Cleantech Market Intelligence
Ohio’s Freeze on Renewable Mandates Encourages Clean Energy Foes
In an ominous first for renewable energy policy, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill that freezes Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) and energy efficiency measures for 2 years. The AEPS has been in place since 2008 and called for all investor-owned utilities to source 25% of their electricity from alternative sources, including 12.5% from renewables, by 2025. These policies, which are more generally called renewable portfolio standards (RPSs), have been enacted in 29 states and Washington, D.C. and play a key role in driving demand for renewable energy.
Any policy that detracts from the status quo-entrenched fossil fuel interests is an attractive target. RPS laws have been under sustained attack over the past few years, with no fewer than 15 attempts to scrap them at the state level. The popularity and dropping cost of renewables have helped fend off these attacks, but this result in Ohio reflects the first time that opponents of renewables have succeeded in rolling back an RPS. Enactment of the 2-year freeze is likely to be followed by a readjustment of the requirement downward, or the scrapping of it altogether.
There were some localized issues that propelled the attack. A new generation of wind turbines optimized for lower wind speeds has allowed the expansion of wind energy from its traditional home in the more sparsely populated heartland to the more densely populated eastern Midwest markets like Ohio. This led to increasing NIMBY (not in my backyard) and BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone) opposition.
Entrenched fossil fuel interests worried about competition fanned these flames. And to be sure, the accompanying energy efficiency measures appeared to be a legitimate problem for large industrial users who were not given credit for improvements in process efficiency. The energy efficiency issues, in fact, may have provided the most momentum behind the RPS attack.
But beyond the state-specific critiques, opposition to renewables comes from fossil fuel interests and conservatives who oppose any government support for alternative energy. The Energy & Policy Institute has illuminated an increasingly orchestrated nationwide effort that includes the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with financial backing from the Koch brothers. ALEC was reportedly active in helping gain support among state lawmakers in Ohio for pushing back against the renewable energy mandates.
Emboldened by victory in Ohio, attacks on state RPSs are likely to increase. It will be hard to slow the clean energy momentum, though. Renewables deployments have grown so fast in the United States (and globally) that analysis by Navigant Consulting director Bruce Hamilton shows that around 15 states with RPS mandates, or RPS goals, have already achieved 100% compliance in recent years and another 8 are at 75% to 99%.
Government support remains essential for the future of renewable energy in the United States – but the thousands of wind turbines and solar panels installed in recent years provide a strong foundation of fuel-free energy resources, and today’s increasingly popular and cost-competitive renewables will drive continued deployment whether politicians demand it or not.