Renewable standards in some states moving in opposite directions

By Bill Eby

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2013- Efforts are underway in at least three states to repeal or cutback on policies that advocates say have driven renewable energy development. Another two states look like they will expand their renewable energy goals in 2013.

Some 29 states and the District of Columbia have mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) aimed at requiring their large utilities to meet a certain percentage of their electricity demand with renewable resources. Another five states have voluntary goals.

Wind energy and solar power industry leaders say the standards encourage investment in the technologies that advance the sectors. Rural areas are principal economic beneficiaries of wind farms, solar facilities and some manufacturing developed in less populated areas.

Together we can feed the Beesp style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal">However, lawmakers in Hawaii and North Carolina are considering measures that cut back on provisions that enhance renewable energy development that helps meet the states' respective standards.

Hawaii has one of the most ambitious RPS in the nation, calling for 40 percent of utility output to come from renewables by the year 2030.

But state legislators there are considering a measure that would cut back on a 35-percent tax credit that has boosted solar power in Hawaii, making it one of the top 10 states in solar power and helping drive the state toward its RPS. Still, critics say the popular credit cost the state more than $172 million last year.

In an effort to restrict the number of applicants for the tax credit, Gov. Neal Abercrombie changed the definition of a solar plant that could qualify for the credit, prompting protests and a lawsuit from industry groups claiming it is inhibiting the sector's growth. Still, some lawmakers say the credit needs to be trimmed and eventually phased out - a position that some in the solar sector agree with.

North Carolina is seen by conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heartland Institute as a prime target for rolling back or freezing renewable energy mandates. State Rep. Mike Hager, who chairs the Public Utilities Committee chairman, has announced plans to push a bill that would freeze the state's modest renewable energy standard. The North Carolina RPS current stands at three percent, then add another three percent every three years until it reaches 12.5 percent in 2021. By keeping the state's RPS at three percent indefinitely, Hagers says the state will no longer pick “winners and losers” in the state energy sector.

Advocates of Hager's bill say it has a good chance of passing, given that with the 2012 elections, Republicans control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. But renewable energy advocates in the state are already mounting a campaign to oppose the cutbacks to the RPS and say the performance of renewable energy currently engaged in the state's portfolio is strong enough to keep the Hager measure from gaining ground.

Elsewhere, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce has introduced a measure that would change the way the state's largest utility calculates the amount of total power consumption before applying the state's renewable energy standard of 15 percent by 2025. Pierce's proposal would to exclude retail sales to its largest customers of 3 megawatts or more in demand when calculating its compliance with the renewable standard. Critics of the Pierce plan say it would effectively cut the standard of 15 percent down to 13.5 percent.

The amendment to state regulations was made at a commission meeting last week, but was tabled after staff raised legal issues with the proposal. But the measure did get some support from other commission members, indicating it might get a favorable outcome if it returns.

In Minnesota, Democrats reclaimed the state House and Senate in November, prompting renewable energy advocates to push lawmakers to pass major incentives, including a measure that would amend the state's current RPS and requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from solar sources. The state has an ambitious RPS, but currently restricts that portion of the mandate reserved for solar to no more than one percent.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to shepherd through the legislature some solar power incentives that will help the state meet its RPS of 30 percent in three years. The governor has already moved to extend a solar energy program currently set to end in 2015 through 2023 and provide the program with $150 million annually. Cuomo is also calling for a $1 billion “green bank” that would provide money for renewable energy projects in the state.


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