State Legislators Beat Back Efforts to Weaken Renewable Requirements

Efforts to roll back state policies requiring utilities to obtain power from wind, solar, and other renewable sources largely failed in legislative sessions across the country this year, according to information compiled by analysts who track state incentives.

The requirements, known as renewable portfolio standards, are one of the largest drivers of clean energy generation in the United States, but have come under attack from opponents who argue such policies drive up the price consumers pay for power.

At least 19 bills were introduced in 2012 — five that would have repealed or frozen state renewable portfolio standards and 14 that would have weakened them – according to information released Oct. 24 by the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

Of those, only three measures seen as lessening the effectiveness of the standards were approved in Ohio, New Hampshire, and Virginia, according to the groups, which jointly administer the Energy Department-funded Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency(DSIRE).

Curtailing ‘Truly Renewable Energy Sources.’ The legislation passed in Ohio, for instance, allows power from certain combined heat and power (CHP) facilities and waste heat recovery systems to count toward meeting the state's standard, according to DSIRE.

Such a change “will undermine the intent of Ohio's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard and significantly curtail the development of Ohio's truly renewable energy resources,” the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group, said in written testimony on the bill in April.

The failed efforts, such as bills introduced in Michigan and West Virginia that would have completely repealed those states' renewable portfolio standards, can be blamed in part on consumers getting familiar with the policies, said Justin Barnes, a senior policy analyst with the North Carolina Solar Center.

“Once you have an existing state policy that’s been in place for three, four, five years, you have a situation where a lot of folks are operating on the basis that the policy is fair and they are making decisions based on that,” Barnes said in an interview.

40 Nuclear Reactors' Worth of Renewables. With congressional energy policy, including efforts to enact a nationwide renewable portfolio standard, long-stalled on Capitol Hill, state renewable portfolio standards – which are in place in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – are considered a bright spot for the renewable energy industry.

By 2015, electricity generation linked to state renewable portfolio standards is expected to exceed 40,000 megawatts – roughly the amount of power generated by 40 nuclear reactors – according to a report published in 2011 by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Still, efforts to roll back state renewable portfolio standards, largely based on arguments related to the economy and concerns about the costs of requiring “more expensive” electricity, are expected to continue in 2013, analysts say.

“I don’t think they will be deterred by the lack of success they had in 2012,” Jeff Deyette, assistant director of energy research and analysis for the Boston-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an e-mail.

More Attempts Seen in 2013. “They see the momentum that renewable energy has gained in recent years and know how effective state standards have been in driving that development,” Deyette said. “More likely, this year was just the tip of the iceberg in their efforts to stop that progress.”

Among the groups have pledged to continue efforts opposing state renewable portfolio standards is Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by Charles and David Koch, the owners of privately held Koch Industries who often finance conservative causes.

“It’s not the government’s role or any legislator’s role to artificially prop up an industry and force power companies to generate energy one way or another,” Levi Russell, a spokesman for the organization, said in an interview.

A report issued in 2010 by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank opposed to renewable portfolio standards, found that a national renewable portfolio standard would increase electricity prices by as much as by 36 percent for households and 60 percent for industry by 2035.

“There are in some cases pretty legitimate concerns about what the ultimate costs are to consumers,” said Barnes, the policy analyst with the North Carolina Solar Center, which is operated by North Carolina State University. “But there is also a lot of debate about how you calculate what those costs are.”