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Maine's RPS: On the Rocks?

By Anna Simet | October 12, 2012

This week, Biomass Magazine news editor Erin Voegele reported that a recent paper released by the Maine Heritage Policy Center and the Beacon Hill Institute for Public Policy Research said that Maine’s renewable porfolio standard (RPS) is hurting the state’s economy and basically recommended that it be repealed.

Why? The paper suggests that it increases costs, lowers employment and fails to substantially eliminate emissions. Now, that’s the exact opposite effect of what experts have told me—time and time again—that RPSs/renewable energy standards (RESs) have on states that implement them. In fact, in April I wrote an article that touched on some myths surrounding RPSs—here is an excerpt containing a few perspectives:

“Colorado, California and New Jersey are fantastic examples of successful RESs,” Caperton says. “They have driven a significant amount of investment and renewables there, and there is no data that indicates RESs drive up electricity rates; that is totally a myth, and the most common one.”

(Caperton, by the way, is director of clean energy investment at the Center for American Progress.)

John Bonitz, farm outreach and policy advocate for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, agrees. “They [myths] have all been effectively exposed as half-truths by numerous studies, most recently by researchers from Duke University’s Nicholas Institute and the Georgia Institute of Technology,” he says. The November 2011 study, “Myths and Facts about Electricity in the U.S. South,” finds that energy efficiency and renewable energy are able to work hand-in-hand to meet the projected growth of electricity demand in the South without escalating electricity rates. Aside from price increases that would occur over time without an RES, the study’s modeling shows that over the next two decades, the average household in the South would see less than a $2 increase in its monthly energy bills under an RES.

The other most common misperception surrounding an RES is that many states don’t have renewable energy sources, according to Caperton. That myth is especially perpetuated in Georgia and parts of the Southeast, where the coal industry has convinced legislators that using traditional resources is the only option. 

Obviously my article is mostly focused on the U.S. South where the majority of states don’t have RPSs—and things are quite different from region to region—but I wonder, if nearly 30 states have them (and they continue to raise, revamp and improve them) why are things different in Maine?

 President of the Biomass Power Association Bob Cleaves is standing up for the RPS (Maine is actually where BPA headquarters are) and noted that the electrical rates in Maine—and the other New England states—are higher than the rates in other parts of the U.S., and he said that premium is not attributable to renewable energy and state RPS programs. Rather, Cleaves said, the higher prices are predominantly a function of the cost to transmit and distribute power in the region.

The paper attempts to answer an awful lot of questions in just 16 pages, including the old notorious, “Is renewable energy production as environmentally friendly as some proponents claim?” The ultimate answer, according to the paper, is no.

 That reminds me of an episode of Bill Maher I was watching the other night—not saying any of my views align with his, it just happened to be on the television I was watching—and an argument regarding climate changed had ensued. One scientist asked—and I am rephrasing—what is with the U.S., in that it seems to think its science is superior or better than the rest of the world countries that have all come to a consensus that climate change is real and happening and that something has to be done (clean and/or renewable energy)?

 While it seems Maine won’t make any really drastic moves in the short term based on this paper, it’s caught people’s attention. What’s your opinion?