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Solar and wind power is surging in the Mountain West but there’s plenty of room to grow

Wind turbines generating renewable energy in Spring Valley in White Pine County, Nev.
Dominic Gentilcore
/
Adobe Stock
Wind turbines generating renewable energy in Spring Valley in White Pine County, Nev.

Nationwide, wind turbines and solar panels generated more than 600,000 gigawatt-hours of energy in 2023, which is enough to power more than 61 million average American homes, according to research group Climate Central.

In the Mountain West, Colorado generated enough wind and solar energy to power nearly 2 million homes, the most in the region. Not far behind was New Mexico, which produced enough wind and solar to power more than 1.5 million homes.

Rounding out the region’s solar and wind power are Nevada (1.1 million homes), Utah (500,000 homes), Wyoming (800,000 homes) and Idaho (300,000 homes).

With temperatures rising and climate disasters intensifying, shifting to renewable energy is more important than ever, said Jen Brady, senior data analyst with Climate Central.

“Greenhouse gasses are a problem, and these are largely from burning fossil fuels,” Brady said. “And that is how we get our conventional power. And so, renewables are a huge part of the solution. As we get hotter, we're going to need more power, so we also don't want to use more fossil fuels than we even do now. So, it's even more urgent to get renewables into place as the demand goes up.”

Climate Central analzyed historical data on U.S. solar and wind energy over a 10-year period (2014 to 2023). During that span, solar energy has increased more than eight times and wind energy has more than doubled.

Together, the two renewable energy sources account for 15% of energy use in the U.S., Brady said. However, that could grow to more than 50% over the next decade if states make the most of current climate policies in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), she added. The law features an advanced manufacturing production tax credit that incentivizes production of clean energy technologies, including solar and wind energy components.

At the state level, by 2035, wind and solar has the potential to make up more than 80% of energy capacity in 12 states, including several in the Mountain West: Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2024 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

Kaleb Roedel