News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Conservative Group Takes Aim at Renewable Standards

January 2011 protest against ALEC members the Koch Brothers in the Coachella Valley | Photo: Jessica Randolph/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadowy conservative, corporate-supported non-profit funded by the Koch Brothers and Exxon-Mobil, plans to take on Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) across the country in the coming legislative season. ALEC works by drafting "model bills" espousing far-right, pro-corporate points of view and distributing them to sympathetic members of state legislatures across the country.

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Explainer: Renewable Portfolio Standards
ALEC is best known for drafting controversial "Stand Your Ground" model laws based on Florida's pension reform measures like the one that paralyzed the state of Wisconsin last year, and the nationwide outbreak of proposed "voter ID" laws.

The group is now distributing a model law rescinding Renewable Portfolio Standards -- the so-called "Electricity Freedom Act" -- which it intends to have its member legislators introduce in statehouses during the next legislative session. Written by ALEC member organization and prominent climate change denialist group the Heartland Institute, the Electricity Freedom Act essentially says:

The Electricity Freedom Act repeals the State of {insert state}'s requirement that electric distribution utilities and electric services companies provide _____ percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by ____."

California's RPS, which requires a 33% renewables level for the state's utilities by 2020, is unlikely to be among the first laws challenged by ALEC. This week's election has left the state with a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, and between that and the state's avidly pro-renewables Governor a California version of the Electricity Freedom Act will likely go nowhere anytime soon. In an interview before the election, ALEC's energy, environment, and agriculture task force head Todd Wynn cited Michigan and Ohio as likely first states for the Electricity Freedom Act campaign. Each of the two states has low RPS goals -- 12.5% by 2024 for Ohio, including some nuclear, and 10% by 2025 for Michigan. Each of the two states kept Republican majorities in their statehouses in this week's election, though the majority in Michigan's House dwindled significantly. And each one has a Republican governor.

ALEC maintains that it isn't opposed to renewable energy, merely to RPSs that it considers:

essentially a tax on consumers of electricity that forces the use of renewable energy sources beyond what would be called for by real market forces and under conditions of real competition in generation resources.

Twenty-nine states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards in the last decade or so. It remains to be seen how the seeming shift in the political climate over the last few days might affect ALEC's efforts to rescind them.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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