Standing up to lobbyists who want to derail clean energy

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Brookhaven National Laboratory / Flickr

Back in March, I wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) state-by-state attack on renewable energy. The attacks contribute to ALEC’s growing reputation as a “shadowy right-wing front group,”; funded by the likes of Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. ALEC’s legislative efforts were aided by the Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank” and notorious climate change denier.

ALEC has a clear motive: to serve the interests of dirty fossil fuel power plants and block progress towards greater use of clean, homegrown energy.

I’m happy to announce that ALEC and the Heartland Institute’s efforts to roll-back individual state’s renewable energy goals decisively failed in legislatures from West Virginia to Kansas. In total, 26 bills designed to remove renewable energy standards (RPS) for eight states were denied, according to a report from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy.

Now, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin will continue on the path towards a clean energy future. Even better, some states increased their energy guidelines, namely Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota.

This news comes as a resounding victory for the climate, consumers and Americans who want to see the nation make progress in the $2 billion global clean energy economy.

Renewable energy is not only a vital component of the national plan to address climate change, but also a bargain for consumers. For example, Texas’ RPS, established in 1999, led the state to become an international powerhouse for wind energy. Texas has already reached its RPS goal, set for 2015, and now boasts more than 1,300 companies, employing more than 100,000 workers, in industries directly and indirectly related to renewable energy. On top of that, renewable energy is driving down the energy costs for consumers. A Public Utility Commission report to the 81st Legislature states that “prices are lower [ERCOT]-wide when there are large amounts of wind energy being produced.”

Texas’ experience with wind energy is no outlier. Colorado proclaims that the state’s RPS will save customers as much as $100 million over the next 25 years. Just last week, Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, moved to purchase another 700 megawatts of wind energy, saving its customers over $590 million in fuel costs over 20 years. Colorado will reap the benefits from a reduced reliance on foreign oil imports, stable prices and reductions in harmful air pollution.

In a way, ALEC and the Heartland Institute’s failure to stop progress in these states is no surprise. Carbon-free sources, like renewable energy and energy efficiency, are the key to addressing climate change and lowering energy costs.

The American people understand these fundamental benefits—despite the propaganda ALEC and the Heartland Institute like to promote. A resounding 92 percent of voters, including 84 percent of Republicans, support an increase in renewable energy.

While this is a huge victory, we can’t rest our laurels just yet. ALEC will be back for their attack on the clean energy, low carbon economy. We must be just as vigilant if we are going to keep up the momentum to accelerate the transition to becoming a clean energy nation.

(The post originally appeared on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.)

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Marita Mirzatuny

Marita Mirzatuny

Marita Mirzatuny is a program manager in EDF's U.S. Climate and Energy program.

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If renewable energy mandates lower energy costs and are a boon for consumers as you claim, why the need for a mandate in the first place?

Good ideas don't need the use of force.

Good Question Todd,
Because the people that determine our energy sources are not the consumers. The energy providers are utilities and large corporations. They want to maximize profit for their shareholders (as they should). Their interests usually don't align with whats best for the consumer, or the planet.

Actually good ideas do often need use of force. Especially when the playing field is not level at all, monopolistic barriers to entry impede the market, and investments needs to be encouraged.

The fossil fuel industry has gotten where it is today, through billions in taxpayer subsidies since 1918. Subsidies for renewables pale in comparison. In 2011, fossil fuels attracted about $523 billion in government subsidies up by 30% from 2010. That compares to $88 billion for renewable energy. Mandates for oil and gas have been used historically too, and still on the books, like Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act, allowing the President to mandate the use of domestic crude when imports are deemed a "national security risk", a term interpreted in many differing ways by many (domestic producers) trying to get it invoked over the years. Furthermore, the President has power to "use the necessary authority to impose mandatory import restrictions in order to prevent over-dependence on imports of oil and other strategic resources, and ensure adequate domestic energy production." Because natural gas is odorless, Texas mandated adding mercaptans to natural gas to make it smell, thus making leaks detectable and preventing explosions. This has now became standard practice worldwide. The Natural Gas Act of 1938 created mandates to reduce "monopolistic tendencies of interstate pipelines to charge higher than competitive prices due to their market power." Etc., etc.

Unleaded gasoline was a mandate, the Emancipation Proclamation was a mandate. Both good ideas.

Furthermore, it's about what works. And RPS mandates work. In Texas the RPS goal was met years before it was required, meaning the market surpassed the mandate, unfettered. Which was good for the Texas economy and our resource adequacy problems. Wind now often makes up 28% of our capacity.

Pretending that simply having ideas out in the universe is all that is needed for them to get to market is naïve and not in line with the facts of economic history.

Nice job Marita! Thanks!

Besides installing their own renewable energy systems (such as solar PV), electricity consumers can still voluntarily pay for renewable energy by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs). A REC represents the property rights to the environmental qualities of renewable electricity generation, and purchasing RECs can enable an individual, household, or company to support renewable energy development and essentially “offset” their electricity usage from conventional sources. Many different organizations sell RECs to businesses and individuals, and the REC market has grown significantly through voluntary individual purchases. In addition, businesses have recognized some demand from their consumers to support renewable energy and have also purchased RECs.

Instead of finding voluntary approaches that allow consumers to purchase renewable energy if they can afford and value these sources of energy, renewable energy proponents decide to use government to force you to purchase renewable energy whether you like or can even afford it.

There are no government mandates that force anyone to buy renewables. These are ERCOT-wide, grid portfolios we’re talking about.

Hey, I have a question. Why do big oil corporations hate the stuff that's gonna save the planet? I mean, yeah, of course, they're greedy, duh, but if they changed their companies to sell and support clean energy, they'd make more money, right? Because everyone likes solar, hydro, and wind based energy... everyone except them. And, eventually, popular demand is gonna lean toward cleaner energy (since science is working on making it cheaper, while fossil fuels are going to get more expensive as they start to run out), and what will oil co. do then?

When I originally commented I clicked the "Notify me when new comments are added" checkbox and now
each time a comment is added I get four emails with the
same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
Bless you!

Hello - Each email notification should include something to the effect of "You can stop receiving emails when someone replies to this post, by going to [LINK]." That should stop the flow. Thanks!

It is a fact that people are benefiting from coal powered plants like electricity and other services among others that we use on a day to day basis. Hence, as a pressure/interest group, ALEC is expected to do everything in their power to push for bills that will not have adverse effects on them. Likewise, it is also expected from them to block any bills from being ratified into law those of which will have negative effects on their industry. However, with the undeniably obvious effects of climate change that's already taking toll on humanity, more and more people are opting to go for renewable energy in order to preserve what we still have. In this case, the disastrous effects of climate change totally outweighs that of the benefits we get from coal. A lot of people now are aware of the dangers brought about by climate change and the only viable option that we deem effective for now is to cut coal and shift to a more eco-friendly energy sources. With the growing awareness through media, a lot of people are starting to do energy saving practices at home and in offices; going paperless by employing book scanning software in order to do away with the conventional paperback & hardcover materials as much as possible. In this case, book scanning not only help them increase revenue through ipads or kindle but they also help conserve acres of trees from being cut down, turning off unused appliances and other simple things among others. Go for Green!

There will always be an opposition group because every person or group has its own interest. We have to live with it. The best thing that we can do is to push on doing what's right.

Nice post...

sftp

Totally agree with the other poster that large corporations who provides energy thinks of making more profits more than anything else. Their interest is their top priority and normally only do something about the environment when extremely pressured by society.