States’ adoption of renewable energy standards—which require electric utility companies to produce a portion of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources—has considerably driven clean energy advances in recent years. Though Congress has failed to enact a nationwide standard, policymakers at the state level have enthusiastically filled the void, with 29 states and the District of Columbia adopting hard targets for renewable energy production and another eight states setting renewable energy goals. Standards place an obligation on electricity-supply companies to reach set targets, while renewable energy goals are voluntary for companies—although states might incentivize a utility for reaching a set goal.
Those mandates have brought a wide range of benefits, ranging from robust clean energy economies to lower carbon emissions and improved public health. Since the beginning of 2009, eight states—California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York—have increased their standards, while three states—Indiana, Oklahoma, and West Virginia—have established voluntary goals. Six other states—Colorado, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington state—have beaten back attempts to repeal their standards. Most of the states with renewable energy standards on the books are meeting or are close to meeting their interim targets.
Nonetheless, conservative attacks on state renewable energy standards are on the rise.
Two conservative organizations looking to repeal state renewable energy standard policies are the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. These two organizations worked together to write model legislation—the Electricity Freedom Act—to roll back state standards. The policy, which ALEC’s board of directors adopted last October, argues that “a renewable energy mandate is essentially a tax on consumers of electricity that forces the use of renewable energy sources beyond what would be called for by real market forces and under conditions of real competition in generation resources.”
ALEC is known for helping advance corporate interests by writing and pushing for passage of conservative legislation at the state level. The organization has been a force in shaping conservative agendas, including voter identification laws and right-to-work policies. In the environmental sphere, ALEC has targeted states that regulate greenhouse gases and has promoted bills supporting hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”; offshore drilling of oil and natural gas; and nuclear energy. Tax documents show that Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and other energy companies pay membership fees in order to help write legislation repealing carbon-pollution reduction programs in states across the country.
The Heartland Institute is a think tank that promotes skepticism about climate change. Recently, the organization launched a billboard campaign that linked people who care about global warming to Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, murderer Charles Manson, and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. One specific billboard featured a mug shot of Kaczynski with the words, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” In a statement, the president of Heartland unapologetically called the billboard campaign an “experiment.”
With ALEC’s ability to successfully pass conservative legislation at the state level and the Heartland Institute’s intentions to attack policies that combat climate change, the threat that state renewable energy standard policies could be repealed needs to be taken seriously and aggressively contested.
Why we should enact a nationwide renewable energy standard
In his 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama proposed a federal “clean energy standard,” which would require utility companies to produce 80 percent of their electricity from no- or low-carbon sources by 2035. CAP has recommended that an 80 percent clean energy standard should also include a requirement that 35 percent of electricity generation come from renewable sources and efficiency measures. This standard should be met by requiring a national target of 25 percent renewable electricity generation alongside a requirement that utilities reduce demand to save energy by 10 percent.
An analysis conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that a national standard that requires all electric utilities to increase usage of renewable electricity to at least 25 percent by 2025 would create jobs, lower energy bills, and reduce harmful pollution. The analysis specifically found that 297,000 jobs would be created, $263.4 billion in new capital investment would occur with an additional $11.5 billion going to local communities from new property taxes, and consumers would save $64.3 billion in lower electricity and natural gas bills by 2025.
ALEC and Heartland seem to be targeting North Carolina first. North Carolina State Rep. Mike Hager (R), a member of ALEC, says he is confident that in the upcoming session in his state’s general assembly, the votes exist to repeal or weaken the state’s renewable energy standard. Rep. Hager is the majority whip and the chairman of the Public Utilities Committee in the North Carolina General Assembly. But the bill that implemented the state’s standard passed 107-9 in the House in 2007—a resounding message Rep. Hager should recognize.
Last fall, however, fossil fuel interests funded a successful effort to defeat a constitutional amendment in Michigan that would have increased the state’s renewable energy standard from 10 percent in 2015 to 25 percent in 2025.