Isn’t It About Time for a U.S. Renewable Energy Standard?
by Bill Chameides | November 14th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
More than half the states in the union have committed to generating a portion of their electricity from renewable sources. But why isn’t there a national standard?
The elections produced mixed results for progress on renewable energy. Missouri upped the amount it plans to get from sources like wind and solar. California did not. But what’s going on at the federal level?
By my count 29 states and the District of Columbia have either a renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which mandates a percentage of the electricity produced in that state come from some form of renewable energy, or a non-binding renewable goal (see graphic).
Not surprisingly, the number of states with standards (and thus the share of electricity to come from renewables) has been on the rise, but increases in state RPS’s are not a slam dunk.
California is the leader of the pack, with more than 12,000 megawatts (MW) of renewable power mandated by 2025. On Election Day, California voters had a chance to ramp up its share of renewables to 50 percent by 2025. Opponents of the proposition argued that the standard would unnecessarily increase consumer costs and would actually discourage rather than encourage development of some renewable energy projects. Right or wrong, the opponents prevailed, and the proposition was nixed.
Voters from Missouri went the other way and passed a new RPS, requiring that 15 percent of its energy come from renewable sources by 2021.
States are doing a laudable job moving the country toward renewable energy. If fully implemented by 2025, the standards and goals established by the states would contribute the equivalent of about 9 percent of the nation’s current generating capacity. This could potentially offset about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, or about 3 percent of the country’s current CO2 emissions.
Three percent, though nothing to sneeze at, is not going to be adequate to meet the kind of emissions reductions many scientist estimate will be necessary to avoid dangerous climate change. A national standard for renewable energy could get us further down the renewables road. But so far Congress has opted against boldly stepping into the future.
We do have a renewable production tax credit to encourage wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects, but there’s no national standard for renewables. The energy bill passed in December 2007 had considered one, but it didn’t survive the final bill (see here and here). An extension of the production tax credit barely squeaked through at the last minute.
States have often led the way in environmental standards in the United States. For example, California was the testing ground for emissions controls on automobiles. But at some point, federal action is usually needed to bring some level of uniformity to the hodgepodge of state standards – if for no other reason than to allow corporations to operate effectively at the national level. Maybe we have now arrived at that point.
- Total generating capacity states will gain from new renewable energy sources once their Renewable Portfolio Standards or non-binding commitments take effect (http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/states/maps/renewable_portfolio_states.cfm). Based on 2006 net summer generating data from the Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/st_profiles/e_profiles_sum.html).
filed under: climate change, energy, faculty, renewable energy
and: electricity, production tax credits, renewable portfolio standard, RPS