Twenty-one states now demand that utility companies operating within their borders derive a larger percentage of energy from renewable resources. Two years, ago only 14 states had such state-wide mandatory portfolios.
For many states, the driving force behind the legislation had been the need to reduce pollution emissions. In the past two years, however, oil shortages and homeland security concerns have provided additional incentives.
"It's an important step in the process of weaning ourselves from foreign oil," says Rhode Island state Senator David E. Bates, who helped push through legislation in 2004 that requires a 20 percent renewable energy portfolio in his state by 2020. "We provided incentives for companies to produce renewable energy. We also took great pains to make it a workable formula. You can't tell a national grid to produce green energy in 20 years without making sure the energy is available."
Rhode Island, Montana and New York were among the states that passed renewable portfolio programs for the first time last year.
Legislators in states whose economies are heavily dependent on coal and fossil-fuel industries have been more reluctant to increase renewable standards. Colorado was able to put a 10 percent renewable standard in place via a ballot initiative. "This was the first time the issue was given the opportunity to demonstrate any level of public support," says Jeff Deyette, an energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Polls in recent times show an overwhelming majority of public sentiment."