Renewable energy emerged as a theme in the recent 2018 US midterm elections, with four ballot initiatives addressing power production in western states that could impact the energy sector nationwide.
A carbon-fee proposal in Washington State would have created funding for investments in clean energy and pollution programs had it passed. An unsuccessful Colorado initiative proposed to restrict oil and natural gas drilling. But perhaps bearing the highest potential for widespread impact are renewable portfolio standards in both Nevada and Arizona that would require utilities to guarantee that a significant percentage of the electricity they sell is generated by renewable resources. Nevada voters chose in favor or renewable portfolio standards, while Arizona residents rejected the reshaping of current standards.
The primary goals of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are to support the diversification of energy resources used for power generation, to promote domestic energy production, and to encourage economic development. RPS advocates believe that legislative policies are among the country’s most powerful tools to support renewable energy growth while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
In 1983, Iowa was the first state to establish an RPS. Since then, 29 states, Washington DC, and three territories have adopted an RPS, while eight states and one territory have set renewable energy goals. Hawaii currently has the most aggressive RPS requirement of 100% renewable by 2045.
According to a 2017 Annual Status Report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, roughly half of the growth in US renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements. Furthermore, studies have shown that an ambitious RPS can help create new jobs, spur economic development, reduce pollution, and save consumers money on their utility bills.
“Establishing more ambitious RPSs in every state…while accelerating the retirement of coal-fired power plants,” explains Carloyn Kormann in the New Yorker, “could account for nearly six hundred and twenty million metric tons of avoided carbon emissions, or more than half of the amount needed to meet our commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Do you believe that RPS are an effective mechanism for driving energy industry change? What do you think the presence of these propositions on ballots indicates?