With the early weeks of spring come state legislatures entering the heart of their sessions and the serious efforts lawmakers across the country are putting into legislative initiatives that will impact their constituents for years to come. And as witnessed in recent years, this is also the time of year in which so-called “free market” advocates move to weaken or eliminate state-imposed mandates requiring specific percentages of their respective state’s electrical power be generated from renewable resources like wind, solar and biomass.
Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), also known as a Renewable Energy Standard (RES), while eight states have voluntary renewable energy goals on the books.
Last year, 27 pieces of anti-RPS legislation were launched in 12 of those states, though only one succeeded – a measure in Ohio that froze that state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements for two years. While on first glance a ‘freeze’ may not seem all that threatening, it has, in fact, had the effect of chilling what was vigorous investment in renewable energy manufacturing equipment, stalling what had been a steady rise in jobs created by the sector.
With a number of states reaching legislatively set baseline dates for their RPS targets this year ‑ Michigan, Montana, New York and Wisconsin are meeting requirements set by law, while Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota have renewable goals with benchmark dates for this year – efforts are underway in those statehouses to either repeal the standards or build on them.
Other high profile efforts to repeal or weaken renewable energy targets are taking place in Kansas, Texas and, until this week, North Carolina.
A legislative effort to repeal the Kansas RPS, which calls for 20 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewables by 2020, failed last year. But the margin was close enough to prompt new legislation this year to kill the requirements. Other measures would freeze the RPS at 10 percent this year, and then kill it next year. Those pushing to kill the RPS in Kansas say it skews the market and adds significantly to the consumer’s cost of electrical power. However, a Kansas Corporation Commission’s report shows that of the state’s retail electrical cost of 9.95 cents per kilowatt hour, only about two-tenths of one cent can be attributed to the RPS.
While much of that legislation has stalled in Kansas, RPS-repeal legislation in Texas has passed the state Senate and is now pending in the House. That measure is under consideration, despite the fact that the state, which surged past early renewable energy targets years ago, now has more than $26 billion invested in wind energy, more than double the next most productive state, California. Some 26,000 jobs in Texas, most in rural areas, are based on wind investments. Yet, the repeal legislation would likely stifle that investment and discourage wind developers from moving to the state. Wind advocates also note that fossil fuel interests still get some $1 billion annually in incentives from the state and taking away RPS-established inducements from a relatively new but growing wind industry would be unfair.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, renewable energy advocates, with help from 25x’25 partners, were successful this week in turning back a measure there that would repeal the state’s clean energy requirements, known there as the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (in 2007, North Carolina became the first state in the Southeast to adopt a portfolio standard). The REPS requires state utilities to meet 12.5 percent of their electricity supply with renewable energy by 2021.
As elsewhere, under the renewable energy standard, clean energy companies have invested and generated billions in revenue and have created tens of thousands of jobs in North Carolina – all while stimulating rural economic development. And despite claims that the standard raised the rates consumer pays for electricity, the North Carolina Utilities Commission determined that there has been widespread clean energy development “under the existing framework without adverse impacts to utility ratepayers.”
The win for the REPS dramatically demonstrates North Carolina’s commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency, signaling to innovators and business leaders that the state welcomes their investments and jobs.
But even with the success in North Carolina, the challenges in other states underscore the need for stakeholders and other advocates all across the country to stay strong and urge their policy makers not to let bogus “free market” arguments, many coming from those representing fossil fuel interests, to dilute the influence of customers, distributed generators and independent power providers who drive their states towards a more diversified energy future.