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Fracking and Alternative Energy

This is Real Law: Green Side Up: The Current State of Renewable Energy Mandates

By the Real Law Editorial Team

With a hundred or so empty pop cans, you can comfortably heat a small building. Perforated and sealed end-to-end, those cans become a manifold inside a wood or metal frame with a clear panel sealed on the front. Solar energy is used to warm air that enters the unit, circulates inside the manifold and then exits via a separate vent—a process that can be assisted, if necessary, by a switched 12-volt computer fan.

There’s a large body of hobbyists who build contraptions based on that seemingly preposterous concept. Some methods used are more elaborate than others (lengths of layered window screening or aluminum downspout can also be used for the manifold), but the reason for constructing such devices remains the same: those passive solar units are capable of generating a remarkable amount of heat, which is even more satisfying in view of the minimal financial investment required to obtain it.

Of course, such home-built panels have their limits. You can heat a small dwelling and even your entire house by arranging enough material under sheets of glass or plastic, but you won’t get Peoria, Illinois—population 115,000 according to a 2012 census—off the electrical grid with such a scheme.

Still, the enthusiasm for adopting low-cost alternative energy sources is admirable. It also underscores a growing interest in taking advantage of solar, wind and other renewable resources for everyday use.

That desire exists at community and state levels, as well. In fact, mandates to implement renewable energy initiatives are in effect across the country. Those measures already affect many in the legal profession, but they are poised to attract even greater attention as states in particular forge ahead with plans to make green energy a greater part of the country’s electrical generation mix.

The March of Progress

A recent issue of State Net® Capitol Journal examines in detail the current state of various prominent renewable energy mandates. Lou Cannon’s top story for the July 21, 2014, edition reviews arguments for and against adopting green energy standards and provides insights concerning developments that could affect such initiatives.

Some highlights from the feature article include:

  • At the state level, the march to adopt more green energy use is on track despite encountering some bumps on the road lately. One noteworthy obstacle was met in Ohio, where the legislature recently approved a law that delays the Buckeye State’s commitment to obtain 25 percent of its energy use from renewable sources by 2025. “The measure was the latest battle in a regional assault on renewable standards by Republicans, who contend that green energy mandates are expensive and threaten economic growth,” Cannon explains.
  • The decision in Ohio is viewed by some as a setback, particularly in view of a similar measure adopted in Indiana earlier in the year and continuing pressure elsewhere to review and possibly reverse clean-energy commitments. But such efforts are more the exception than the rule, and, as Cannon notes, most states are adhering to plans for renewable energy use.
  • California, which is regarded as a poster child for the movement, is on target to meet its goal of generating a third of its energy from renewables by 2020. “Following California’s lead,” Cannon notes, “some 30 states in the last dozen years have adopted mandates, known as renewable portfolio standards, which set goals for utilities to increase their percentage of green energy use.”
  • President Obama’s June 2014 announcement of a climate change initiative intended to significantly reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 2030 lends key support for renewable energy efforts. Later in the same month, the Supreme Court upheld the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
  • The administration’s push to curb carbon emissions, especially from coal, comes at a time of extensive natural gas production. At the same time, the country is suddenly awash in oil, which has helped position the United States at the brink of energy independence. That might prompt confidence among critics of renewable energy mandates; however, it is not expected to seriously diminish or derail efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources. We are too far along the path now for that to happen.

Opportunity Awaits

Over the coming decades, America is set to witness a transformation in its energy experience. Indeed, while concluding his article, Cannon notes that the potential of advancing clean energy use presents “an unparalleled opportunity to reinvigorate our economy while protecting our environment,” as the American Council on Renewable Energy declared in its 2014 forecast.

That experience will undoubtedly have an effect on the legal profession, which will find itself immersed in financial, transactional, conflict resolution, litigation and other related matters. Preparing for that now by monitoring the progress of state commitments to adopt green energy would seem to be wise counsel.

In the meantime, those with an interest in taking advantage of renewable energy sources and who might also be possessed by an inclination for esoteric hobbies are advised to start saving and washing empty soda or beer empties. A frozen hunting or fishing shack somewhere wants free heating.

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