Tag Archives: RPS

States Stand Up To ALEC’s Assault On Renewable Energy: Clean Energy – 26 ALEC – O

Back in March, I wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) state-by-state attack on renewable energy. The attacks contribute to ALEC’s growing reputation as a “shadowy right-wing front group,” funded by the likes of Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. ALEC’s legislative efforts were aided by the Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank” and notorious climate change denier.

ALEC has a clear motive: to serve the interests of dirty fossil fuel power plants and block progress towards greater use of clean, homegrown energy.

I’m happy to announce that ALEC and the Heartland Institute’s efforts to roll-back individual state’s renewable energy goals decisively failed in legislatures spanning from West Virginia to Kansas. In total, 26 bills designed to remove renewable energy standards (RPS) for eight states were denied, according to a report from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy.

Now, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin will continue on the path towards a clean energy future. Even better, some states increased their energy guidelines, namely Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota.

This news comes as a resounding victory for the climate, consumers, and Americans who care to see the U.S. progress into the global $ 2 billion clean energy economy. Read More »

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The Oil And Gas Industry’s Assault On Renewable Energy

This commentary was originally posted on our EDF Voices blog.

Source: ali_pk/flickr

Renewable energy enjoyed a record year in 2012 – the U.S. wind industry surpassed 50,000 megawatts of electrical power generation capacity and solar proved once again to be the fastest growing energy source in the United States. That's a milestone worth celebrating, since greater use of clean, homegrown energy resources creates jobs, cuts foreign oil imports, stabilizes prices, makes our system more resilient and reduces harmful pollution. The list of benefits is vast. So who could possibly be upset?

Well, some utilities that own old and often dirty fossil fuel power plants are upset that renewables are making it harder for their older, polluting units to stay in business. Then there are oil and gas industry association leaders like American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard, who often talk about wanting a “level playing field” – implying that policies promoting renewable energy are unfair to fossil fuels.

Don’t be fooled. Renewable investments pale in comparison to the amount of money poured into fossil fuel companies since 1918 to fatten their bottom lines and crowd out competition. Fossil fuels have received around 75 times more subsidies than clean energy. Up to 2011 (adjusted for inflation), the oil and gas industry received $446.96 billion in cumulative energy subsidies from 1994 to 2009, whereas renewable energy sources received just $5.93 billion. An industry that has been enjoying federal tax subsidies for over a century has no standing to argue for a level playing field.

Heavily subsidized fossil fuels may have made sense 100 years ago, when we were racing to build the energy infrastructure of the last century. But today we're racing to build the clean energy infrastructure of the new century — and we need to support a new set of industries. And we're making real progress.

So it is no surprise that we are seeing a well-funded, industry-backed effort to roll back the policies that have been so successful in developing and deploying renewables. Take, for example, the latest assault on a series of state laws around the country that have increased the amount of clean, renewable energy these states produce.

Front Groups do the Dirty Work for Oil and Gas Industry

So far, 29 states have implemented Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) programs that require increased production of energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. They’ve been adopted in red states and blue – from California to Texas to Maine – through democratic processes and with popular support. RPS programs have helped jumpstart an industry that is spurring economic development, creating American jobs, boosting energy independence and cutting our carbon footprint.

A Bloomberg article released last week details how the oil and gas industry, through some self-described free market organizations that they fund, are trying to engineer a legislative massacre of these policies in more than a dozen states.

The groups may sound familiar: American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is currently pushing legislation around the country that would mandate the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems, and The Heartland Institute, which ran a billboard campaign last year comparing global warming "admitters" to Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson. Both have long opposed sensible energy policies. And their funders will sound familiar, too: the oil, gas and coal industries and their owners like the Koch Brothers.

Read More »

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Colorado: A Case Study In Clean Tech Planning And Execution

In a recent posts, we revisited the recent trio of reports of the clean energy clusters in Ohio, Iowa and Colorado and shared some insights on lessons learned from Iowa and Ohio.  In this post, we'll take a look at Colorado.

Colorado is the 12th windiest state in the U.S. and is currently 9th in installed wind capacity. It's one of only six states that have exceeded 10% of state generated electricity coming from wind.  For more than a decade, Colorado has been atop most lists for states vying for leadership in the clean energy economy.  It has research labs, a proactive state government, universities and active economic development efforts.  All of these have combined to help Colorado excel in the new energy landscape.

Consider that Golden, CO is home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the only federal lab dedicated to research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology.  For more than 30 years, NREL has been working on advancements in solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.  NREL, Colorado universities and private companies have leveraged the hometown lab to establish specialized research centers in several of these areas and contribute more than $700 million in the economic activity of Colorado each year.

The Denver-metro area, where our report focuses, has become a particularly popular place for cleantech startups and more mature companies.  In 2011, the region had about 1,500 companies and 18,000 employees in the cleantech industry, a 35% increase in direct employment growth from 2006. In terms of the entire Colorado workforce, cleantech employees account for 1%.  But that's twice the national average and generates more than a billion dollars in annual wages. Read More »

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30 Years Of Forward-Thinking Leaders Has Spurred Iowa's Clean Tech Growth

People who haven’t been following the renewable energy industry will be forgiven for their reaction when they’re told that Iowa is among the most advanced, opportunistic state in the cleantech economy.  “Iowa?  Isn’t that corn country?”

Well, yes.  But it’s also wind country.  And like few other states, Iowans have turned their constant breeze into a powerful economic force.

This is the last in a trio of posts highlighting the findings from EDF’s reports on the cleantech economies of Ohio, Colorado and Iowa (here is my last post on Ohio).  Today, I’ll focus on Iowa.

