The Expanding Role of State Policies Addressing Climate Change

A growing portion of U.S. states’ electricity is being provided by renewable energy sources, according to a report released by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. As of mid-2006, 22 states and the District of Columbia have implemented increasingly aggressive and ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS).

States use RPSs to spur economic development, create a reliable and diversified supply of electricity utilizing renewable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conventional pollutants. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change report, Race to the Top: The Expanding Role of U.S. State Renewable Portfolio Standards, authored by Barry Rabe of the University of Michigan, builds on earlier Pew Center analyses of the state role in climate change policy development. The proliferation of RPSs at the state level provides real-world models of whether a federal RPS may be a feasible option to increase the nation’s use of renewable energy sources as part of a larger energy and climate change policy. “If we are to successfully address climate change, we must increase our use of renewable energy. States are leading on renewables, as they are in so many aspects of climate change policy,” said Pew Center President Eileen Claussen. “Engagement between states and federal policymakers on this issue has been surprisingly limited, and is long overdue. We need to begin thinking both about how the federal government can be most effective in this arena, and also how to enhance interstate collaboration.” In addition to examining challenges and opportunities inherent in renewable energy policy design and implementation, the report includes case studies of five states — Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Nevada. The author explores the political and economic advantages and pitfalls in each state, and finds an unusually high degree of bipartisan support and rapid expansion of RPSs at the state level. Economic development and job creation also emerge as drivers for increasing use of renewable energy in virtually every state. Despite the many advantages of state-level RPS policies, the report finds that states also face challenges. States increasingly are grappling with electricity transmission capacity constraints, differential treatment of various renewable energy sources as well as energy facility siting concerns. The biggest challenge in the future will likely revolve around the need for interstate collaboration and dialogue as the questions of cooperation across state boundaries arise. Ultimately, federal and state regulators will need to work together in the event of adoption of a federal RPS to address climate change. States are already beginning to cooperate regionally and that pattern is likely to continue, but there is much the federal government could do to enable a significant expansion of renewable energy, the release states. The Pew Center’s recent Agenda for Climate Action recommends that renewable energy be a key element of a climate-friendly energy path for the U.S. It describes the areas in which federal efforts are needed, including R&D funding and renewable energy technology development, and notes that there are many ways in which the federal government can support and encourage ongoing state renewables initiatives. These may involve incentives for uniform electricity grid interconnection standards at the state level, or the creation of a uniform system for tracking renewable energy credits across the country. In designing federal policies, Congress needs to recognize the inherent regional differences in renewable energy resources and existing state-level policy actions. “Although there is no single technological or policy solution to climate change and energy independence in the U.S., renewable energy is clearly destined to play an important role in the years to come — and now is the time to lay the foundation,” said Claussen. A complete copy of this report — and previous Pew Center on Global Climate Change reports — is available on the Pew Center’s website, at the following link.
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