed to meet demand. Wind and solar, however,  require batteries or other devices to hold energy produced at peak times for use later. New state laws can force reluctant utilities to pilot energy-storage projects. 

Grid Resilience: Extreme weather events have exposed the current grid’s vulnerability. Hurricane Sandy, for example, knocked out power for 8.5 million people in 21 states. Bills supporting microgrids—which generate and distribute power on a smaller scale, limiting major outages—will make the grid more resilient. 

Policies to Oppose 

Solar Caps: When homes and businesses capture sunlight to generate their own energy, traditional power plants are threatened. Utilities have lobbied for laws in many states to limit rooftop solar by capping installation size or the excess energy that panel owners can sell to the utility.

Archaic Subsidies: Renewable energy is getting cheaper. Yet in many states, utilities and fossil-fuel companies have pushed legislation that supports money-losing coal-fired power plants by increasing customer rates. The funds keep the plants running while delaying clean-energy growth. 

Wind Moratoriums: Citing a wide array of reasons, state lawmakers have passed legislation to hamper wind development. These moratoriums ban new turbines altogether, rather than promote the strategic siting of wind farms to maximize energy capture and minimize bird deaths. 

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