Why a federal renewable portfolio standard,
VOL. 24, NO. 6
building upon the track record of state-level success,
can generate multi-partisan support and
address some of our most critical challenges.
By DAVID G. HILL, PH.D.
Copyright © 2010 by the American Solar Energy Society Inc. All rights reserved.
in place cover roughly 40 percent of the total
electric load in the United States. (See Renewable Energy Standard fact sheet, Solar Energy
Industries Association: seia.org/galleries/Fact
Sheets/Factsheet_RES.pdf). By expanding
this coverage to 100 percent — or close to 100
percent, if public, co-op and smaller utilities are
exempt — a national RPS will significantly boost
market size and competition across renewable
energy technologies. The increased market size
will drive new jobs and job training needs, as
well as investment in the manufacturing plants
and business models required to meet national
targets. With more than 30 countries — including China and many European Union countries
— adopting their own national RPS standards,
the United States needs to grow our domestic
renewable industries so that we can compete
effectively for business at home and abroad.
Second, as demonstrated by recent accidents
in the coal and oil industries, energy security and
safety continue to be very real concerns — even
though they are not always front-page news. A
national RPS will help make the United States
more secure and reduces our risk from accidents,
international incidents and energy-based geopolitics. These risks apply to both the nuclear
and fossil fuel industries. Put simply, renewable
energy is safer and more secure than other energy
options. The public understands this intuitively
— and it is a key reason why a national RPS will
generate broad-based political support.
Third, a national RPS that meets and, ideally, exceeds President Obama’s objective for 25
percent of our electricity supply to come from
renewable resources by 2025 is essential to any
plan for effectively reducing our emissions of
greenhouse gases. “The American Solar Energy
Society’s Policy Recommendations for the 111th
Congress” includes implementation of a national
RPS reaching 28 percent by 2020 and 50 percent
by 2030 ( ases.org/policy2009). While energy
efficiency and other strategies are also required,
significant progress toward reduced emissions
What Have the States Done?
Experience gained through the design and
implementation of more than 29 state-level
RPSs offers valuable lessons for legislators and
policy advocates. In several cases where policies have been successful, state legislators and
citizens have enhanced, increased or accelerated
For example, in California, the original RPS
targets were established in 2002 under Senate
Bill 1078 and then accelerated in 2006 under
Senate Bill 107. California’s RPS is one of the
most ambitious renewable energy standards in
the country. The RPS program requires electric
corporations to increase their procurement from
eligible renewable energy resources by at least
1 percent of their retail sales annually, reaching
20 percent by 2010 and 33 percent by 2020. As
of 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) reports the three largest investor-owned utilities collectively served 15 percent of
their retail electricity sales with renewable power
California’s experience illustrates the challenges and ongoing work required to meet
aggressive renewable standards and to integrate
these standards with long-term utility plans for
energy procurement. But it also suggests that
renewable resources and technologies, in both
distributed and central applications, are available to serve customer needs even in some of the
largest electricity markets. (More information
about California’s RPS and ongoing progress is
available through the CPUC’s regular reports to
the legislature, e.g., tinyurl.com/2e623tw.)
Colorado provides another example of growing momentum and increasing state targets. In
2004, Colorado was the first state to have a renewable portfolio standard passed by voter initiative.
is simply impossible without rapid expansion
of renewable energy at the national level. The
urgency of this issue could not be more acute.
David Hill is a managing consultant at Vermont Energy
Investment Corp. ( veic.org), a national energy-efficiency and renewable energy organization with headquarters in Burlington, Vt., and additional offices in New
Jersey and Massachusetts. Hill is the American Solar
Energy Society’s Policy Committee chair and a member of the ASES Board. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It initially required that by 2015, 10 percent of
retail sales be met by renewable resources. Since
then, the legislature has increased the standard
twice, raising the requirement to 20 percent by
2020 in 2007, and then acting again this year to
increase the standard for 2020 to 30 percent.
The Texas experience
indicates that an RPS can
garner support and succeed
in red and blue states alike.
The latest legislation, which was signed into
law by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on March 22,
requires investor-owned utilities to draw on
distributed generation for at least 1 percent
of their retail electric sales in 2011 and 2012,
ratcheting up to 3 percent by 2020. At least
half of the requirement must be met with retail
distributed generation. According to a press
release from the governor, that requirement
will spur at least 100,000 additional solar rooftops over the next decade.
But how does utility compliance with RPS
requirements affect retail electricity costs? Projections, as well as results based on actual compliance from existing state markets, indicate that
rate increases associated with RPS compliance
have been less than 1.5 percent of retail rates.