Thick-Skinned: The Resiliency of Pro-Renewable Policies in the States

The following is a guest blog written by Kyle McGinness, a communications associate with the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE). It first appeared on ACORE’s website May 20.

“If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” Fossil fuel interests must have taken Aaliyah’s message to heart, because they continue to try to roll back pro-renewable energy policies in state legislatures, despite repeated failures over the past few years.

Every attempt to repeal or weaken renewable energy standards failed in 2013, meaning the fossil fuel lobby went 0 for 13. That’s an impressive record of failure, considering how often the fossil fuel industry has traditionally gotten its way and the outsized role money can play in less-scrutinized state level politics.

Yet those failures haven’t dissuaded fossil fuels from throwing good money after bad. This year has already seen new attacks on clean energy in Kansas, Ohio, and Colorado, with more on the horizon in places like North Carolina. Ostensibly, fossil fuel interests have the money and the influence to get their way, but there’s one problem: pro-renewable policies are working really well in the states, and as a result, they’re incredibly popular.

Let’s take a look at some of the states that have had their renewable portfolio standards threatened and see how they fared, beginning with Kansas.

If you were asked to name some states that support green energy, Kansas most likely wouldn’t come to mind. But the appeal of renewables reaches across partisan lines, and nowhere is that more on display than in this deep-red state.

In March, the state Senate passed a bill that would repeal Kansas’ renewable portfolio standard, but the House rejected the Senate’s legislation in a 44-77 vote. It’s not hard to understand why. Thanks to the RPS, Kansas now gets over 20 percent of its energy from cheap, renewable wind power. And that wind power brought $7 billion of investment into the state, which translates into more jobs for Kansans and more tax revenues for the government in Topeka. As a result, 75 percent of Kansas residents support the state’s RPS, including 73 percent of Republicans. Only 16 percent of Kansans wanted the RPS repealed.

That sort of intense popularity among voters helped save the RPS in Kansas. Will it do the same in Ohio?

Legislation (SB310) that would “freeze” Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for two years passed the state Senate despite its popularity amongst voters: 72 percent of Ohio voters support the RPS as it currently stands. The legislation is now sitting in the House, where it was recently marked up to remove an in-state generation requirement and give utilities the leeway to end any renewable energy power-purchase-agreement without warning.

The reasons for state legislators supporting this bill are unclear. The renewable energy and energy efficiency standards in Ohio cut electricity rates by 1.4 percent from 2008-2012, resulting in cumulative savings of over $230 million. The energy efficiency program alone has saved Ohio residents more than $1 billion since it was implemented. Yet at the same time, Ohio annually sends over $1 billion out-of-state to import coal.

To recap — legislators in Ohio’s state Senate voted to send jobs out-of-state, raise electricity prices, and do something that nearly 3/4ths of registered voters disagree with. That’s baffling. It now remains to be seen whether state representatives will allow this plan to move forward, and if so, whether Governor John Kasich will veto the bill.

Clean energy has also been under attack in Colorado, this time in the courts. A Washington, D.C. based law firm sued the state over the constitutionality of its requirement that 30 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2020. The group argued that the requirement placed an unfair burden on the fossil fuel industry of surrounding states, a laughable argument that was quickly dismissed by the federal judge hearing the case. It’s not unconstitutional when a state prefers a cleaner source of energy; it’s just common sense! But an appeal appears to be forthcoming, and so will need to be monitored closely.

Regardless of how things go in Ohio and Colorado, more attacks are on the way. North Carolina’s legislature appears poised to examine the Tar Heel state’s renewable portfolio standard and net-metering laws, even though those policies helped make North Carolina a leader in clean energy jobs. In fact, North Carolina’s solar industry grew by an incredible 121 percent last year.

The ferocity of the fossil fuel industry’s opposition to clean energy policies shows how seriously they are taking the renewable revolution, and the resilience of those policies in the face of such intense opposition demonstrates how valuable renewable energy is to the economies of these states. It remains to be seen how these policies hold up under the oncoming barrage of attack ads and lobbyists, but so far, so good.

State legislators will be faced with a future of clean energy, cheaper electricity and more jobs. They will have to say “yes” or say “no.*”

*(I’m so sorry.)

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