As most legislative sessions across the United States now come to a close, a report by Colorado State University's Center for the New Energy Economy highlights the failure of concerted attempts to rollback state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had sought state-by-state repeals of these standards during the 2013 legislative session. Instead, several states passed new legislation to expand their RPS.

A Renewable Portfolio Standard is a law requiring that a certain percentage of statewide electricity production come from renewable sources. Thirty states currently have a mandatory RPS, and seven have voluntary RPS, to gradually wean themselves from fossil fuels, reduce their carbon footprints and become more energy independent. In many states, including Kansas, North Carolina, Montana, Massachusetts and Maine, the RPS has helped decrease renewable energy prices, created thousands of clean energy jobs and drawn billions of dollars of investment.

However, ALEC, which produces model state legislation to limit government and receives funding from Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, holds that RPS encumbers free market economics. In accordance with this belief, the organization introduced the Electricity Freedom Act in late 2012. The Electricity Freedom Act seeks to repeal RPS requirements, stating that RPS increases the cost of energy and doing business, threatens the reliability of the electricity grid and has "no appreciable impact on global concentrations of greenhouse gases."

The report by the Center for the New Energy Economy, entitled State Renewable Portfolio Standards Hold Steady or Expand in 2013 Session , finds that lawmakers in Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania tried to roll back their respective RPS in the 2013 legislative session, following the publication of the Electricity Freedom Act . It also cites a paper that found legislation introduced in 22 states to modify the RPS in a way that would slow the growth of renewable energy, by delaying compliance deadlines and/or expanding RPS eligibility to certain fossil fuels. The report mentions the influence of ALEC and the Electricity Freedom Act , but does not directly indicate how many of these bills were introduced by any of the estimated 2,000 state legislators who are members of ALEC.

However, other reports have traced the roles of these legislators. EcoWatch and Greenpeace USA have found that anti-RPS lawmakers in several states justified their stances with reports from the Beacon Hill Institute (BHI), a think tank funded largely by the Charles G. Koch Foundation. ALEC also has used BHI reports to make claims that RPS damages local economies by eliminating jobs, decreasing investment and raising energy prices by up to 15 percent.

In response to BHI’s claims, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released fact sheets stating that BHI has made numerous assumptions that contradict existing laws, science and economic projections. For example, BHI disregarded regulatory caps that would make their estimated rises in electricity rates impossible (BHI simply opted to call these regulations “complex” and open to interpretation). NRDC also said that BHI unfairly assumes increases in renewable energy prices, despite continually decreasing prices and lower future price projections. NRDC accused BHI of “fictitiously [driving] up the cost of producing wind power” in a report on the RPS in Missouri.

Yet ALEC has used BHI conclusions to influence RPS rollback attempts throughout the United States. In 2013, state senators in Kansas and North Carolina made efforts to decrease their RPS despite the thousands of renewable energy jobs in their states. Wisconsin legislators also attempted to decrease the state RPS standards, and include nuclear energy in the RPS. Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed legislation that defined natural gas and solid waste incineration as forms of renewable energy.

However, none of these bills were enacted into law by the end of 2013 legislative session. Supporters of renewable energy see this as a victory, but it is very likely that ALEC will continue to promote the Electricity Freedom Act and that the model legislation will continue to influence bills throughout the United States.

A more significant triumph for renewable energy and RPS, highlighted in the report by the Center for the New Energy Economy, was the passage of eight bills in eight different states during the 2013 legislative session to expand RPS. Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota raised their RPS and added new renewable energy carve-outs, including a carve-out for offshore wind in Maryland. Montana and Virginia expanded their RPS to include new sources of energy, such as new solar technology and certain types of compressed air energy storage. Nevada also passed legislation to expand renewable energy investment, and Washington passed legislation to increase the use of out-of-state renewable resources. Some of these states simultaneously voted for RPS expansion and against legislation inspired by the Electricity Freedom Act .

Author: Ben Wolkon