By Nick Juliano
Renewable energy lobbyists are undefeated this year in defending the state-level purchasing mandates that have helped fuel explosive growth in industries like wind and solar, and that streak looks set to remain intact as part-time state legislatures around the country are wrapping up their work for the year.
The tea party-fueled victories that reshaped Congress after the 2010 and 2012 elections also delivered substantial numbers of new Republican lawmakers to legislatures in states like North Carolina, where the state House and Senate this year were both in GOP hands for the first time since the end of the 19th century.
The newly elected lawmakers brought an influx of skepticism toward policies to promote clean energy, such as the renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to provide a minimum amount of energy from non-emitting sources like wind, solar and hydro.
At least a half-dozen states saw an introduction of legislation to repeal or weaken RPS laws, though none has been enacted. And renewable proponents were able to go on the offense in a few states like Colorado, where legislators voted to strengthen an existing RPS.
The repeal push is being driven by many of the same conservative groups that have lobbied against federal policies like the production tax credit, which Congress extended in January over the objection of some tea party-backed lawmakers.
Constituency builds around growing industries
Clean energy proponents see their string of victories as evidence of maturation in the wind and solar industries that has created a strong base of support even in the most conservative parts of the country.
As the renewable industry grows — with more people drawing paychecks from manufacturing wind turbines, installing solar panels or leasing their land to energy developers — stakeholders on both sides of the debate see supportive policies as becoming increasingly easy to defend. The industry called on farmers and local business leaders among others to tout the virtues of RPS laws.