There’s nothing like a government incentive to grow green energy. And that’s why the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is saying that renewable portfolio standards enacted by at least half the states is responsible for 60 percent of non-hydro renewable sources.
Those green standards vary by state but generally require utilities to offer a certain percent of their electric generation from sustainable energy sources by a certain date. Since 2000, wind has been the primary beneficiary, accounting for about 64 percent of the additions while solar is makes up 30 percent of that. In 2015, though, solar was responsible for 69 percent of the add-ons.
“RPS — renewable portfolio standard — demand could require an additional 60 GW of RE capacity by 2030, roughly a 50 percent increase from current non-hydro RE capacity,” says the report. 60 gigawatts is equal to 60,000 megawatts.
Renewable energy providers and their advocates like to point out that coal, natural gas and nuclear energies have been subsidized by taxpayers for decades. Moreover, they add that in era when addressing climate change is paramount, now is the time to double-down on such development.
To be clear, there’s a difference between the RPS and the production tax credit given to wind and solar. One is a mandate and the other a tax benefit given for each kilowatt hour generated. The collective efforts have led to dramatic price decreases in both wind turbines and solar panels, forcing critics to say that it is past time to end what they call “favoritism.”
In 2010, fuels of all stripes were awarded about $37 billion in taxpayer funds, according to a US Energy Information Administration analysis. The wind sector received $4.2 billion of that from the stimulus plan enacted in 2009.
“We are one of the biggest owners of renewables in the United States,” says Tom Fanning, chief executive of the Southern Co., at an industry conference. “We are one of the biggest solar companies in America. We need incentives for a balanced portfolio that preserves clean, affordable and reliable electricity. I can do that better than the Environmental Protection Agency and still preserve jobs and economic vitality.”
Right now, more than 860 utilities offer green power programs to their customers, notes the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That gives more than half of the electricity customers nationwide the option to buy renewable energy from a provider — something driven by both the tax credits and the renewable energy portfolio standards enacted by the states.
California has increased its RPS to 50 percent by 2030. Hawaii wants to have all of its electric power generated by green energy by 2045. And Vermont aims to have 75 percent by 2032. Meantime, Kansas has repealed its RPS and replaced it with a voluntary goal.
“Most states have fully met RPS targets,” says the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report. “RPS Achievement averaged 95 percent in 2014 and 94 percent in 2013.”
It adds that hurdles remain to fulfilling the obligations, namely the issue of integrating renewables onto the grid and how some of the legal and regulatory issues will get resolved: net metering and the Clean Power Plan. The National Renewable Energy Lab says that green energy can get successfully integrated so that the mandates can get fulfilled.
While some think the government assist tilts the playing field and is anti-competitive, the fact is that such help has worked to bring down prices and has increased the demand for green energy. Just how long that public help will last is not yet clear, although those in the green sector say that the fossil fuel industry has had a good head start on them.
Ken Silverstein is editor-in-chief of Business Sector Media, publisher of Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today.
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