United States

United States

States continue to turn to green power -- More RPS gains

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Renewables portfolio standards (RPS) continue to reshape the playing field for potential wind power development across the US. Virginia and Wisconsin are the latest states where legislators are considering setting minimum standards for the proportion of renewable energy in electricity supply portfolios.

Two Republican state lawmakers in Wisconsin are introducing a bill to increase generation of renewable power to 10% by 2015. The bill, the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Act, includes major recommendations submitted by the Governor's Task Force on Energy Efficiency & Renewables. "All those renewables will have to come from somewhere and wind is the most cost-effective source we know of," says Paul Helgeson of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin. "The RPS could eventually result in us reaching 2000 to 3000 MW of new wind power."

Wisconsin currently has 53 MW of wind, with the Forward Wind Energy Project expected to bring another 200 MW online this year. "We have an additional 800-1000 MW already somewhere along in the pipeline, although it's dependent on things like permits and leases with farmers to move forward," says Helgeson. "But if we let the RPS do its job we'll end up with a lot more than that."

In Virginia, a state with no wind power and heavy dependence on fossil fuel, a plan is in the works to create an RPS calling for 15-20% renewables by 2007. "The numbers could change because right now we'd like to see energy efficiency as part of the bill, which is why the percentage goal is so high," says Diana Dascalu of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "Our organisation has been successful in working on RPSs for Maryland and Washington DC over the last three years. Now we've been working with key legislators in Virginia for about three months."

Tax incentives

She hopes to see the RPS in place this year. "I think we'll at least see some grant programs and tax incentives coming out of the legislature before the end of the year. We're optimistic about what this could mean for wind development in Virginia."

In Massachusetts, meantime, an attempt to skirt the intended spirit of the RPS was denied when a coalition of environmental and energy advocates succeeded in preventing green certificates being awarded to new added capacity on upgraded old hydropower plants. The Massachusetts RPS requires utilities to provide 4% of their electricity from new renewables by 2009.

"Several efforts in recent years have tried to weaken the RPS," says Jeff Deyette of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We've run into problems getting the utilities to sign on with long term renewables contracts because they'd rather just pay for the credits and go about their business the way it's always been."

Environmental groups harnessed significant support to block the hydro amendment. "Each time these issues have come up we've been able to push back with a fair amount of success. There's been an ongoing effort to change the definition of the RPS, which would enable utilities to fulfil the requirements without developing new sources and that obviously wouldn't be good for the future."

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