States Making Case for Needed Growth in Renewable Energy

Source: By Ernie Shea, 25x25 • Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2017

2016 closed out last month with a flurry of activity that underscores the leadership states are bringing to renewable energy throughout the country. As we noted in this space last month, determined state policy makers have demonstrated that there are viable policies, technologies and funding mechanisms that can promote and advance the kind of renewable energy growth this nation needs.

In Iowa, state leaders culminated a year-long process and unveiled a comprehensive energy plan that assesses the state’s current and future energy supply and demand, examines energy policies and programs, and identifies emerging challenges and opportunities, all to set state priorities and provide strategic guidance for investors in Iowa’s energy future.

The plan reinforces renewable energy goals, calls for solar tax incentives, boosts energy efficiency, and recognizes the need for transmission and grid modernization to meet increases in electricity from wind and solar sources.

Renewable energy advocates note that congressional renewal of federal energy tax incentives has been inconsistent, chilling private investment in the sector. And while Congress last year agreed to extend renewable energy tax credits for large wind and solar projects through the next several years (though at gradually declining rates), Iowa leaders recognize that the state can establish a permanent – or long-lasting – incentive for solar that could provide long-term certainty and drive the market.

Iowa, which is already the nation’s leader in ethanol and biodiesel production, is on track to meet more than 40 percent of its power needs from wind in the next few years. Looking ahead, with wind energy development in the state continuing to boom, the state could readily achieve a 50-percent goal within a few years, and a 100-percent goal in just two short decades.

Elsewhere, for the fourth consecutive year, the Minnesota Commerce Department is making funding available through its Made in Minnesota Solar Incentive Program, which supports new solar PV and solar thermal systems for Minnesota residents, businesses and communities. In the program’s first three years, it has supported nearly 1,100 solar projects statewide.

The state legislature established the 10-year incentive program in 2013 to expand the state’s solar industry. In that same year, lawmakers set a Solar Electricity Standard that requires investor-owned utilities to obtain 1.5 percent of their power from solar by 2020, with a goal of 10 percent by 2030.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law last month legislation that raises the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from the current 10 percent to 15 percent by 2021. The package also endorses energy efficiency targets.

Michigan’s previous 10-percent RPS, which was achieved by the end of 2015, led to the development of more than 1,660 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy capacity and has attracted nearly $3 billion in renewable energy investments to the state since 2008.

It’s also important to recognize the wisdom of regulators who have corrected their course and backed off actions that hamper renewable energy development. In Nevada, the Public Utilities Commission – looking to resuscitate the state’s rooftop solar industry that the commission nearly killed in late 2015 by voting to phase out retail net metering and set high fixed fees on residential solar systems – reinstated net metering for existing solar customers and, later in the month, restored retail net metering rates for all solar customers in NV Energy’s Sierra Pacific Power Company’s service territory.

As commission Chairman Joseph Reynolds noted in the draft order: “Abraham Lincoln once said that ‘Bad promises are better broken than kept.’ The PUCN’s prior decisions on [net energy metering], in several respects, may be best viewed as a promise better left unkept.” Solar advocates say the ruling may foretell a wider return of favorable net metering rates throughout the state.

And renewable energy advocates are recognizing a strong stand taken by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in vetoing legislation that would have rendered the state’s renewable electricity and efficiency standards “voluntary,” and essentially killing them. As Kasich noted in his veto message, the state has “enjoyed the most improved business climate in the nation.” The legislation, he said in his veto message, “risks undermining this progress by taking away some of those energy generation options, particularly the very options most prized by the companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years.”

States continue to help make renewable energy a steadily growing – and necessary – segment of the U.S. energy market. Lawmakers in Washington would do well to emulate their counterparts in state capitols across the country, and recognize the role renewable energy can play in creating jobs and diversifying our nation’s energy supply.