Renewable Portfolio Standards Boost Society

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Originally published on Sustainnovate.
By Henry Lindon

NREL Study: State Renewable Portfolio Standards Resulted In Big Benefits During 2013

An estimated $2.2 billion in benefits accompanying reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and $5.2 billion in benefits accompanying the reduction of other air pollutant emissions, resulted from US state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) policies operating in 2013, according to a new study from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

The numbers quoted above are for mid-range estimates, it should be noted, so actual benefits could be notably higher (or perhaps lower). If you are not familiar with the policy in question, the above-mentioned RPS policies force utility companies (or other electricity providers) to utilize a minimum level of renewable electricity generation amongst their load.

Also worth noting, the report — “A Retrospective Analysis of the Benefits and Impacts of US Renewable Portfolio Standards” — demonstrated that “national water withdrawals and water consumption by fossil-fuel plants were reduced by 830 billion gallons and 27 billion gallons in 2013, respectively.”

There were around 200,000 renewable energy related jobs supported by RPS policies in 2013, reportedly — most of theses jobs were in California, though, and were mostly related to utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects under development at the time.

“This work is intended to inform ongoing policy discussions by helping states evaluate RPS programs,” stated Berkeley Lab’s Ryan Wiser, one of the report authors.

Here’s more via a press release:

While the overall benefits reported are large, the study carefully documents its methods and highlights where uncertainties exist. For example, benefits from greenhouse gas reductions were found to range from $0.7 to $6.3 billion, reflecting differences in underlying estimates of potential damages caused by climate change. Similarly, air pollution reduction benefits-which arise primarily from avoided premature mortality-were estimated to range from $2.6 to $9.9 billion in 2013, reflecting differences in underlying epidemiological literature, among other factors.

Although the study takes a national view — evaluating all state RPS programs as a whole — many of the associated benefits and impacts were highly regional. For example, the economic benefits from air pollution reductions are associated mostly with reduced sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from coal-fired power plants, and are concentrated primarily in the Mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, Northeast, and Texas. Reductions in water withdrawal and consumption were largest in California and Texas, respectively-both states that experience intermittent drought conditions. Having examined both the costs and benefits of state RPS programs historically, the researchers are planning a follow-up effort to evaluate the costs and benefits of RPS programs prospectively, considering scheduled increases to each state’s requirements as well as potential policy revisions.

“Our goal was to estimate the magnitude of RPS benefits and impacts at a national-level, using established, consistent methodologies, while recognizing that states could perform their own more-detailed assessments,” NREL’s Jenny Heeter, one of the report authors, said.

Image by Bonita de Boer (some rights reserved)

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