Protecting Renewable Portfolio Standards from Cynical Attacks

Guest Blog | March 22, 2013 | Energy Policy, Solar, Wind

This guest post was written by Mindy Luber, President of Ceres and Director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) and was originally published on on March 19, 2013. It has been re-posted here with permission.

Unless you’re talking about motherhood and apple pie, it’s nearly impossible to get 80 percent of voters to agree on anything. Well, you can add clean energy to the list.

According to a poll released last month by Fallon Research, nearly 80 percent of Ohio voters support laws requiring the state to produce a portion of its electricity from clean energy sources like solar and wind.

Yet, despite this overwhelming support for a policy that’s already on the books, an Ohio State Senator is seeking to repeal the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which calls for 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.


“It is my strong conviction that the choice of energy supply should come from the demands of the free market, and not from policy makers and environmental lobbyists,” the Republican Senator said.

At 80 percent support, the demands of the free market – that is, consumers who purchase power each day – seem pretty clear in Ohio. And 28 other states with Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) would agree.

RPSs have been a big hit across the U.S., catalyzing billions of dollars of investment, thousands of new projects and hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, including 30,000 new jobs in 2012 alone. And as more wind and solar projects are built, production costs keep falling. In Midwest states, for example, cheaper wind energy has helped reduce wholesale electricity costs by 40 percent since 2008.

Yet, despite these gains, renewable energy standards are under attack in numerous states, often at the behest of fossil fuel interest groups. So far, fortunately, most of these efforts are falling on deaf ears.

In Kansas, one such group is seeking to roll back a 2009 law mandating that 20 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy by 2020. This, despite the fact that the RPS has created 13,000 new jobs in Kansas, has generated $7 billion of economic activity and has strong bi-partisan and business support. Their effort failed.

“Investment in the renewable energy economy is creating jobs across all employment sectors,” says Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a vocal clean energy supporter and one of nine Republican governors in the Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition.

In Arizona, the nation’s largest producer of solar energy per capita, the Arizona Corporation Commission is seeking to scuttle a requirement that 15 percent of the state’s power come from renewables by 2025. Within weeks of its announcement, dozens of renewable projects were stopped, including major projects with the Department of Defense and Wal-Mart. Last week, the Commission abandoned the repeal effort.

Investors see huge economic and job creation potential for renewable energy. The state renewable mandates alone could generate up to $400 billion of private investment by 2030. But stop-and-start policy cycles would send the wrong signals.

As Bennett Freeman, senior vice president at Calvert Investment Management, wrote in a recent column supporting Arizona’s RPS, “Policies like the state renewable-energy standards are key.”

Leading U.S. companies also see an opportunity in turning to renewable energy. A Ceres report released late last year showed that a majority of Fortune 100 companies have renewable-energy goals, greenhouse gas reduction goals, or both. They’ll need strong consistent policies to help them meet those commitments.

Meanwhile, the attacks keep coming. One day after the Arizona Corporation Commission abandoned its repeal effort, a North Carolina legislator filed a bill to roll back North Carolina’s clean energy mandate.

Voters, investors and businesses agree on renewable energy standards, but if they keep quiet on their support, they could let the 20 percent overrule the 80. And, to me at least, that doesn’t look like the demands of the free market at work.

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