The first half of this year saw a widespread attack—some of it orchestrated by conservative groups, some of it spontaneous—against state renewable energy mandates. Those appear to have failed entirely.
At one point, according to an account by Bloomberg News, 16 of the 29 states with renewable energy portfolio standards were considering legislation that would roll back the mandates to some degree. By the end of June, when most state legislative sessions had ended, none of those efforts to repeal or revise the state mandates had succeeded. At least one state, Colorado, had increased its renewable energy mandate. Another, Minnesota, enacted a special standard to boost solar-generated electricity.
The highest profile attempt at repeal of a state renewable portfolio standard came in North Carolina, which in 2007 became the first southern state to adopt a renewable energy requirement. In an effort encouraged by national conservative groups including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute, Republicans in the state legislature tried to repeal a key portion of the state law, which has an increasing mandate for renewable energy production, rising from 3% last year to 12.5% by 2021.
Republicans, who control both houses of the state legislature as well as the governorship, offered legislation that would have turned back the increases in the portfolio standard. Despite what many viewed as a favorable political environment, sponsors of the measure failed to get their legislation out of committee in either the state House or the Senate, largely because repeal advocates were unable to win enough GOP backing in either chamber.
A similar measure came up in Ohio, where Republicans attacked the Buckeye State’s five-year-old energy efficiency and renewable energy standard (25% renewables by 2025). Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, Republican chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee, called for a review of the state law and Republican Sen. Kris Jordan from the Columbus area introduced a bill to repeal the mandate. But supporters of the mandate rallied and the attempt to repeal the state law sputtered out.
In Colorado, the state expanded its renewable portfolio standard to fully include the state’s important rural electric cooperatives under its 20% mandate. The generation and transmission cooperatives had faced a 10% mandate in the original law. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and the Intermountain Rural Electricity Association opposed the increase, but the legislature passed the bill, which had the support of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
In Minnesota, where the 2012 election flipped control of the legislature from Republicans into the hands of the Democrats, the legislature passed special solar legislation. Under the bill signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, investor-owned utilities will have to produce 1.5% of their electricity from solar by 2020. It exempts municipal and cooperative utilities. The legislation also makes it easier for large non-utility solar generators to take advantage of net metering, selling excess generation back to the investor-owned utilities.
In Illinois, where smart grid and smart meter programs have become controversial, the legislature in late May overrode Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of legislation boosting utility smart grid programs. The law, with the backing of the state’s largest investor-owned utility, Exelon subsidiary Commonwealth Edison, would allow utilities to recover the costs of the programs in customer bills. Quinn objected to the rate increases and oversight provisions, but the measure became law when both the Illinois House and Senate overrode his veto.
Interested in tracking legislation in the states? It’s not an easy task, but Colorado State University has made it a lot easier. The university’s Center for the New Energy Economy has put together a useful tracker that allows sophisticated searches of pending bills by state, policy area, and keywords (or combinations of those categories). It works.
—Kennedy Maize is MANAGING POWER’s executive editor.