Renewable Energy Standards Face Challenge From Fossil Fuel Interests

May 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

From TakePart contributor RL Miller:

A funny thing is happening on the way to conservative attacks on solar energy—some conservatives are championing renewable energy over fossil fuel interests. The reason is simple: It’s called employment.

It turns out that renewable energy, as popular as mom’s apple pie with American consumers, is also good for American business. And now jobs-conscious legislators from both parties are listening.

Renewable energy standards, or RESs—sometimes called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), just to add to the alphabet-soup mix—require electric utilities to buy a percentage of their power from renewable sources, such as solar, and wind by a certain date.

These standards range from modest (Indiana wants its power to be 10 percent renewable by 2025) to ambitious (California requires 33 perecent by 2020). An electric utility can meet an RES law any number of ways, which vary by state. Buying electricity from a wind farm in a remote location or from a homeowner’s solar rooftop are two common examples.

Alone, the RES laws won’t make a huge dent in the United States’ carbon pollution. But they’re creating critical mass. Businesses are employing people and making money on a slow shift to renewable power. In the windy Great Plains states, farmers pocket money from wind turbine leases. In sunny California, there are more solar installers than actors.

On the other hand, the fossil fuel industry sees even a small RES as a threat to its business model. So it has partnered with the American Legislative Exchange Council to draft model laws delaying or repealing 22 states’ RES laws.

After all, those laws are a government mandate that any freedom-loving state legislature would hate, right? But it hasn’t worked out that way.

In North Carolina last week, Republicans helped defeat a bill that would have phased out a state RES. In doing so, they protected a multitude of jobs—including 300 that involve constructing mounting systems for solar panels. (However, a companion bill in the Senate was hastily deemed to have enough support to pass out of committee this afternoon.)

The Kansas win was even more striking: Home state Koch Industries’ top lobbyist and anti-tax guru Grover Norquist both personally interceded for rolling back the RES, but they still couldn’t convince Republican legislators that wind business is somehow bad business.

Arizona’s politics trend conservative, but the desert state is a natural fit for solar power. A proposal to roll back the state RES failed in March as pro-business Republicans recognize the economic opportunities in renewables.

Within the last few days, Colorado’s state House and Senate have each passed bills (expected to be combined and signed by the Governor) doubling renewable power, from 10 percent to 20 percent, for the state’s rural co-ops. The change is expected to bring 10,000 jobs in renewable energy to the state.

Many battles will be fought in the months ahead, with attacks on RES laws most serious in Connecticut, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Vermont. But the theme beginning to emerge is one of pro-business, pro-jobs rhetoric persuading state legislators of both parties.

Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs at SEIA, tells TakePart: “Efforts to roll back state renewable energy laws are being met by bipartisan opposition in states like North Carolina for a very simple reason—solar energy is driving economic and job growth from coast to coast. More than 90 percent of Americans think the U.S. should be developing more solar energy because it’s clean, abundant and affordable.”

Hitt adds, “The solar industry has grown from 15,000 employees in 2005 to nearly 120,000 today, making it one of the fast-growing sectors of the U.S. economy. What’s more, these skilled workers are employed at more than 5,600 American companies—the majority of which are small businesses spread across all 50 states.”

Here, what’s good for American businesses is also good for America.

Would you consider working in alternative energy? Let us know in the Comments.

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  • Top Renewable Energy Sources

    Renewable energy made up 9 percent of all energy consumed in 2011, according to the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a, and that number is a href=””predicted to grow throughout the next decade/a.

    Here’s a breakdown of the top sources of renewable energy in the country, from wind to water and everything in between.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Solar Power – 2 Percent

    Solar power and photovoltaic cells make up the smallest percentage of U.S. renewable energy production, but its future looks fairly promising. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway a href=””invested $2.5 billion in Calif. solar company SunPower/a earlier this year.

    Also, unlike other sources of renewables, energy can also be generated by small-scale solar installations (like on the rooftop of a home or business), anda href=”″ declining costs/a have made solar much more affordable.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Geothermal – 2 Percent

    Geothermal power captures naturally occurring heat from the earth to turn it into power. The renewable source is geographically dependent, a href=”″but the Western half of the U.S./a has many promising locations for power plants, a href=””like The Geysers in Calif./a, the largest geothermal power plant in the world.

    The U.S. is the largest producer of geothermal power on the planet, but growth hasn’t kept up with wind or solar development in recent years.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Waste – 5 Percent

    Believe it or not, burned garbage accounts for 5 percent of all renewable energy created in the U.S. each year. More than 29 million tons of municipal solid waste was burned in 2010 to create steam to spin turbines and generate power, a href=”″ and there are more than 75/a waste-to-energy plants in the country.

    Emissions regulations have been in place at waste incineration plants since the 1960s, but the a href=””EPA warned in a 2006 report that the toxins released/a during the process could pose a serious environmental risk if not strictly enforced.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wind – 13 Percent

    The amount of wind power has grown for each of the past three years throughout the U.S. and accounted for the a href=”″largest growth in capacity/a of any energy resource in the country last year. Wind turbines now supply more than a href=”″50,000 megawatts a year,/a enough to power 13 million homes, according to Reuters.

    Federal tax credits, which were set to expire at the end of 2012, have made wind farms an attractive form of renewable energy. Congress a href=””approved an extension of the credits/a through the end of 2013.

    After production, wind turbines are net zero, meaning they require no energy and produce no emissions. The only problematic thing generated in some cases other than clean power has been a href=””a whole lot of noise/a.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Biofuel – 21 Percent

    Biofuels, like ethanol, are created from organic matter like corn or soybeans. Gasoline in the U.S. contains 9 percent of the resource by federal mandate under the a href=””Renewable Fuel Standard program,/a and more than a href=””40 percent of the corn crop/a last year was turned into biofuel.

    The resource is slightly more unstable than other renewables because it depends on the productivity of farms – a href=””drought or other environmental problems/a can significantly lower yields and increase prices.

    On average, a href=””ethanol has 20 percent fewer emissions/a than traditional gasoline but some types, like a href=””cellulosic ethanol,/a cut greenhouse gas emissions more than 85 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Wood – 22 Percent

    Timber accounts for nearly a quarter of all renewable energy created in the country. a href=””Rising energy costs /ahave led to an upswing in wood burning over the past decade, and nearly a href=””20 percent of New England homes /ause wood for heating, according to a National Geographic report.

    Although it may be a cheaper alternative, wood burning stoves and fireplacesa href=”” release more emissions of fine particles /a than other home heating methods, according to the EPA. Burning a href=””good wood in an efficient burner/a lowers toxic emissions and lost energy. Oh, and always have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors handy.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

  • Hydroelectric – 35 Percent

    Almost all of the current hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. were a href=””built before the mid-1970′s/a, but it’s still the highest producing renewable energy source in the country.

    In 2011, 8 percent of all power created in the U.S. came from hydroelectric sources, but it’s also one of the most geographically dependent sources of energy. The Pacific Northwest gets more than half of all power via hydroelectric due to prime geography.

    emInformation courtesy of the a href=””U.S. Energy Information Agency/a./em

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