DENVER – Efforts to roll back state-level renewable energy standards hit another roadblock yesterday, as Colorado Democrats rejected a measure aimed at reducing the state’s current generation requirements. But opponents to the mandated use of resources including wind and solar power will still press similar bills in a handful of other states this year.
According to Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, the Colorado bill marks the latest legislative battle in a fight that has seen more than 40 measures aimed at curbing state and local renewable energy standards introduced since 2013.
In Colorado, Republicans in control of the state Senate approved a measure last month to reduce requirements for renewable-fuel-generated power to 15 percent by 2020, down from existing mandates of 30 percent for large utilities and 20 percent for rural electric cooperatives by that time.
But a committee in the state House – where Democrats claim majority control – voted yesterday to postpone the measure indefinitely, effectively killing the proposal with a party-line vote.
At a rally in the state Capitol ahead of yesterday’s committee meeting, environmentalists and state House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran (D) touted the economic benefits of the state’s existing RES while vowing to defend the measure.
“Attacks on Colorado’s renewable energy are attacks on Colorado’s economy,” Duran said. “We will not allow political posturing to roll back our renewable energy commitment.”
The failure marks the latest setback for opponents of renewable portfolio standards, who have sought similar measures – ranging from the outright repeal of renewable generation requirements to expanding the programs to include nonrenewable resources like nuclear power – in states including Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and Oklahoma.
Tom Plant, a senior policy adviser at the Center for the New Energy Economy and former director of the Colorado Energy Office under then-Gov. Bill Ritter (D), noted that although the measures are often framed in partisan terms, legislatures tend to focus on the economic merits of the proposals.
“We’ve seen that even in states where you would look at the politics from the outside and think there’s going to be political support for repealing that, it hasn’t been successful,” Plant said. “It’s hard to say from the outside what states would be successful.”
He pointed to Kansas, where a Republican-controlled Legislature has twice rejected an effort to repeal the state’s renewable portfolio standard. The measure was introduced in the state Senate for a third time last month.
Jeff Lyng, a senior policy adviser at the Center for the New Energy Economy, asserted that opposition in many states also comes from the energy sector, where utilities are already financially invested in meeting the renewable portfolio standards.
“In many of these states that have had an RPS now for a number of years, the utilities have made substantial investments to comply with the standards and have plans to make more substantial investments,” Lyng said. “The bulk of the RPS standards hit their target dates around 2020. … In the utility time frame, that’s not a long amount of time.”
Among the dozens of proposals introduced through 2014 and a handful of bills in the 2015 legislative cycle, only three have succeeded to date.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signed the furthest-reaching measure into law earlier this year, repealing his state’s renewable energy standard outright. That program would have required utilities to generate at least 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.
Opponents of renewable standards also claimed a victory in Ohio in mid-2014, when Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a proposal freezing the state’s renewable energy standard and a related energy efficiency program at the 2014 level for two years. Ohio had been set to generate 12.5 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025, as well as reduce consumption by 22 percent by that time.
In Wisconsin in 2014, legislators agreed to exempt four state utilities from meeting the state’s renewable standards.
Among the opponents of RES is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which in 2013 published several variations of its “model legislation” – bills that state lawmakers can use as a template – for eliminating renewable standards.
One proposal states that the mandated purchase of renewable energy has “negative economic and environmental consequences.” An ALEC spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Alison Cassady, director of domestic energy policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, identified other advocates of the rollback effort, including Americans for Prosperity, a conservative organization backed by billionaire GOP donors David and Charles Koch.
“It’s been a coordinated effort. It’s not by accident that they’ve popped up in state after state,” Cassady said.
“The arguments tend to be twofold: They try to make an economic case that requiring renewable energy generation hurts consumers, which is not borne out by the facts,” she added. “Secondly, I think there’s an ideological component to it, which is there is a certain faction that argues that government should not be in the business of encouraging renewable energy development.”
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