Infrastructure & Environment

Renewable Energy Requirements Get a Second Wind

Conservatives were out in force last year trying to roll back requirements for some states to use alternative energy. They failed. Does that mean attitudes on green power are changing?
by | April 2014
David Kidd/Governing

Last year could have been a rough one for wind power. As a renewable source of energy, it was under attack in 20 states—as were other alternative sources of energy. Leading the charge was a corps of well-financed conservative groups, and one front in their well-financed attack was Republican-led states. The target of their offensive? Mandates that have been passed over the last 15 years calling for alternative energy sources to be an ever-increasing part of the energy base in a state.

Given the way red states and the conservative groups lined up, it certainly looked like rollbacks in state renewable energy requirements—if not outright repeals—were inevitable. And yet, energy and politics have a strange way of playing out. Kansas in particular, one of the reddest of the red states and one with a big investment in wind energy, proved to be a test case in the power of conservatives to push through an anti-renewables agenda.

The mandates in question are state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which call for a certain percentage of a state’s electricity to be generated through renewables, such as biomass, solar, thermal, hydro or wind. The first RPS law passed in Iowa way back in 1991. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia plus two territories have adopted RPS, while eight other states and two territories have set renewable energy goals.

Last year, however, there was an all-out attack on these portfolios in 20 of those 29 states. The effort was led by such conservative stalwarts as the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which helped supply model legislation aimed at derailing the renewable boost. Bills in the 20 states were introduced to either modify, stall or kill RPS outright.

The reason for the 2013 flurry of attacks on RPS is that a host of state laws will be going into effect in the next few years, says Susan Williams Sloan, vice president of state policy for the American Wind Energy Association. The anti-RPS forces claim that these laws represent a multimillion dollar tax on utilities. That translates, they say, into a job-killing multimillion dollar tab for consumers who would be forced to pay higher rates for the higher-cost renewables when compared to such carbon-based fuels as coal and natural gas.

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