State Voters Balk at Shouldering Renewable Power Mandates

Published July 1, 2004

Significantly higher prices associated with “renewable” power generation have made it difficult for states to meet renewable power mandates imposed by their own elected officials. Currently, 13 states have enacted renewable power mandates, but few are finding citizens willing to shoulder the costs of such power.

Voluntary Efforts Failing
Arizona offers a typical example of citizens balking at the higher price of renewable power after the legislature passed a renewable power mandate.

Arizona power supplier APS allows citizens to choose their power from renewable or conventional sources. Solar power, the most efficient renewable power source in Arizona, costs $2.64 more per 15 kilowatts than power from conventional sources. In everyday terms, 15 kilowatts will power a small television for approximately five hours. Faced with the high cost of feel-good measures to increase renewable energy use, Arizona citizens have elected to purchase 99.9 percent of their power from conventional sources.

Arizona’s 0.1 percent renewable power generation is particularly disappointing to supporters of renewable power mandates in other states. To win passage of the renewables mandate by the Arizona legislature, supporters had to choose an extremely low goal of 0.8 percent renewable power generation in 2004. With state residents unwilling to meet even this very low threshold, legislators in other states are wary of matching the Arizona mandate, much less the far higher mandates frequently advocated by renewable power advocates.

In the northeastern United States, power suppliers in New York and Massachusetts also give their customers the option of purchasing renewable power. In New York, only 0.6 percent of residents have agreed to pay the significantly higher costs of generating renewable power. Renewables are more popular in Massachusetts, where 1,790 of 1.2 million eligible customers–1.5 percent–have enrolled.

Political Fallout on the Horizon
With informed power customers unwilling to purchase expensive renewable power, feel-good voluntary programs designed to encourage a percentage of renewable power generation are morphing into mandatory programs by which customers are being forced to purchase higher-priced electricity, whether they choose to or not. Former supporters of renewable power programs are no longer as supportive of the various state programs.

“There is a tension between green tariffs and portfolio standards, that’s for sure,” said George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project.

Further tension is building as the more relentless renewable power advocates seek to interpret renewable mandates to require a threshold above and beyond the renewable power voluntarily purchased. They say green activists, who disproportionately choose to purchase renewable power, should not alone shoulder the higher costs. Having successfully persuaded power suppliers and state agencies in Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to explicitly exclude voluntary power purchases from counting toward renewable power goals, they are lobbying heavily for other states to do the same.

“I do think as green marketing picks up and more states enact standards, this will become an issue,” agreed Alan Nogee, energy program director of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But the opponents of renewable power mandates aren’t taking the new lobbying efforts sitting down.

“I believe that Renewable Portfolio Standards are the most insidious device yet devised by regulators and legislators and governors to create markets for renewable energy producers, shift the high costs to electric customers, and hide them in monthly bills,” said Glenn Schleede, a former White House official and president of the Energy Market and Policy Analysis consulting firm.

“Participants in a wind opposition group that I help coordinate have learned of this and are objecting to their legislators,” added Schleede.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].