Despite its size, Iowa produces the second most wind power in the U.S. (Texas is #1 and California is #3) and is one of only two states that receives over 20% of its electricity from wind power.  More impressive has been the state’s ability to capture the economic — not just the environmental — benefit of that ranking.  According to the American Wind Energy Association, Iowa has attracted more major wind industry manufacturers than any other state.  It’s a great example of supply meeting demand.

Politically, wind power has been supported by both parties for three decades.  It was the first state to pass a Renewable Portfolio Standard, under republican Governor Terry Branstad in 1983.  In 2005, democratic Governor Tom Vilsack signed a tax credit for renewable energy production.  And in 2007 democratic Governor Chet Culver created the Iowa Power Fund to invest in local renewable energy research and development projects.  This level of across-the-aisle cooperation is unique among states and has given Iowa a considerable advantage in competing against larger and richer states. Read More »

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Guest Blog: The Devil In The Design – Energy And Climate Policy Design Matters More Than You Might Think

By: Guest Blogger Joe Indvik, ICF International

Policy design matters. But all too often, this notion is ignored by political pundits and belittled by policymakers in favor of flashy claims about the morality of a policy type. Like the latest sports car, a policy is usually touted as either a gem or a dud based on its superficial image, with only marginal public interest in looking at what’s actually under the hood. On the contrary, data-driven analysis of the inner workings of policy design will be the key to smart solutions on the road ahead for climate and energy policy the U.S.

The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill of 2009 is a prime example. Claims about this former centerpiece of the American climate policy debate ran the gamut of dramatic generalization. They ranged from accusations of a job-killing socialist scheme that “would hurt families, business and farmers—basically anyone who drives a car and flips a light switch” to claims from hopeful environmentalists that any cap would be better than nothing.  Discussion on the actual design of the bill was all but absent from the limelight.  Energy policy discourse is often dominated by these combative back-and-forths, which focus on oversimplified notions of whether a policy would be good for the country while glossing over the practical nuances that make all the difference.

The Data Tells a Different Story

Some of my recent research provides ammunition for those who insist the devil is in the details.  I recently teamed up with two colleagues from Harvard University and the German Institute for Economic Research to examine the effectiveness of feed-in tariffs (FIT), a policy widely adopted by European countries.  A FIT is a type of renewable electricity subsidy that values renewable energy higher than fossil fuels, increasing the price received by energy producers when they sell electricity back to the grid.  We wanted to know:  Have feed-in tariffs actually increased renewable electricity generation in Europe, as intended? Armed with this simple premise and some statistical models, we set out to do the first rigorous analysis of whether this popular but controversial policy has really worked at the macro level. We emerged with some surprising insights that may prove crucial as the U.S. develops its climate and energy policy in the coming years.

Our first analysis revealed a startling conclusion. Countries with a FIT install more wind power each year, as expected, but countries with a FIT for solar photovoltaics do not appear to install more solar capacity at all. In other words, this result implies that European FIT policies for solar power have been an abject failure on the whole. But it occurred to us that there was a massive problem with this approach: It treats all FIT policies as equal. In reality, tariffs can (and do) have drastically different structures and operate in diverse markets. This creates very different incentives for renewable energy deployment in different times and places. Ultimately, it throws our first analysis out the window.

So we took a step back. Instead of looking at the issue from the pundit perspective, we put ourselves in the shoes of the real drivers of renewable energy deployment: investors. Investors are concerned with policy only to the extent that it improves the business case for renewables—i.e. increases their return on investment (ROI). So we created a new variable to represent the ROI provided by each tariff and ran one final test. The results were, again, striking. Whereas countries with a FIT for solar do not necessarily install more solar capacity, countries with a FIT that significantly increases the ROI on solar investments install much more solar capacity. In other words, simply having a FIT means nothing; designing a FIT that intelligently works with existing market conditions to produce a favorable investment environment means everything.

Time for a Tune-Up

What does this imply for the climate and energy policy debate in the U.S.? It shows that not all policies are created equal, and that the differences between policies are actually more important than the presence of a policy in the first place. It also teaches us we have much to learn.

The next few years will be a dynamic and challenging time for energy policy in the U.S. Though only a few U.S. states currently have a FIT, many are considering following Europe’s lead. Also, a national climate bill or set of bills is likely to emerge as a new battleground for debate over the proper response to climate change. Rather than descend into ideological gridlock, we can use data-driven analysis of existing policies as a powerful tool to customize and optimize our approach in the U.S. How large must a FIT be set to be effective? At what size does a tariff become overkill, wasting taxpayer money? Do producers prefer large tariffs that last only a few years or smaller tariffs that support generation for decades? More importantly, is a FIT even the best choice for a given state, or would the populace’s goals be better served by a renewable portfolio standard or tax break instead?  How does the best policy choice change in regions with different production costs, electricity prices, and market structures?  We can make progress toward answering these questions by stepping back from the political melee, using quantitative analysis to take a look under the hood of a policy type, and examining what really makes it tick.

As we move forward, it is exciting to think that lawmakers can glean insights from policy successes (and failures) around the world in increasingly sophisticated ways. Though researchers have only scratched the surface of this potential, we would do well keep in mind the lessons already learned from our analysis and others like it.  Policy design matters—and in some cases, it is the only thing that matters.

Author:  Joe Indvik is consultant in the Energy, Environment, and Transportation group at ICF International in Washington, DC.  He holds a degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from Dartmouth College.  His academic research is focused on using the tools of quantitative analysis to make climate and energy policies smarter.

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