Renewable Tug-of-War

State legislatures jockey for renewable energy standards

State legislature versus the administration. It’s an ongoing battle, seemingly omnipresent regardless of who takes office, and probably until the end of time. It also applies to a range of issues. One of these, perhaps more pertinent than ever under present legislation from all branches, is renewable energy.

A constant tug-of-war exists in the energy sector between state legislators and Washington’s plans for nationwide goals. This, obviously, involves more than just climate interests, but economic and political motives. A number of states have a renewable energy standard (RES) or RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standard), which includes a percentage of total energy generated by renewable sources to be met by a certain year. Listen to this guy explain it, if only for your own entertainment:

For example, Minnesota’s renewable energy standard would increase to 50 percent by 2030 under a bipartisan plan unveiled last Monday by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. The state’s current RES stands at 25 percent by 2025 for all utilities, but 31.5 percent by 2020 for Xcel Energy, its largest. In this particular case, the Land of 10,000 Lakes illustrates a progressive bipartisan effort over time. The original standard was established in 2007 in the Next Generation Energy Act and signed by then-governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican. In 2013—under current governor Mark Dayton of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party—legislators passed an additional requirement for public utilities to generate or buy 1.5 percent of their retail sales from solar energy. As of 2017, about 21 percent of Minnesota’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

But states constantly do battle with plans laid out by whichever President is in office. President Obama’s vaunted Clean Power Plan set the most ambitious—and comprehensive—U.S. renewable energy goals in the country’s history. It also aimed to make these, essentially, blanket goals, which ultimately proved too difficult and contentious to pass within that administration’s eight years in office. Most recently, under President Trump, verbal commitments to scaling back this plan have been voiced. Although nothing has been implemented yet, state legislators in places with lofty renewable energy goals are already preparing for this and combating it.

Massachusetts and California have proposed bills that would accelerate—and increase—previous commitments to expand the amount of energy sourced from renewables. California Senate leader Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has proposed legislation that would require the state to obtain 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2045—up from 50 percent by 2030. Lawmakers in both chambers of Massachusetts’s legislature introduced efforts at obtaining 100 percent of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2035—and to completely decarbonize its economy, including transportation, by 2050. The state previously pledged 15 percent renewables by 2020, increasing 1 percent each year after. Nevada is also looking to boost its renewable energy use to 80 percent by 2050.

Then you have states like North and South Dakota, which have “voluntary targets” but no documented requirement. Most of the South (with the exceptions of Virginia and the Carolinas) have no renewable energy standard set. Lastly, states like Wyoming not only have no RPS plan, but have state lawmakers who have actively attempted to tax renewable production.

When it comes to renewable energy, every state is a “battleground state”…and the battle rages on.


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