February 9, 2011
Bad Ideas Are Renewable, Too
GOP legislators around the country are seeking to dismantle renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) in several states. RPSs require that covered electricity providers procure a specified percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. What consitutes "renewable" is defined by statute, but typically includes wind, solar, biomass, and incremental (as opposed to existing) hydro power.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have such mandates (for background, see here), and legislators in Montana, Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri are seeking to remove or reduce the requirements of their state RPSs. The Missiouri one strikes me as especially interesting, because in Novermber 2008 the state's voters directly, through a ballot initiaitve, repealed an existing non-binding renewable energy goal and replaced and expanded the goal with a mandatory RPS of 15% by 2021.
I am on record as supporting RPS laws, so of course I think repealing or weakening them is a bad idea. I am also on record as saying that change doesn't always make sense, even if we don't think the current state of affairs is ideal. Messing with these state RPS programs by removing or lowering the standards is wrong on both counts.
A reduction or removal of state RPS programs could have sigbnificant impacts on jobs, investment, and financial planning in one of the main areas of new U.S. manufacturing. It also impacts how utilities plan, and that can, in turn, impact consumers. Perhaps just as important, people generally like RPS programs. In June 2010, a Pew Research/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll indicated that 87% of those polled supported requiring "utilities to produce more energy from renewable sources." (emphasis added) The same poll indicated that 68% of the respondents favored expanded exploration for coal, gas, and oil.
What does that tell us? First, people recoginize how important energy is to the economy and their lives. Second, it shows that most people don't hate coal, gas, and oil. Third, it shows that people really like renewable energy sources.
Policiticans should start listening to their constituents and paying attention to reality. Both are saying the same thing: Renewable resources and traditional resources can (and do) peacefully coexist. It's time to start working on policies that recognize this reality instead of constantly pitting one source against another. For the next thirty to forty years, at least, this is not an either/or game. It's time we recognize that and try to make some real progress.