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By Jeff Deyette
Having failed completely in its attempt to repeal state renewable electricity standards (RES) during the spring 2013 legislative season, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is shifting gears. Their new strategy is more nuanced, but the goal remains the same: support their fossil fuel cronies by rolling back renewable energy policies. Fortunately, this latest scheme is likely doomed to fail as well.
This week, ALEC will host its annual meeting in Chicago, during which the group—who provides powerful corporations with behind-closed-doors access to legislators for the purpose of drafting ‘model legislation’ that serves their interests—will discuss the next phase of its ongoing effort to dismantle state renewable energy policies across the country. But first, ALEC leaders will likely have to explain their failures to their fossil fuel industry funders, including Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobil and Peabody Energy.
Just last year, ALEC made it very public that repealing state RES policies would be a legislative priority in 2013, doubling down on its recent efforts to roll back these standards. ALEC adopted model legislation, written by climate skeptics at the Heartland Institute and innocuously dubbed the “Electricity Freedom Act”, which had the sole purpose of repealing state RES policies. Along with the Heartland Institute and a host of fossil fuel-funded cohorts, ALEC launched a disinformation campaign targeting several state RES policies, including high-profile attacks in Kansas and North Carolina.
The good news is that ALEC’s efforts completely failed: not a single state RES was repealed. Instead, 14 new pro-renewable energy bills became law nationwide, including stronger RES targets in Colorado, Minnesota and Nevada.
How did ALEC misfire so badly? It appears they underestimated the depth of support for RES policies from both the general public and a diverse coalition of businesses, farmers, community and faith leaders, public health and environmental advocates, and policy makers of all political stripes. That popular and bipartisan support stems largely from the policy’s successful track record.
State-level renewable electricity standards, which require electric utilities to gradually increase the amount of renewable energy in their power supplies, are a leading driver of renewable energy development in the U.S. today. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have these market-based policies, 17 of which have set targets of 20 percent or greater.
Contrary to misleading claims by ALEC, a recent UCS review of state RES policies shows that utilities are successfully meeting their renewable energy requirements with little or no additional cost to consumers, while supporting rapidly growing renewable energy industries that provide jobs and bring investments, tax revenues and other substantial economic benefits to local communities. In other words, the facts on the ground about the success and effectiveness of renewable energy policies are carrying far more weight with legislators than the fiction that ALEC and its allies have been peddling.
With last year’s strategy falling flat, ALEC now appears to be moving toward a more subtle scheme. According to one recent report, members of the group’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force will consider adopting new model legislation, called the Market-Power Renewables Act. Rather than an outright repeal approach, this model legislation essentially seeks to “phase out” state RES policies by counting voluntary purchases of renewable energy made by homeowners, businesses and other institutions toward a utility’s declining annual renewable energy requirements.
It’s a clever approach because it allows ALEC members to be “for” renewable energy (e.g., the voluntary market), while actually serving to slash utility requirements to shift toward cleaner, more sustainable power sources. But it too will likely falter.
The voluntary and compliance (e.g., RES) markets for renewable energy have effectively co-existed since 1997. Both are important drivers of new development and each has strengths that complement the other.
The compliance market offers long-term certainty to developers, which spurs investment and helps bring down technology costs. The RES serves as a floor, or minimum requirement for renewable energy, and ensures that all consumers share in the cost to bring the economic development, public health, climate, price stability and energy security benefits that they provide.
The voluntary market provides the opportunity for energy consumers of any size to go above and beyond what the compliance market requires. It is well established and thriving, with some of the nation’s largest corporations—including Intel, Microsoft, Whole Foods, Walmart and Staples—investing millions of dollars to be leaders in clean energy.
By allowing utilities to double count voluntary purchases toward their RES requirements, ALEC’s model legislation would shift the costs of RES compliance disproportionately away from all ratepayers and onto those voluntary market participants. What incentive then would a Walmart or Microsoft or even individual homeowners have to continue making voluntary purchases? ALEC’s Market-Power Renewables Act would therefore undermine both the voluntary and compliance markets, likely adding a whole set of new and powerful voices to the already strong coalition that has formed to oppose its anti-renewable energy legislative agenda.
What’s more, ALEC’s "new" proposal has actually been a bad idea for at least 14 years. Way back in 1999, the National Association of Attorneys General established Green Marketing Guidelines, which argued that the double counting of renewable energy credits (used to track purchases in both the voluntary and compliance markets) are deceptive and not acceptable. More recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued Green Guidelines that came to a similar conclusion.
It is likely that ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force members will ignore these obstacles, and instead move full steam ahead with endorsing the new model legislation. That’s unfortunate, because the real-world evidence about the success of the RES and the benefits of transitioning to a clean energy economy is clear. With any luck though, the Market-Power Renewables Act will end up in the trash can right next to the failed Electricity Freedom Act.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLE ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
Climate campaigners on Friday expressed hope that policymakers who are stalling on taking decisive climate action would reconsider their stance in light of new warnings from an unlikely source: two economists at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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