A Renewable Energy Revolution in Trump Country?

Americans know which way the energy winds are blowing—and in the heartland, they’re blowing mightily.

April 27, 2018
A wind farm in Kansas


Something truly noteworthy is taking place in a deep-red swath of the Midwest.

According to a new report from the American Wind Energy Association, four states can now boast that 30 percent or more of their in-state electricity production comes from the wind. That’s an impressive figure, especially given the obstacles that are routinely placed in the way of renewable energy by politicians and administration officials working unabashedly on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.

But when you learn which four states currently lead the wind power pack—Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota—it’s not just impressive. It’s incredible.

In these and other GOP strongholds, politicization is giving way to pragmatism. As a result, renewable energy is on the rise. Take Oklahoma, the oil-and-gas-loving state that has brought us not only the anti-environmental EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt but also Senator Snowball himself, Jim Inhofe. Here, the wind industry is either directly or indirectly responsible for up to 9,000 jobs and is currently the largest taxpayer in 14 counties. Last summer, it was announced that Oklahoma would soon be home to a 2,000-megawatt wind farm—the largest in the country and the second-largest in the world.

In 2016, Kansans voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a margin of 20 points—predictable in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. But there, too, renewable wind energy is becoming a powerhouse. Kansas now has the third-highest wind production per capita of all states, with enough generating capacity—more than 5,000 megawatts—to power 1.7 million homes. Its farmers and ranchers receive lease payments totaling up to $15 million to $20 million a year from wind energy companies.

Iowa’s amazing success in this realm is already well documented; the Hawkeye State currently towers above the rest of the nation in its wind energy portfolio, which makes up 36.9 percent of its in-state electricity production. (At 36 percent, Kansas is a close second.) Upstart South Dakota is the newest state to join the 30 Percent Club. Within the next five years, the Mount Rushmore State is expected to triple the size of its nascent yet already booming wind industry, thanks to $450 million in private investment that has been spurred by the state’s generous tax breaks.

But these four states have more in common than their demonstrated enthusiasm for wind. All have Republican governors, Republican-controlled state legislatures, and Republican-dominated congressional delegations. By embracing this particular form of renewable energy, each of them is sending a signal to those who would stand in the way of the renewables revolution and keep America mired in the unsustainable fossil fuel economy. They’re saying to everyone, at both ends of the political spectrum: This is the future—the future of energy production; of permanent and well-paying energy sector jobs; of synergy between public policy and private enterprise; of economic security for farmers, ranchers, and other rural landowners; of cleaner air and climate action.

The Trump administration certainly appears determined to suppress the growing demand for wind and solar. Not only has it proposed slashing by 72 percent the 2019 budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, but it has also imposed tariffs on solar component imports, an act that could cripple the domestic solar industry in its infancy.

In his State of the Union address last January, Trump made no mention whatsoever of the progress renewable energy has made all across the country. (Although he did make one wholly embarrassing reference to “beautiful, clean coal.”) The good news is that even in those states where Trump won handily in 2016, and where he continues to receive support, people aren’t buying this cynical line. That’s not to say that wind energy doesn’t face political obstacles in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. In each of them, fights have recently emerged over the location of wind farms, the structure of tax incentive packages, and other aspects of the industry’s development.

But it’s important to note that these fights are over how, when, and where to build this industry—not whether to build it. That ship, indisputably, has sailed. And it’s being carried along by some powerful, and you might even say unstoppable, headwinds. May they quickly sweep across the rest of the country as well.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

onEarth Story
onEarth Story

How much longer can politicians pretend that it’s a divisive issue?

onEarth Story

In Texas, tax breaks for fossil fuels outpace tax breaks for renewables by a rate of two to one. Guess which sector is whining about unfairness?

Southwest Dispatch

With its plan to source all city energy needs from renewable power by 2022, Albuquerque, a winner of the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge, is also jump-starting its solar workforce.

onEarth Story

New polls show that all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike—want to close the book on our dirtiest fossil fuel.

onEarth Story

If you want to know where coal is headed, look no farther than Texas—where this dirty fuel is in its death throes.

onEarth Story

A number of governors who campaigned on renewables and other environmental causes won their races—and the chance to get their states moving on serious climate action.


By working with the U.S. Department of Defense, NRDC is mapping the way for renewable energy production near military bases in the West.

onEarth Story

The president either completely misunderstands the Paris Agreement or has chosen to flagrantly mischaracterize it.

Southeast Dispatch

Thanks to advances in turbine tech, the first commercial-scale wind farm in the Southeast is about to get whirring.

Western Dispatch

Ten percent of the state’s greenhouse gases come from a single coal-fired power plant—which will soon trade coal for solar.

Western Dispatch

A bevy of Colorado colleges are helping the young (and not so young) to learn new trades that will help fuel the state’s wind energy revolution.

Action Figure

Ever since Hurricane Maria devastated the island last fall, Jonathan Marvel and his team at Resilient Power Puerto Rico have been sparking a renewables revolution, one community at a time.

Midwest Dispatch

Since the election, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio have been keeping their clean power progress strong.

Sandia Labs/Flickr
onEarth Story

Utilities aren’t waiting for the Supreme Court’s Clean Power Plan verdict to green up their act.

onEarth Story

Ohio citizens shouldn’t let them get away with it.

Becky McCray/Flickr
onEarth Story

A new study proves what we’ve suspected all along—oil and gas drilling triggers earthquakes.

Midwest Dispatch

The state’s lawmakers have cut funding for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, leaving rural farmers in the lurch.

Western Dispatch

Solar and wind power are booming in Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Here are some secrets to their success.

onEarth Story

Not even the Republican governors who supported him are willing to get behind it.

onEarth Story

As the interior secretary ponders the fates of 27 national monuments, he seems to be hearing some voices more acutely than others.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.