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State Renewables Policy Update - May & June Recap

Pierre Bull

Posted June 26, 2013 in Solving Global Warming

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Clean, renewable energy continues to advance in the states. And a majority of state legislatures have drawn to a close for the year. Legislative bills that threatened to weaken or repeal existing renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) in states including KansasMissouri, and North Carolina were all defeated.

Meanwhile, Colorado and Minnesota each passed major clean energy expansion policies. 

Which begs the question: How was it possible that we were able to advance clean energy policy in a slow-to-recover economy with stubbornly high unemployment? 

Clean energy foes found out the hard way that what we've said all along: "clean energy investment yields real, durable and local economic growth and jobs" is, indeed, a statement of fact. And it is a message that was clearly understood by reasonable and informed lawmakers. I am happy to report that state RPS standards remain intact for 2013 and continue to drive new investments in clean, renewable energy.

We must remain vigilant, however, and anticipate that we will see new threats in the coming months and years ahead from clean energy opponents who are backed by deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests who care more about their short-term gain than your health, community well-being, long-term local economy and the condition of earth's climate. 

Playing to Our (State-Level) Strengths

It is without a doubt in my mind that the economic benefits and job gains realized through clean energy investment in the states gave President Obama an assured level of confidence to boldly go forrth with his clean energy and climate goals in his climate action plan yesterday. I think the President's goals are a step in the right direction to accelerate our nation's sluggish economic recovery and build a 21st Century clean economy workforce. 

President Obama's climate action plan reflects a key tenet of NRDC's "authority under the Clean Air Act" climate action proposal put forth late last year: state-level implementation flexibility. States will have the ability to achieve specific carbon emission reduction targets using any combination of policies that they see fit to adopt. Boosting energy efficiency across the board -- in our cities, buildings, homes, and appliances -- is an excellent first step.

Renewables will play a major role. But not every state, nor area within a given state, has the same type or amount of renewable resource available. This level of variance of renewable resource potential among and within states is a big reason why states have followed a portfolio-based competitive procurement model most commonly referred to as the renewable portfolio standard (RPS). While the details of RPS laws can differ widely from state-to-state including the types of eligible renewables, program targets, and implementation authority, the RPS remains the policy du jour for states looking to scale up homegrown renewable energy.

Trending: States' RPS

The origins of the state-level RPS can be traced back to a state that knows a thing or two about renewable resources, broadly speaking. That state was Iowa. Called the Alternative Energy Law, Iowa first mandated in 1983 that investor-owned utilities competitively procure a nominal amount of energy from renewable energy resources by a certain date. From that small kernel of policy planted 30 years ago, nurtured through smart implementation and reaching larger goals over the years, Iowa today yields the highest levels of renewable energy output (mostly from wind) based on percentage of total electricity supplied by in-state renewable energy. Nearly a quarter of Iowa's electricity came from 100% clean, renewable energy in 2012. In fact Iowa, and it's equally wind-rich neighbors to the northwest in South Dakota and north in Minnesota, are ahead of most European countries for electricity supplied by renewable energy!

A majority of states, 29 at last count, and the District of Columbia (and worth noting the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and Northern Mariana Islands) have renewable energy portfolio standards (RPS) on the books. Based on an analysis done by the Union of Concerned Scientists, existing state RPS laws are crucial policy drivers for the U.S. to achieve Obama's goal of doubling of U.S. renewable energy output from 2012 baseline by 2020. This doubling of renewable energy will ultimately help us meet Obama's broader U.S. greenhouse gas reduction goal of getting to 17% below our 2005 greenhouse gas levels by 2020.

UCS Projected Renewable Energy Growth from State RPSs

States' RPS laws will continue to be key drivers to help us achieve a clean energy future. However, these policies alone are insufficient in getting us the full renewable energy "wedge" that is part of our overall strategy to achieve our ultimate objective to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution. We will continue to need  federal clean energy programs and incentives such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to sustain the level of financial investment necessary to scale renewable energy in the U.S. 

Despite Congressional inaction, a majority of states, through smart RPS policies, federal clean energy programs and incentives, and new actions articulated by President Obama yesterday, will continue to drive the great clean energy transition now well underway in the U.S. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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