State Renewable Standards Continue to Fare Well, Despite Legislative Attacks

With the approach of the summer months comes the time when state legislatures around the country are finishing their business and adjourning until next year (or, in two years for the few that meet biannually). And it is the time when clean energy advocates assess the status of state renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – provisions that require utilities to derive a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources – that have come under increasing attack in state legislatures in recent years.

While the debate in some states presented some concern to renewable energy stakeholders, much like 2014, efforts to turn back the incentives that promote the development of wind-, solar- and biomass-derived electricity have pretty much failed.

In fact, renewable energy standards were actually strengthened in a number of states, including Hawaii, where legislators and the governor agreed the state should have a 100-percent RPS by 2045. California raised its requirement from 33 percent in 2020 to 50 percent. Vermont set a new renewable electric requirement for utilities of 75 percent by 2032. Michigan utilities are dropping their rates because of falling wind energy costs, giving momentum to efforts in the legislature to double that state’s current 10-percent RPS.

It should not be surprising when legislative pushbacks against standards that promote renewable energy gain some fairly significant media attention. It is because any efforts that even appear successful are rare, and those that are successful are, in fact, very rare.

Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), also known as a Renewable Energy Standard (RES), while nine states have voluntary renewable energy goals on the books.

Over the 2015 legislative session, bills attacking existing renewable electricity mandates were filed in 14 states. They failed in 11 of them. A quick look at where RPS opponents “won” shows extremely hollow victories.

In Kansas, efforts over the past two years by so-called “free market” advocates to repeal or weaken that state’s RPS failed. This year, the best they could do was convert the mandate to a voluntary renewable energy goal. Of course, what did not gain much in the way of media attention is the fact that Kansas had already met its RPS mandate five years ago. The “compromise” measure establishing the goal as voluntary also included some favorable tax provisions that will help assure continued growth of a growing wind industry in Kansas.

In West Virginia, the legislature repealed what can only be jokingly referred to as a “renewable” electricity standard there, given that it had very little to do with low- and no-carbon solutions like wind and solar, but instead offered incentives to high-carbon sources such as “clean” coal and fuel from burning tires.

In Nevada, a measure offered during the last day of the legislative session and adopted close to midnight added some new regulations that, while imposing some added bureaucracy that might pose some hurdles to clean energy development, does not change the renewable electricity requirements that must be met by state utilities.

A battle in North Carolina over that state’s renewable standard continues. A measure reducing the standard passed the Senate but remains in limbo in the House. Anti-clean energy legislators, who have maintained their effort over the past two years, promise to keep introducing the bill until it passes, regardless of the fact that North Carolina now ranks fourth in the nation in solar energy capacity. Supporting the RPS there are large corporate interests like Apple, Facebook, Google and Bank of America, all with major financial investments in the state.

Among states that turned back legislative efforts to roll back renewable energy mandates, Texas probably proved to have the highest profile. Lawmakers there had the good sense to let die a bill that would not only have repealed the mandates for wind energy development – Texas leads the nation in wind capacity – but would have ended a critical tool in promoting renewables – Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ), transmission projects designed to carry 18,456 megawatts (MW) of wind power from West Texas and the Panhandle to highly populated metropolitan areas of the state.

It should be noted that last year, 27 pieces of anti-RPS legislation were introduced in 12 of the RPS states, though only one succeeded – a measure in Ohio that froze that state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements for two years pending study. But lawmakers there are already hearing from economic analysts who say the “freeze” is chilling what had been vigorous investments in a strong renewable energy equipment manufacturing sector, stalling growth and what had been a steady rise in jobs.

Much of the success in maintaining and, in many cases, strengthening state renewable standards can be attributed to 25x’25 partners and other stakeholders, including big business, who are helping legislators understand that renewable energy is economically viable, boosts state economies and generates employment. The fight will continue again next year, and maybe in the years to follow. But those who would side with the fossil fuel industries are learning that the tide has turned. The march to a clean energy future is persistent and unstoppable.

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