Strong Support for Renewables Continues in States, But More Needs to be Done

This week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that requires 50 percent of that state’s electricity come from renewable sources, like wind and solar, by 2030. The new law also establishes the equally ambitious target of doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

The new provisions build on a previous Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) that called for 33 percent renewable power by 2020 – a goal the state’s utilities said they were well on track to hit. The state currently draws about 25 percent of its electricity from no-carbon energy sources, and the fact that’s up from 11.5 percent in 2009 makes hitting the new 2030 goal a virtual certainty.

Given the population and rate of power consumption in the state – if California were a country, it would represent the world’s eighth largest economy – the new RPS is expected to have a global impact and give impetus to other states and nations to pursue renewable energy as a principal part of their energy mix.

California is hardly the only state to up the ante on renewables. Over the past year, Hawaii enacted legislation that sets a goal of getting 100-percent of its electricity from renewables by 2045, up from a previous requirement of 40 percent by 2030. Vermont converted that state’s non-binding goal into a requirement that 75 percent of its electricity come from renewables by 2032.

California, Hawaii and Vermont are among 29 states, along with Washington, D.C., and two territories, that have adopted an RPS. Maine has a mandatory target of 40 percent by 2017, while New York is expected to reach 30 percent this year. Connecticut aims to hit 27 percent in five years, while five states – Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon ‑ have set targets of 25 percent by 2025. The remaining RPS states have targets ranging from 10-24 percent over the next five to 10 years. Meanwhile, another eight states and two territories have set nonbinding renewable energy goals.

These states – particularly those that boosted their requirements this year ‑ are demonstrating leadership toward a clean energy future that, to date, the federal government has virtually abdicated.

As pointed out by the National Conference of State Legislatures, state and territorial governments recognize that these standards help drive the nation’s $36 billion market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. The policies are integral to state efforts to diversify their energy mix, promote economic development and reduce emissions.

But there is much more to be done to ensure the achievement of the 25x’25 goal, under which the nation meets 25 percent of its energy needs with renewable resources – biomass, biofuels, wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric – by 2025.

One requirement is vigilance, as commendably demonstrated this year by clean energy advocates who fended off efforts by legislators in a few states who, having become influenced by fossil fuel interests posing as “free market” supporters, came dangerously close to repealing their renewable energy standards.

Ohio has the dubious distinction of being the only state to “freeze” its renewable energy standard. However, clean energy advocacy there was strong enough to point out the economic losses the state was suffering over the policy uncertainty and supporting Gov. John Kasich’s position that a legislative committee’s recommendation to “indefinitely” keep the standard on hold was “unacceptable.”

Stakeholders and renewable energy champions are called upon to increase their efforts to convince state legislatures to get even more aggressive in pursuit of diverse energy sources. This is not a time for a “holding” pattern on renewable energy implementation. Reach out to lawmakers and regulators and urge them to adopt the funding mechanisms, tax credits and market-share targets and other policy tools that accelerate our nation’s transition to a clean, viable energy future.

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