In 2013, AEE partnered with Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy, headed by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, to develop an online state legislation tool called AEL Tracker. One benefit of looking at state policy across the country is the ability to identify trends, and the Center has just released its latest overview of state policy trends in the legislative session now under way.
As of the end of February, the Center was tracking 1,268 bills introduced in 2014. Surprisingly, the category with the greatest number of bills across the country was “Changes to PUC Procedures, Authority and Rate Recovery.” Not the sexiest issue for an election year, but evidence that these powerful bodies, though hardly high profile among the public, are getting the attention of legislators – as they must for modernizing the electric utility system for the 21st century.
This category contains 118 pending bills, but the Center highlights a few: a West Virginia bill (HB 2803) that requires integrated resource planning; a measure in Virginia (SB 643) that deals with cost recovery for offshore wind facilities; and one in Maryland (HB 731) that introduces water use as a criteria in issuing a permit for investments in generation infrastructure.
“Tax Incentives, Financing Programs, Grants and Rebates” was the next biggest category, with 87 proposed measures. PACE legislation was introduced in Hawaii (SB 3110), third party leasing in Virginia (HB 864), and a measure in New York to provide tax incentives to banks that provide clean energy loans (A 8381).
Once again, Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have gotten the attention of state legislators. In 2013 there were 26 efforts to roll back RPS policies, none of them successful; instead, bills passed in Colorado, Minnesota, and Nevada that expanded the existing RPS in those states. This year, among 49 RPS-related bills, solar carve-outs are a focus in Iowa, long a leading wind state (HF 2166 and SF 2107), and in Oregon, which has already approved a change to the RPS that would allow RECs for compliance by rural co-ops – as we described in the last state policy blog update. Meanwhile, Maryland is looking to expand its RPS overall from 20% by 2022 to 40% by 2025 (HB 1149 and SB 733). ALEC, meanwhile, seems to have shifted its focus away from RPS to EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from the electric power sector under the Clean Air Act, with 10 bills introduced to weaken EPA standards or soften their enforcement. A few examples: Georgia’s HR 1158, Arizona HB 2623 and Virginia SB 615.
Net metering has been much in the news already this year, with utilities pushing back against what they see as unfair cross-subsidies, but legislatures seem to be going the other way. There are bills in Vermont to increase the cap on net metering (H 702) and in Oregon to extend net metering to wave and tidal energy (HB 4042). Legislation in Massachusetts (H 3901) looks to lift the net metering cap, but also to study the best ways to address net metering long term – an attempt to provide predictability and growth in the solar market while answering concerns that net metering customers don’t pay their fair share of grid maintenance costs.
Legislatures are also looking to stimulate investment in advanced energy. Thirty five bills have been introduced to increase economic impact, including one in Colorado (HB 1012) to provide a tax credit for investors in advanced energy, a Maryland bill on “Green Business Incentive Zones” (SB 787), and three proposals in Missouri (HB 1236, HB 1310 and SB 698) to provide tax credits for angel investments in innovative businesses, including advanced energy.
While the election year has been light in activity so far, we are seeing two legislative trends that point in a positive direction for advanced energy: re-examining PUC process and authority and building on advanced energy investments.