Driving the Transition to Renewable and Clean Energy
In recent years, a number of states including Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Maryland have enacted broad clean energy or emissions reduction legislation. In 2021, Oregon HB 2021 required a 100% reduction of carbon emissions by 2040, North Carolina HB 951 set a target to reduce emissions 70% by 2030, and Illinois (SB 2408) and Rhode Island (H 5445) each enacted new requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. In 2022, the trend in seeking emissions reductions continued. California enacted AB 1279, setting a new target for the state to reduce statewide GHG emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2045. Maryland SB 528 set a target of 2031 to reduce GHG emissions by 60% compared to a 2006 baseline and to reach net-zero emissions by 2045.
In addition to emissions reduction legislation, one commonly used state policy tool playing a key role in driving the energy transition has been the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), which requires utilities under state jurisdiction to procure a certain amount of electricity from qualifying renewable resources by a certain date. However, since 2017, a growing number of states have increased their RPS requirements and expanded the types of resources to include a wider array of carbon-free or low-carbon resources, such as nuclear power or fossil fuel-fired generation with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies. These policies—all of which maintain a strong RPS—have been classified as clean energy standards (CES).
Thirty states, Washington, D.C., and two territories have active renewable or clean energy requirements, while an additional three states and one territory have set voluntary renewable energy goals. Of those, at least nine states have established CES policies that work in tandem with the state’s RPS requirements. At least 11 states, two territories and the District of Columbia have increased their RPS or CES standards to 100% of retail sales with deadlines ranging from 2030 to 2050, while another three states have increased their standards to 50% or greater.
In 2022, Rhode Island enacted HB 7277A to adopt annual increases in the state’s Renewable Energy Standard and requiring that 100% of Rhode Island’s electricity be offset by renewable production by 2033. In 2023, Minnesota enacted HB 7, which establishes a new CES requirement that utilities in the state must get 100% of their electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040.
Emissions reduction targets and RPS policies have driven broad changes in electricity generation. State legislatures have also been adopting policies focused specifically on supporting, promoting, or regulating specific generation technologies including wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable and clean electricity generation technologies.
As renewable energy deployment expands, siting of those facilities has become an important topic for state legislatures. In recent years, Montana SB 63 authorized the state land board to lease state lands for wind and solar development. Multiple states also passed legislation concerning the siting of renewable energy facilities on farmland. New Jersey enacted AB 5434, encouraging the dual use of farmland and solar installations by establishing a pilot program and allowing certain dual-use property to be assessed solely as farmland under certain conditions. By contrast, Maine enacted SB 206, which convenes a working group to discourage the use of high-value agricultural land for siting solar arrays and instead looks to marginal-value land for those facilities.
State legislatures are also considering the need to ensure proper decommissioning and recycling of renewable energy facilities and infrastructure to avoid negative environmental impacts of growing development. Hawaii HB 1333 commissioned a study to determine best practices for the recycling and disposal of solar panels. Washington enacted HB 1393, which postponed the state’s original solar panel recycling and decommissioning requirements as the state looks to establish a more comprehensive program. Conversely, Maine enacted SB 113, establishing decommissioning requirements for solar facilities, including the submittal of a decommissioning plan for all new solar developments. Similarly, Texas SB 760 set parameters for the removal and decommissioning of solar power facilities. As renewable production continues to expand, appropriately managing that development, including end-of-life considerations, will continue to spur legislative action.
In 2022 offshore wind took on new focus following an announcement from the federal departments of Energy, Interior, and Commerce of a national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030. State legislatures have been exploring opportunities to take advantage of this initiative and ensure that offshore wind development serves state priorities. For example, in 2022 Louisiana enacted HB 165 which would allow offshore wind development in Louisiana state waters for the first time. This action in Louisiana illustrates both the challenges and opportunities of the transition. The state has long benefited from fossil fuel production through state revenues, workforce and economic development benefits. HB 165 includes a requirement that state offshore wind regulations include lease and royalty terms. This highlights the need to replace state revenue and economic activity associated with fossil fuel production. The expansion of renewable energy production offers, at least in part, an opportunity to provide new state revenue and economic development opportunities.
Also related to offshore wind, recent legislation in New Hampshire highlights a role for states in managing the potentially negative impacts of new renewable generation projects on existing industries. New Hampshire SB 268 requires the state’s PUC to meet certain requirements in the approval of power purchase agreements for offshore wind development, including mitigating the impacts on commercial and recreational fishing, an existing economic sector that may be threatened by new energy infrastructure.
One of the opportunities presented by the energy transition involves new investment in communities that may not have experienced the benefits associated with previous generations of investment in energy infrastructure. A number of states have identified community solar as an opportunity to drive the economic benefits of the transition to previously underserved communities.
Massachusetts’ community solar program incentivizes community solar access for low-income customers by providing “adders” to the base rates that utilities pay for electricity. Under the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program, utilities in the state must purchase a certain amount of their electricity from solar facilities developed under this program, including community solar facilities. To incentivize building community solar facilities in low-income areas, the state has established “adders” on top of the base SMART rate that provide developers with additional financial compensation on top of the base SMART rate for solar facilities with certain characteristics. For instance, a community solar facility in a low-income area can sell its electricity at a rate 6 cents higher than the base SMART rate. Similarly Virginia’s HB 573 established a low-income community solar pilot program that requires each electric utility participating in the state’s community solar program to locate at least one generation facility in a low-income community.
The combination of new state emissions reduction targets, policies to support renewable generation and increases in the stringency of state RPS requirements constitute a major driver in the transition from fossil fuel-based to renewable and clean electricity. The examples above also illustrate how state legislatures have been exploring policies to both realize the benefits and manage the potential negative impacts of this transition.