A growing portion of U.S. states' electricity is being provided by renewable energy, according to a report released today by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. States are using increasingly aggressive and ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in order to spur economic development and create a reliable and diversified supply of electricity, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollutants. As of mid 2006, 22 states and the District of Columbia have implemented an RPS; well over half of the American public now lives in a state in which an RPS is in operation. The report, Race to the Top: The Expanding Role of U.S. State Renewable Portfolio Standards, authored by Barry Rabe of the University of Michigan, builds on earlier Pew Center analyses of the state role in climate policy development. The proliferation of RPSs at the state level provides real-world models of whether a federal RPS may be a feasible option to increase the nation's use of renewable energy sources as part of a larger energy and climate change policy.
“If we are to successfully address climate change, we must increase our use of renewable energy. States are leading on renewables, as they are in so many aspects of climate policy,” said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen, “Engagement between states and federal policymakers on this issue has been surprisingly limited, and is long overdue. We need to begin thinking both about how the federal government can be most effective in this arena, and also how to enhance interstate collaboration.”
In addition to examining challenges and opportunities inherent in policy design and implementation, the report includes case studies of five states – Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The author explores the political and economic advantages and pitfalls in each state, and finds an unusually high degree of bipartisan support and rapid expansion of RPSs at the state level. Economic development and job creation also emerge as drivers in virtually every state.
Despite the many advantages of state-level RPS policies, the report finds that states also face challenges. States increasingly are grappling with electricity transmission capacity constraints, differential treatment of various renewable sources as well as facility siting concerns. The biggest challenge in the future will likely revolve around the need for interstate collaboration and dialogue as the questions of cooperation across state boundaries arise. Ultimately, federal and state regulators will need to work together in the event of adoption of a federal RPS.
States are already beginning to cooperate regionally and that pattern is likely to continue, but there is much the federal government could do to enable a significant expansion of renewable energy. The Pew Center's recent Agenda for Climate Action recommends that renewables be a key element of a climate-friendly energy path for the U.S. It describes the areas in which federal efforts are needed, including R&D funding and technology development, and notes that there are many ways in which the federal government can support and encourage ongoing state renewables initiatives. These may involve incentives for uniform grid interconnection standards at the state level, or the creation of a uniform system for tracking renewable energy credits across the country. In designing federal policies, Congress should recognize the regional differences in renewable resources and existing state-level policy actions.
“Although there is no single technological or policy solution to climate change and energy independence in the U.S., renewable energy is clearly destined to play an important role in the years to come – and now is the time to lay the foundation,” said Eileen Claussen.
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change was established in May 1998 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the United States' largest philanthropies and an influential voice in efforts to improve the quality of the environment. The Center is an independent, nonprofit, and non-partisan organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change. The Center is led by Eileen Claussen, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.