Renewable Portfolio Standards... So Far

In the US, state governments are leading the way in developing renewable energy generation. That's not really news to most Treehuggers, whether they live in the United States or elsewhere. We might not all know, though, how well the variety of state-level renewable energy programs are doing in terms of significant production of power from renewable sources. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has devoted itself to keeping an eye on states implementing renewable policies, and last week released a report on one of the most popular mechanisms embraced by US states: the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). According to the report, Race to the Top: The Expanding Role of U.S. State Renewable Portfolio Standards, the RPS concept has spread quickly in the past few years: 22 states and the District of Columbia have an RPS on the books, and over half of the US' population now lives in a state with an RPS. While the concept has caught on across the country, states that implement these standards don't necessarily follow models from other locations. Rather, RPSs are as different as the states themselves. Recent developments in these mechanisms have included ambitious target percentages of renewable energy (25% by 2012 in New York; 20% by 2015 in Nevada), differentiation between renewable power sources, often with emphasis on technologies that need an extra economic push, and inclusion of energy efficiency as a means of meeting targets.

Even more compelling is the study's finding that most states don't implement these standards primarily for environmental reasons. According to the report's "Executive Summary,"

...states consistently anticipate significant economic development benefits from promoting renewables, particularly given the promise of developing home-grown energy sources that could lead to instate job creation. In turn, states are also attracted to RPSs by the prospect of greater reliability of electricity supply in coming decades and the prospect of reducing conventional air pollutants through a shift toward expanded use of renewables.
Finally, nearly all of these states incorporate flexible compliance measures into their RPSs, including the use of tradeable credits. The report presents an overall favorable view of the innovations occurring in the states using RPSs, and presents case studies of what's happening in five states: Texas, Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Colorado. The report also notes challenges states face, including interstate cooperation (which is happening in a few places), implementation challenges (particularly siting facilities and expanding transmission capability), and, of course, the lack of engagement between state and federal policy makers. While we'd love to see a push at the national level for renewable energy standards, it's encouraging that almost half of the United States are taking up the challenge of alternative energy development, and creating some intriguing models along the way. :: Pew Center for Global Climate Change via the 25x'25 Tip Sheet