The Role of Renewable Portfolio Standards in US Energy

The USA is different from many other countries in that each state has the responsibility for its own energy mix. Yes, there are federal laws and legislation in place but often these are challenged when it gets down to the state level. While incentives such as the Federal Tax Rebate can help anyone to take on renewable technology, much of state wide renewable strategies are often defined by what is called the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

This is a commitment to produce a certain percentage of energy from renewable technologies such as wind, solar and biomass. It basically ties in energy companies to provide incentives that help cleaner options. This is a method many countries including Britain and China use to meet certain targets. In the US, 29 states have a renewable portfolio standard in place. For instance, California has a RPS of reaching 33% of its energy production from renewables by 2020.

The Benefits of Introducing a Renewable Portfolio Standard

  • Energy companies get benefits from engaging with the RPS and it also creates competition which is good for the market.
  • The move to a renewable portfolio means that lots of jobs are created as industries begin to grow and thrive. This is particularly true of wind power which has helped create thousands of jobs across the US.
  • Businesses and private individuals get great incentives to have technologies such as solar or geothermal heat pumps installed.

Not all states in the US have renewable portfolio standards in place but that doesn’t mean they are not offering incentives to grow their green technology. Conditions also vary across different states. The southern ones are more likely to embrace solar power because of the high hours of sunshine while northern states will look at a wind and solar mix.

The reason that there is no standard policy across the country is because there is no federal policy in place. The difficulty of getting a standard agreed across all regions could, of course, have caused delays in implementing policies for a greener energy mix.

Some states have gone full out to start to wean themselves off fossil fuels including California and Maine. Others are taking longer, either because they have the wrong weather conditions such as Mississippi or because there is local opposition to development such as in the state of Alabama.

Even within each state the nature of the renewable portfolio standard varies because of local and state legislation. Not only can political considerations have an effect but also environmental concerns and the long term effect on employment. Some states will favor one type of technology whilst another will be more fitted to something else. There’s also the question of resources that need to be allocated to the offers of rebates and the difficulty of getting large utility companies on board.

All this causes a large amount of variation across the US, effecting the uptake of renewable technologies. In California solar is quite popular and well supported. In Michigan, wind turbines are the name of the game. In Nebraska there is a focus on biomass as well as wind and solar.

The states that haven’t introduced a renewable portfolio standard may well be producing their own strategies for green technology but it is difficult to measure if you don’t have a goal to keep things on track. Most citizens think that moving to more independent, home grown and greener technology is a good thing. If we can get our energy from the sun or wind rather than from dangerous fossil fuels, then all the better.

The trick is whether the states without a standard can follow the rest of the US and create a greener and more energy secure world for all Americans.

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