I’ve been trying to get a handle on how the Northwest states really fare when it comes to clean energy. Is it true that Oregon and Washington are leaders, or is it just a story we tell ourselves? To try to answer the question, I canvassed the interwebs for credible rankings of states.

The answer, as far as I can tell, turns out to be “a little of both.”

In most categories, the Northwest makes a respectable showing—and in some cases a very respectable showing — but there’s still plenty of room for improvement relative to other states. In particular, California is the state to beat.

Energy efficiency. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACCEE) handed out a 2010 roster with it’s “State Energy Efficiency Scorecard,” and it gives the coastal Northwest states high marks. Oregon ranked #3 and Washington ranked #6. (California claimed the top spot.) Other states in the region did less well: Idaho was #26, Montana was #33, and Alaska was #37.

  • Renewable energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) published a 2008 ranking of renewable energy production by state. Most of the data are for 2006.

    • For non-hydro renewable energy production, Washington was #10, and Oregon was #16. (California earned the top spot in this category.) If you include hydropower in the equation, Washington is easily the #1 state by volume.
    • Where the Northwest really shines in the NREL report is for total renewable generation (including hydro) per gross state product. Ranked this way, Montana was #1, Washington was #2, Oregon was #3, and Idaho was #4.
    • For biomass generation, the Northwest states are unexceptional. Washington led the region with the #15 spot; Oregon was #20, and Idaho was #26.
    • For distributed photovoltaic generation Oregon tied for #10, while Washington pulled in at #14, and Montana was at #23. (California was #1 for distributed PV.)
    • For wind generation, Washington was #7, Oregon was #9, Montana was #13, and Idaho was #19. (Texas was #1 for wind energy production.)

    Solar energy. An industry analysis of state solar energy policy factored in a variety of dimensions—including incentives, utility policies, net metering, and inter-connection—to produce scores and rankings. Oregon was #6 (with a score of 92 out of 100) while Washington was #17 (with a score of 65).

    Clean energy leadership. A very recent 2010 ranking by Clean Edge took a comprehensive look at states’ green energy economies and policies. Oregon landed the #2 spot while Washington netted the #4 position. (California got top honors once again.)

    Are there other important rankings I’ve missed? If so, send ’em my way and I’ll tally them up here.