A bid by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute to roll back or repeal state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requirements is getting traction, including in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.
But not in Kansas.
The Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Marita Mirzatuny calls their tactics “sneaky.” Heartland’s energy senior fellow, James Taylor, asserts the efforts are living up to the simple logic of ALEC’s proposed “Electricity Freedom Act” in those and other states.
ALEC and Heartland contend requirements that states generate a certain percentage of electricity sales from renewable sources are not delivering their hoped-for benefits if one includes new sustainable jobs created and the cost of electricity to consumers.
When I spoke to Taylor recently about their plans for the 2013 legislative season, he acknowledged that solar, wind and other renewable energy projects are creating project-oriented jobs. But, once built, their systems don’t need most of those workers; ergo advocates are over-estimating the economic benefits. Instead, the tax and other benefits of RPS’ are lining the pockets of a relatively small number of private developers while doing little to reduce net harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
What IS reducing net greenhouse gas emissions on a significant scale is the 21st Century energy game-changer: hydraulic fracturing of natural gas. The boom in new gas supplies is supplanting coal as a generation source, stabilizing prices for electricity in some states while lowering overall greenhouse gas emissions in a way renewable energy sources are not yet able to achieve on their own.
A ‘Civil War’ Over States’ Rights to Mandate Renewable Energy
One closely-watched showdown in this now-expanding civil war is the elimination in Arizona of performance-based incentives provided to commercial solar system buyers by the state’s two investor-owned utilities. The state’s GOP-controlled Corporation Commission also drastically reduced the upfront incentives provided by the utilities to residential solar energy customers.
SolarCity Governmental Affairs Director Meghan Nutting told EDF that “as the Arizona incentives have been slowly reduced, the industry has kept up. Ratepayers have invested in the industry to a point where we (solar industry) are almost without a need for incentives. But a sudden and complete elimination of all incentives that cuts the commercial solar industry off at the knees means we will have to start over.”
That seems a bit of a stretch because incentives to date have helped reduce the cost of residential solar systems over the past six+ years. But when one looks at the diminimus cost to ratepayers of Arizona Public Service (APS), for example, the commissioners seem to be e splitting hairs to make a political statement.
The Arizona commissioners’ rationale for the cuts was that they will reduce the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) premium added to Arizona ratepayers’ utility bills to fund solar. The REST premium was established by the ACC in 2007 and is capped at $4.00 per month. $4 might be worth fighting for on principle. But calculations by Arizona solar advocates concluded that the Performance Based Incentives cuts will save APS ratepayers a miniscule $0.02 to $0.06 per month.
In Texas, Republican State Rep. Scott Sanford has filed House Bill 2026, which would eliminate Texas’ RPS, requiring 5,880 MW of renewable energy by 2015. Trouble is, Texas achieved its RPS target of 10,000 MW of installed capacity by 2025, 15 years ahead of schedule.
The Texas bill would also strip its Public Utility Commission of the authority to oversee the $82 million market in which credits for renewable energy are traded. Now THAT seems unnecessary because those credits are part of contracts that deserve to remain in place.
Claiming that “allowing natural gas, coal, wind and all forms of energy to compete on a level playing field will allow the cheapest, most efficient, and cleanest form of energy to prevail,” Sanford pretends that the playing field is level, which it is not. If he and his allies included the carbon/environmental burden of every fossil fuel in assessing the cost, efficiency and emissions of every source of energy, even natural gas would not prevail as much as people would like.
Let’s be prudent here. Even if the assaults on renewable energy mandates succeed in more than Arizona, the successes scored by wind, solar and other renewable sources deserve to stand, not be reversed. If it makes sense, let’s ‘sunset’ renewable mandates on a pre-determined timetable.
One way to level the playing field would be a carbon tax. Let’s see how natural gas and renewables fare with THAT figured in.
The double-standard in Texas didn’t make sense to lawmakers in Kansas last month. There, the GOP-majority-controlled House and Senate voted to maintain the state’s renewable energy mandates.
So the battle lines are drawn. Action Alerts by EDF, the Natural Resources and Defense Council and their allies are landing in email inboxes as you read this. This is a Civil War that could carry on for a long time.