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Growing Number of States Requiring Alternative Energy (USA Today)

Voters around the U.S. are pushing electric utilities to generate a percentage of electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar power. Will this push the Feds to pass a national RPS, and would that be a good thing?

Wind turbines generate renewable energy in the prairies of Spain. A growing number of states in the U.S. are trying to keep up with world-leading locales on renewable energy standards. (Will Selarep photo)

Washington state's approval of Initiative 937 earlier this month brings to 20 the number of states -- plus the District of Columbia -- with such requirements. Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and California are implementing or accelerating renewable portfolio standards.

USA Today ran a simplified round-up of the most active nascent state RPS programs last week.

Reporter Tom Kenworthy wraps up by speculating about a national standard:

"Progress in the states could spur Congress to enact a federal standard, predicts Anna Aurelio, director of the Washington office of U.S. PIRG, a national environmental group. The Senate in 2005 approved a 10% mandate that failed in the House, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., incoming chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said he will try again."

One concern about a national RPS is that it might preempt existing state standards. Hopefully, state legislatures foresee this possibility. State standards are certainly more aggressive than any compromise at the national level, and states know which fuels to advance.

Sunny Arizona's RPS requires a percentage of the renewables to come from distributed resources, which implies on-site solar. Washington's RPS doesn't directly promote wind, but it does make a statement that the region has gone far enough with hydropower: New hydro dams do not count toward the Washington RPS (not that utilities could get a new dam permitted today).

On the other hand, many of the windy Midwest and sunny southeastern U.S. states are conspicuous by their absence from the RPS bandwagon. A national "default" minimum RPS could force utilities to tap those valuable resources, even if local voters will not.