Since the federal government has so far refused to adopt a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) the states have stepped in. Some 25 states, plus D.C., have adopted an RES, also known as a renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to purchase a rising percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar.
A new report by U.S. PIRG details the myriad benefits of state action to promote renewables: “Reaping the Rewards: How State Renewable Electricity Standards Are Cutting Pollution, Saving Money, Creating Jobs and Fueling a Clean Energy Boom.” Here are some of the conclusions:
- In 2006, more than two-thirds of all new renewable electric generating capacity in the United States was built in RES states. In 2007, more than 70 percent of planned renewable generation is expected to be built in RES states.
- Texas stands out as the state with the most aggressive renewable energy development in recent years, adding 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity. Texas is followed by Washington, New York, and Colorado.
- Renewable energy is addressing a greater share of new energy needs in RES states. In 2007, renewables account for about 38 percent of planned capacity additions in RES states, compared to just 12 percent in non-RES states.
The report also found significant environmental benefits as a result of new renewable energy development. Renewable energy sources built after the adoption of state RES policies will:
- reduce America’s global warming emissions by approximately 8.4 million metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking more than 1.5 million cars off America’s roads.
- avert approximately 2,100 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, 44 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, and 220 tons of non-methane hydrocarbon emissions each year.
- save approximately 1.2 billion gallons of water per year.
Renewable energy can create new high quality jobs and accelerate rural economic development. “Texas landowners, for example, now receive an estimated $9.5 million in royalty payments from wind farm operators, while one town in rural Colorado saw its tax base increase by 29 percent as a result of a wind farm development there.” There are other economic benefits:
- Over the last two years, several of the world’s leading manufacturers of wind turbines and solar panels have either built new manufacturing facilities or expanded existing facilities in the United States. RES policies play an important role in luring manufacturing facilities, as they represent a long-term commitment to build the market for renewable energy technologies. Colorado, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Texas, and Massachusetts are among the RES states that have experienced increases in renewable energy manufacturing activity in recent years.
- Renewable energy development reduces upward pressure on natural gas prices. A 2005 study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that the 18 state RES policies then in effect would produce savings of approximately $10 billion in lower natural gas bills as a result of reduced demand for natural gas.
The House passed a national RES this summer that would establish a 15 percent requirement. The Senate bill did not include an RES. “A 2007 analysis by the energy research firm, Wood MacKenzie estimated that adoption of a 15 percent federal renewable electricity standard would save more than $100 billion in electricity costs by 2026, largely by driving down the cost of natural gas.”
It is time for federal action!