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Renewable Portfolio Standards: America’s Clean Energy Savior

By Stacy Feldman

Apr 24, 2008

This month’s DOE report on the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in place in 25 states makes at least one thing clear: without them, America’s emerging clean-energy markets would be half as robust as they are today.

The figures: From 1998 to 2007, over 50 percent of the non-hydro renewable energy capacity was installed in states with RPS policies.

Wind power’s role has been huge, accounting for 93 percent of the total RPS additions.

That helped to push America into the number one slot on the list of the world’s biggest markets for new wind turbines.

And led to this conclusion from the report's author:

"These [RPS] programs have emerged as one of the most important drivers of renewable energy deployment in the U.S,” said Ryan Wiser of the DOE's Berkeley Lab.

America’s RPS programs vary from to state to state but share the same core policy. Electric suppliers must provide some percentage of their power from renewables and are typically backed with penalties for non-compliance, though they are not dished out often.

The report notes that utilities on average have met their targets 94 percent of the time.

Already, RPS policies apply to 50% of America’s total electricity load – and growing.

Half have been created since 2004. In 2007 alone, four new states joined the roster, while 11 revised existing programs.

Of all the states, California is the clear RPS stand-out. Since 2002, 7,000 megawatts of contracts have been signed with new renewable generators in that state.

So, if the RPS works so well, why not ditch the patchwork of 25 different standards and institute a consistent, single RPS for the whole nation?

Seems obvious, especially when you throw this into the mix: The Network for New Energy Choices found in its that a national RPS would create 80% more jobs than comparable investment in fossil fuels and would save electricity consumers in every region money -- $49.1 billion nationwide, in fact.

The problem?

A national RPS requires coordinated and coherent federal leadership on climate change and energy.

Over the past ten years, a federal RPS has been considered by Congress -- and rejected -- 17 times. The US Senate has passed some form of it three times since 2002. The House passed one in 2007.

Congress has never managed to agree on a common RPS.

And, to drive the point home, the one other proven policy that has spurred clean energy development in America -- the federal tax credit for renewables -- is on the verge of expiring and could be on the chopping block in Washington, too.

So for now, we should at least be thankful for the leadership from the US states. Seriously.


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