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Republican Wave Boosts Anti-Renewable Energy Efforts -- Again

Every state that’s tried to repeal renewable energy standards has failed, but attacks may resurface in several states this year.

Republicans in the Kansas Legislature are talking again about ending the state’s renewable energy standard. Two years ago, a bill to repeal the standard made it through the Kansas Senate, but was defeated in the House. A vote just two months later was much closer, but also failed. Now, however, Kansas Republicans have added five seats to their majority in the House and think they may have enough votes to kill the standard once and for all.

Kansas’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires utility companies to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted RPS, while eight other states have set renewable energy goals. Renewable portfolio standards came under attack about three years ago, when the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) developed model legislation to repeal or roll back such standards. In 2013 alone, 20 states tried to end RPS. All those bills came up short.

But in the wake of a Republican wave in several states in November, attacks on renewable energy standards may resurface in Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, to name a few. At issue for opponents is the cost -- fears that RPS will lead to rate increases for electric customers -- and whether renewable energy should compete with fossil fuels in the free market rather than being mandated by the state. 

RPS supporters counter that ending standards could have a negative impact on the development of clean energy industries. Kansas, for example, is home to the second largest wind industry in the nation. Repealing standards there, advocates argue, could kill jobs and hurt the fight against climate change.

Advocates of renewable energy standards also point to the popularity of clean power. A poll commissioned last year by the pro-renewable Climate + Energy Project in Kansas found that among Kansas voters, 73 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents and 82 percent of Democrats support the 2009 RPS law. “They keep trying to rally people around technologies that people don’t really care that much about,” says Nathanael Greene, director of renewable energy policy at the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, of the efforts to repeal RPS. “I mean, who likes coal plants? Who likes natural gas wells? People get it -- that there’s some money there, jobs. It is not that people are inherently against those technologies, but people love solar. People want clean power; they want clean air for their kids.”

Noticeably absent from the debate in Kansas two years ago were utilities. Most utilities have already exceeded the 15 percent RPS goal, as well as a subsequent 20 percent goal. Their apparent neutrality on the renewable energy standard might have something to do with the fact that utilities tend to plan 20 to 40 years out and therefore crave policy stability, Glen Anderson of the National Conference of State Legislatures told Governing last April.

It is still too early to know whether this new round of bills will be successful or not. Either way, they likely won’t be the only legislation taking on energy policy in the states this year. ALEC has introduced new model legislation that would essentially shred Environmental Protection Agency regulations -- a position that could be popular in red states such as Arizona and Texas.

Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.
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