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Battle Continues in Fight to Save States' Renewable Energy Policies
There was a series of attempts in 2013 and 2014 to repeal or weaken state laws that set targets for increasing the use of renewable energy. States across the country—including Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas and North Carolina, among others—faced campaigns against their renewable energy standards. All of those attempts were unsuccessful except in the case of Ohio.
Passed in 2008 with nearly unanimous support from both Republican and Democratic legislators, Ohio’s energy standards required utilities to meet 12.5 percent of electricity demand with renewable energy and to decrease energy use by more than 22 percent by 2025, with interim targets each year beforehand. The standards also required half of the renewable energy to come from in-state facilities.
Despite clear evidence that the standards had economic benefits, including increased in-state investment, employment and savings for ratepayers, S.B. 310 proposed to freeze the standards for two years and eliminate the in-state requirement for renewable energy. After the bill passed the state legislature in May 2014 and Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the bill into law the following month, Ohio became the first state to take regressive measures against its renewable energy standards. The future of the standards after the two-year period is uncertain.
Reports are now coming in from leaders in Ohio’s solar, wind and energy efficiency industries that employment and investment are draining from the state, as described in the Center for American Progress issue brief, The Economic Fallout of the Freeze on Ohio’s Clean Energy Sector.
There have already been several new attempts in 2015 to repeal or weaken state-level energy standards, and further attempts—backed by aggressive lobbying campaigns—are certainly forthcoming. For those states, Ohio serves as a cautionary tale of the in-state economic damage that could follow a rollback.
Selection of initial attempts to roll back state renewable energy schedules in 2015
A number of bills that target renewable energy standards have already been introduced to state legislatures in January and February of this year. Some have been successful, for example, in West Virginia; some have been unsuccessful, for example, in Colorado; and some are still under consideration.
Colorado law currently requires investor-owned utilities to generate 20 percent of their retail electric sales from renewable sources by 2015 and 30 percent by 2020. It also has a renewable energy standard of 20 percent by 2020 for cooperative electric associations.
S.B. 44 proposed to roll back the requirements for investor-owned utilities to 15 percent by 2015 and for cooperative electric associations to 15 percent by 2020. The bill passed the Republican-controlled state senate by a margin of 18 to17, split along party lines. On March 3, the House committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs decided on a 6–5 vote along party lines to postpone the bill indefinitely.
While the bill was being debated, State Sen. Matt Jones (D) argued that the standards have reduced electricity rates for consumers and bolstered the state’s clean energy economy, which accounts for more than 22,000 jobs. Public opinion has supported the standards as well: Coloradans are 76 percent more likely to support a candidate who promotes renewable energy, according to the 2014 Colorado College State of the Rockies poll.
Connecticut’s standards currently require electricity providers to meet 27 percent of retail electricity through renewable sources by 2020, with interim targets each year beforehand.
H.B. 6026 was introduced in January, which proposes to suspend the state’s renewable energy standards for five years. It has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Technology.
Kansas currently requires that utilities meet 10 percent of their gross generation capacity through renewable sources through the end of 2015, after which they would be required to meet 15 percent through 2019 and 20 percent by 2020.
The state has already faced multiple efforts to weaken or eliminate its energy standards over the past three years, which have been supported by Koch Industries and affiliated groups, as well as utility interests.
This February, H.B. 2373 was introduced, which would eliminate the state’s renewable energy standards at the end of 2015. It has been referred to the Committee on Energy and Environment.
State law currently requires that electricity providers obtain renewable energy credits to cover nearly 25 percent of retail electricity by 2025, with interim targets each year beforehand.
H.B. 543 proposed to repeal the state’s renewable energy standards.[xvii] The bill was defeated in the New Hampshire House on March 4.
South Dakota currently has a voluntary goal that 10 percent of retail electricity should come from renewable, recycled, or conserved energy by 2015.
H.B. 1202 was introduced in February, which would roll back the goal to 10 percent by 2020. It has been referred to the Committee on Commerce and Energy.
West Virginia became the first state to repeal its alternative energy standards when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (R) signed H.B. 2001 on Feb. 3, 2015.
State law previously required that large-scale utilities meet a standard of 25 percent renewable or alternative energy by 2025, with interim targets of 10 percent by 2015 and 15 percent by 2020. The standards were not ambitious, however, as they allowed fossil sources such as natural gas, coal with the use of advanced coal technologies, and coal bed methane to qualify as alternative sources.
Gwynne Taraska is a senior policy advisor for the Center for American Progress. Alison Cassady is the director of domestic energy policy at the Center for American Progress.
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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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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?