By Michael Brower, President and CEO of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE)
Welcome to 2014 – the year when partisan battles over renewable energy can finally be laid to rest. Bold prediction? Not really. Thanks to a plethora of recent market successes in the clean energy industry, fiscal conservatives are more readily accepting renewable energy as both economically viable and advantageous for local communities.
There remain some entrenched recalcitrants of course, focused more on outdated ideology rather than basic, market-driven economics. But as last year proved, these contrarians are being quickly relegated to the backbench, as state Renewable Portfolio Standards improve economies and ratepayers are seeing the benefits of low-cost renewable energy.
Despite a number of unsuccessful attacks on the smart clean energy policies that created a fair market for renewable energy over the last year, it seems like obstinate attacks from renewable energy contrarians will continue in 2014. According to recently leaked documents, the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 2014 agenda will target those who have invested in renewable projects, ranging from homeowners with solar panels to the USEPA. However, if red states like Ohio, Arizona and Michigan offer an example of what clean energy opponents can expect, it’s that repealing or weakening fair market policies for renewables is easier said than done.
One very recent example is from Ohio, where a Senate committee postponed in December, 2013, discussion of a bill designed to weaken the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS). The bill, which would have changed what utilities are allowed to purchase or count toward the state’s RPS requirements, faced a wide spectrum of opponents including the Ohio Manufacturers Association and the Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel.
Lawmakers hesitated on pushing this bill through because of the compelling evidence that renewable energy is saving Ohioans money. The Ohio Office of Consumers’ Counsel found that if the RPS-weakening bill passed, every Ohio household would pay as much as $528 more for electricity over the next three years. The Consumer’s Counsel also estimated that businesses would pay an average of $3,231 more on electric bills. And a report from Ohio Advanced Energy Economy and Ohio State University’s Resilience Center looked even further down the road and estimated Ohioans would pay nearly $4 billion extra over the next 12 years if the bill passed.
Last year’s net-metering debate between the solar industry and Arizona’s utility is another demonstration that ALEC’s latest plan to penalize solar homeowners has a rocky road ahead. In November, the state’s Corporation Commission protected the rights of solar homeowners by rejecting Arizona Public Service’s request to level extraordinary fees for home power generation. APS had waged a multimillion-dollar campaign to charge Arizona homeowners with solar an extra $50-100 per month in their utility bills. Instead, APS had to settle for a fraction of the monthly charge it wanted when the Commission settled on a $5 monthly fee for solar homeowners, following a compromise reached by the solar industry and the Residential Utility Consumers’ Office.
These skirmishes should not suggest, however, that utilities and renewables are always on opposite sides of the clean energy debate. In Michigan, for example, the market for renewable energy has been so robust that utilities are actually rolling back renewable surcharges. As Michigan discovered, the real cost of renewable energy came in lower than the utilities expected, leading to the Michigan Public Services Commission to conclude in a November report that Michigan’s renewable portfolio could be expanded to 30%.
Given such clear, clean successes, it is easy to understand why some fossil fuel companies might be worried about the growth of renewable energy. Policymakers across the country are seeing how renewable energy presents a better, cheaper and cleaner power source that is also growing local economies. Yes, in 2014 there are sure to be new challenges to state clean energy policies by incumbent industry special interest groups. But they will face mounting resistance as citizens and state legislatures alike increasingly recognize the economic and environmental benefits of clean, renewable energy.