My Gateway to Media I final project addresses the issue of a national renewable portfolio standard. More specifically, my ‘should question’ is: Should the U.S. federal government create a national renewable portfolio standard ensuring that at least 25-percent of U.S. electricity comes from renewable sources by 2025?
A renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is basically a mandate requiring that electricity utilities receive a certain percent of their total electricity from renewable sources, and sell a certain amount of such energy, by a certain date. As part of a RPS, electricity utility companies could trade renewable energy credits (RECs) with other companies. Thus, if a utility produced over the required percentage of renewable electricity, they could sell their extra RECs earned to utility companies who have not meet their requirements. The RPS is essentially a flexible, market-driven, quantity-based policy. Renewable sources that count towards RPS percentages include: wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydroelectric power. As of right now, renewable energy accounts for about 3% of total U.S. energy output. Furthermore, only twenty-seven U.S. States have mandatory RPSs. The states of Texas and Pennsylvania are two of the leaders in implementing and meeting their individual RPS goals. North Dakota, South Dakota, Virgina, Utah, and Florida have non-mandatory energy goals. Several other countries, besides just the United States, have experienced sucess implementing RPSs. For instance, many countries belonging to the EU have lead the way with RPSs.
The U.S. energy portfolio has seen little change since 1973. In 1973, 93% of the nation’s energy came from fossil fuels, compared to 85% in 2006. In 1983, Iowa became the first state to enact an RPS goal. In the Senate, the first RPS bill was introduced by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D.-Ark.) during 1997. Since 1997, this issue of a national RPS has been up for debate in the U.S. Congress multiple times. Several times a national RPS goal has been proposed and time and again it has been shot down. Perhaps the current administration will be the first to sign into law legislation enacting a national RPS.
Only a handful of national renewable portfolio standard alternatives exist. The U.S. government could stick with the current plan and leave the matter of RPSs in the hands of individual states. However, this would allow states that do not have RPSs to continue avoiding energy mandates. Essentially, there would be no incentive for states that do not have RPSs to pass legislation requiring RPSs. As a second option, State RPSs could also be broken down into smaller, regional RPSs. Energy efficiency policy could be pursued instead of RPS policy. Another alternative would be the implementation of a carbon tax, or perhaps a feed-in-tariff. However, none of the above options would create equal or greater benefits than a national RPS would provide.
Therefore, the my answer to the ‘should question’ is yes. Yes indeed, the U.S. federal government should instate a national RPS of 25% by the year 2025. There are a number of benefits associated with a national RPS. Numerous reports indicate a national RPS of 25% by 2025 would:
- Shift the U.S. away from its dependence on fossil fuels, and cut greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve natural resources.
- Drive down energy costs for consumers.
- Provide incentives for new renewable investment.
- Create twice as many jobs, compared to fossil fuels production.
- Stimulate the U.S. materials and manufacturing sectors.
- Level the playing field for all U.S. states.
- Increase environmental health.
- Provide uniform rules for trading RECs
In addition to the reasons listed above, various EIA and USC analyses indicate that a national RPS would “diversify the electricity system, promote local economic development, (and) improve the nation’s energy security and reliability.” Another report stated that a national RPS would “expand investment opportunities, discourage profiteering from state inconsistencies, (and) reduce free riding.” Also, a federal RPS would be more efficient than the current patchwork of individual state RPSs. However, a national RPS is only one policy; other policies are needed to make a national RPS of 25% by 2025 as beneficial and efficient as possible. A multi-tiered approach is needed to shift the U.S. over to more reliance on renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. For instance, a national RPS coupled with energy efficiency policy or more renewable tax credits could serve to more effectively meet U.S. goals. All in all, a national RPS of 25% by 2025 should be created.
Of course, plenty of other possible percentages and target years besides 25% by 2025 exist. However, most scientists and experts agree (including the three experts I interviewed; Eric Hiaasen, Greg Bothun, and Frank Vignola) that a national RPS of 25% by 2025 is realistic and achievable. Greg Bothun, a Professor at the University of Oregon, even went so far as to chide a national RPS of 25% by 2025 as “wimpy,” suggesting even more aggressive policy. On the other hand, some individuals support a fantastically unfeasible RPS goal. In a July 17, 2008 Speech, Al Gore said that the U.S. electricity utilities could convert to 100% clean energy in 10 years. Most experts agree that this is wishful thinking. Furthermore, various studies by the EIA and USC conclude that a national RPS of 20% by 2020 is achievable. An RPS goal should be somewhat challenging to meet, yet still reasonable.
Despite support from a majority of states and lawmakers, there is still some opposition to a national RPS. Those in opposition falsely suggest that a national RPS would increase electricity costs for consumers. They also argue that a national RPS is unpractical because of high transmission costs. The American Wind Energy Association asserts that $60 billion would have to be invested in new renewable energy transmission lines. Other naysayers argue creating that a national RPS is merely a risk-free policy choice; they assert that ultimately, failure to meet mandates rests with utility companies instead of policy-makers and politicians.
No solution to the problem of fixing America’s reliance on fossil fuels will be perfect. Naturally, there are several flaws with a national RPS system. However, despite its imperfection, a national RPS of 25% by 2025 (preferably coupled with other energy policy) is the best bet for the United States of America. Hopefully the federal government will soon move to pass a bill requiring a national RPS, for time is running out.
(My source notes list can be found here)