By Ridgway Hall, Thomas Utzinger, and Jessica Hall; General Editor Bradley M. Marten
Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) obligate retail sellers of electricity to include in their energy resource portfolios certain minimum amounts of electricity from qualifying renewable energy sources. To help you understand the basics of RPS programs, which effectively reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that otherwise would be released into the air, LexisNexis has published a new pamphlet, entitled “Renewable Portfolio Standards.” Along with a description of renewable power sources, the pamphlet discusses environmental and economic issues relating to RPS, current state RPS programs, attempts to establish a federal RPS, and renewable energy credits. Also included is a bibliography of relevant reports and articles and a directory of useful internet sources. An excerpt from the first section of the pamphlet is provided below.
To purchase the complete pamphlet, click here. This handy pamphlet is one of the many offerings in the new LexisNexis Global Climate Change Special Pamphlet Series.
§ 1.01 Introduction to Renewable Portfolio Standards
 What Is a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)?
A renewable portfolio standard (RPS), also known as a renewable electricity standard (RES), is a legislative or regulatory policy obligating retail sellers of electricity, such as electric utilities, to include in their energy resource portfolios certain minimum amounts of electricity from qualifying renewable energy sources. Energy resource portfolios are the collection of electricity generation resources from which the retailer obtains and sells electric power. Common renewable energy sources include hydropower, wind, biomass, solar, and geothermal sources. An RPS may be established based on a percentage of total electric generation or a percentage of sales, and may be satisfied by the retail seller’s (1) owning renewable energy facilities, producing renewable power, and selling it in the retail seller’s service territory; (2) purchasing and reselling renewable electricity from other generators of renewable power; or (3) purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) (also known as renewable energy certificates) demonstrating that a third party has generated the required amount of renewable energy.1 RECs are similar to “offsets” purchased in a cap and trade system. Some RPS programs allow for the payment of an alternative compliance payment or tax in place of obtaining renewable electricity or purchasing RECs.There currently is no federal RPS, although certain energy legislative proposals pending in Congress would, if enacted, establish some type of uniform federal standard applicable to electric retail suppliers. But as of February 2010, mandatory RPS requirements have been set by 30 states and the District of Columbia. These state programs bear many similarities, but also differ from one another in terms of renewable percentage requirements, timeframes by which renewable energy percentages must be attained, qualifying types of energy sources, and the opportunity for REC trading. In addition, five states have adopted voluntary RPS “goals” instead of “requirements.”2 Whether mandatory or voluntary, each state program addresses state-specific concerns (e.g., economic growth, development of new technological sectors, diversity of energy supply, and environmental concerns), available local resources, and production capacity.
1 See Ryan Wiser and Galen Barbose, Renewable Portfolio Standards in the United States, A Status Report with Data Through 2007 (Apr. 2008), available at http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/ems/reports/lbnl-154e.pdf; R. Wiser, K. Porter, and R. Grace, Evaluating Experience with Renewables Portfolio Standards in the United States (Mar. 2004), available at http://eetd.lbl.gov/ea/EMS/reports/54439.pdf.
2 See Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Renewable Portfolio Standards, September 2009, available at http://www.dsireusa.org.
Ridgway M. Hall, Jr. is a senior counsel with the law firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, in its Washington, DC office, where he is a member of the firm's Environment & Natural Resources Group. He was a founding partner of the firm and his practice includes all areas of environmental law and litigation, with a particular focus on regulatory programs including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and hazardous waste laws. He has tried jury and non-jury cases in federal and state courts and has handled enforcement cases, investigations and related administrative proceedings. He has also served as a mediator and arbitrator in environmental disputes. He was Associate General Counsel for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from 1975 to 1977.
For over 25 years, he has assisted companies in the design and implementation of corporate environmental, health and safety auditing and compliance programs. He has written and spoken widely of all aspects of environmental law. He is a member of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and the American Law Institute, past officer of the Environmental Law Institute, and serves on the Board of Advisors to the Theodore Kheel Center on the Resolution of Environmental Interest Disputes. He has been named one of the top lawyers in the environmental field by Best Lawyers in America, Chambers USA, Euromoney's Guide to the World's Leading Environmental Lawyers and The International Who's Who Legal.
Thomas A. Utzinger is an associate in the Environment & Natural Resources Group of Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, DC. His practice involves representing and counseling corporations and trade organizations in all areas of environmental law, including Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, solid and hazardous waste, and energy issues. He also advises on the environmental aspects of business and real estate transactions. Thomas graduated from Cornell University in 1999, where he earned a B.A. in History. He earned his J.D. from Boston University School of Law in 2002, and an LL.M. in Environmental Law from The George Washington University Law School in 2004, with highest honors.
Jessica A. Hall is an associate in the Environment & Natural Resources Group of Crowell & Moring LLP in Washington, DC. Her practice involves environmental and natural resources law, with a special focus on climate change. She litigates tort cases involving greenhouse gases and advises clients on existing and emerging regulatory requirements relating to climate change. Jessica has experience litigating Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and environmental tort cases and in arbitrating disputes under the North American Free Trade Agreement. She earned her B.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and she is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School.
Bradley M. Marten, founder and Managing Partner of Marten Law PLLC, is consistently ranked by his peers as one of the nation's top environmental lawyers. He is a Regent of the American College of Environmental Lawyers and Chairs its Policy Committee. He is listed as a top environmental lawyer in the Best Lawyers in America, Chambers, and the International Who's Who of Environmental Lawyers, and been recognized in many other publications for his work in the environmental law field over a 25 year career. Brad represents both corporate and public clients in matters touching on most of the major environmental and energy practice areas. He is the General Editor for the LexisNexis Global Climate Change Special Pamphlet Series.