Numbers From the War on State Renewables Standards
At least twenty-two of the 29 state renewables standards have been attacked by legislators or regulators in the last year or are now under attack.
Known as a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) or a Renewable Energy Standard (RES), these mandates require utilities to obtain a portion of their power from renewable sources by a certain date. Research shows they add less than 5 percent, on average, to the cost of electricity bills and are an effective driver of renewables growth.
Some of the attacks are part of a push led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and aligned advocacy groups funded by fossil and nuclear interests. Most lack significant force. “But if they slow things,” Environment America Energy Program Director Rob Sargent noted, “they’re having an impact.”
The most serious fights
Landmark struggles between advocates for traditional generation and renewables in Kansas narrowly went to renewables in the most recent session. Bills that would have weakened the 20 percent by 2020 standard either by extending it to 2024 or revising it to 15 percent by 2018 were held up in committee. Both sides remain committed to their respective positions.
A North Carolina Assembly bill would essentially freeze the existing 12.5 percent standard at the present 3 percent except for existing contracts. Local advocates say the attack has moved moderate Republicans away.
In Vermont, anti-wind activists’ proposal would require large energy projects to comply to Act 250, the state’s land-use law and allow a minority to force costly delays on developers and slow the growth driven by Vermont’s popular 20 percent by 2017 standard.
Pennsylvania’s 18 percent by 2021 standard is under serious attack by an all-Republican legislature and Republican governor. One bill would allow natural gas to count toward the mandate, another would allow solid waste incineration to replace wind and solar, and a third would eliminate the tracking of new generation, allowing burned renewables to displace wind and solar.
The 15 percent by 2021 standard in Missouri was, as a ballot measure, approved by 66 percent of the state’s electorate. A new bill allowing hydroelectric to displace wind and solar, which appears on its way to approval, would reverse the voters’ will and stall out wind and solar growth.
In Ohio, a bill would review of the 25 percent by 2025 standard and the state’s efficiency standard and another would repeal the standard, despite a recent poll showing almost 80 percent of Ohio voters support the mandate.
Two major utilities have long lobbied in Connecticut to count HydroQuebec power toward the state’s 20 percent by 2020 standard. This year’s version would ostensibly expand the standard to 25 percent by 2025. But its provisions for hydro would end up allowing less wind and solar in 2025 than the current standard mandates for 2020. Supporters are rushing the measure to a vote and some legislators are beginning to wonder what the hurry is.
Substituting other sources
A bill would have allowed biomass generation to be counted toward the New Mexico 20 percent by 2020 standard, contrary to the original mandate’s intent to build capacity to use state’s rich solar and wind resources. It won in the lower house but died in committee when the current session ended.
In Maryland, an unsuccessful bill would have allowed natural gas to count toward the standard’s required 20 percent renewables by 2022. It foreshadows a potential eventual competition between the state’s huge but pricey offshore wind resource and cheap natural gas.
An Assembly bill, now held up in committee, would eliminate the drive for solar and wind in Wisconsin by including nuclear energy into the 10 percent renewables by 2015 standard. The bill sponsor’s district is home to two of Wisconsin’s three nuclear plants.
All hydro, all the time
Wind and solar advocates in Washington report at least ten previous bills similar to this year’s effort to allow already built hydroelectric projects to count toward the state’s 15 percent by 2020 standard, essentially flooding out new renewables. This year’s effort did not survive. Advocates remain vigilant.
Five different bills and a ballot measure all threaten to compromise Oregon’s 25 percent by 2025 standard by allowing hydropower to meet the requirement, essentially eliminating the need for new wind and solar. Advocates have the bills locked in committee but Republican sponsors say they will take a ballot measure to the electorate in 2014 if their bills do not get a vote.
For the second year in a row, a bill would compromise Montana’s 15 percent by 2015 standard by allowing it to be met by hydropower. A pending compromise allowing only new hydro to apply would be a win for renewables because environmental restrictions tend to block new hydro.
Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage has, for the second year, brought a measure that would count hydroelectric power from Canada’s HydroQuebec toward the requirement, drowning potential new wind and solar. It was stopped last year and is expected to fare worse in this year’s Democratic legislature, but governor-backed initiatives require respect.
A rethinking, a legal battle, and a nuisance attack
Michigan legislation brought by Republicans in 2011 would have repealed the renewables and efficiency standards but moderate Republican Governor Rick Snyder, elected in 2012, announced a review of Michigan energy policy and asked the legislature to hold the bill. It did, setting up an eventual confrontation between conservative and moderate Republicans.
Legislative efforts against the Colorado’s 30 percent by 2020 standard have gotten nowhere — but a 2011 federal lawsuit could undo standards everywhere. The potentially precedent-setting suit argues the state mandate is unconstitutional according to the commerce clause and should be voided because it discriminates against out-of-state coal-fired electricity.
Minnesota renewables advocates fighting for an expanded solar mandate to go alongside the 25 percent by 2025 renewables requirement were distracted during the last term by a nuisance bill which would have abolished the standard. Democratic legislative leaders kept the measure bottled up in committee long enough to kill it for the session.
Some empty gestures and a sign of hope
Virginia’s voluntary 15 percent by 2025 standard was hit hard by passage of legislation backed by the state’s two powerhouse IOUs. As of July 1, the utilities’ main incentive to participate in the program will be eliminated, leaving it more profitable for them to stay with coal-fired and nuclear generation.
A nuisance bill would repeal the Texas standard requiring 5,880 megawatts of renewables by 2015. It is meaningless legislation because Texas now has an installed wind capacity of 12,200 megawatts. Yet renewables advocates will have to delay PACE program and net metering efforts to consider a response.
Conservative legislators in New Hampshire last year unsuccessfully sought limits on the state’s participation in New England’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Passage would likely have undermined the marketplace supporting the 24.8 percent renewables by 2025 standard.
West Virginia’s voluntary 25 percent by 2025 standard is so “watered down,” environmentalists say, that some coal plants qualify for it. Every utility in the state, despite their coal reliance, is already compliant. Still, the Republican legislature is considering a bill to repeal the standard and another to delay its implementation until the U.S. no longer imports coal.
Early this year, Commissioner Gary Pierce proposed that the all Republican Arizona Corporation Commission lower the state’s 15 percent by 2025 standard. Pierce withdrew his proposal when a public outcry revealed even fellow Republican commissioners would not support him. Some Arizonans believe this reflects a national trend of pro-business Republicans recognizing the economic opportunities in renewables.