Note: As of July 22, 2010, reports indicate that the energy bill no longer includes an RPS.  We encourage you to call your Senators and tell them to urge the inclusion of a renewable electricity standard in the bill. See the American Wind Energy Association’s website for information on who to call.

One of the most commonly tossed-around acronyms in the renewable energy industry is the RPS, which in this case doesn’t stand for “rock-paper-scissors”. Instead, as many readers may already know, it stands for “Renewable Portfolio Standard”. To those not familiar with the concept, a Renewable Portfolio Standard is a government mandate which requires a certain amount of a state or country’s energy to come from renewable sources.

A national RPS—one which applies to the whole United States— is prominent on our radar right now because it plays a large role in the proposed energy legislation making its way through the Senate. It’s one of several energy reform measures being considered, along with a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon emissions and other pollution restrictions targeted at utilities. The problem is that with the curtain about to fall on the current legislative session, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Senate about which path to take.The case for a national RPS has been made by several groups hoping to get a last-minute bill to the table. Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota introduced a bill known as SAFEST (Securing America’s Future with Energy and Sustainable Technologies), which calls for a 25% RPS by 2025. Another effort was made by Senators Bryan Dorgan of North Dakota, Tom Udall of Colorado, and Mark Udall of New Mexico, who called for a suggested RPS of 15% proposed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year to be strengthened and signed into law. However, with the time crunch, it is possible that a bill will not be ready to vote on before the August Recess.

If passed, a national RPS would provide the wind industry and country with many benefits. Let’s cross our fingers that the Senate will find a way to take action on this!

  1. Job creation.  We like to think about wind energy as a harmonious pairing of environmental sense and economic sense, and a study released by the Pew Charitable Trusts last year backs that up. According to the study, over the 10-year period from 1998-2007 the number of jobs in renewable energy increased 9.1%, compared to 3.7% for the economy as a whole. In the wind industry, the job increase over that same span was 23.5%. Also, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a 25% by 2025 RPS would create 297,000 jobs over the next 15 years.
  2. Economic Development. According to the AWEA’s briefing on National Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, each wind turbine installed generates $1.5 million in economic activity. In addition, the UCS predicts that enacting an RPS would produce more than three times as many jobs as continuing on our current, more fossil-fueled approach.
  3. Consumer Savings . The UCS’s Clean Power, Green Jobs report found that a national RPS would reduce electricity prices up to 7.6%.
  4. Global warming prevention. Climate change continues to receive lots of attention in the media, and we probably don’t have to tell you about the effectiveness of renewable sources in cutting emissions. However, it’s interesting to note that 2010 has featured the warmest January-June period on record. And that wasn’t all from the New York Times’ “Green” blog; here’s an instance of two pictures speaking a thousand words.  
  5. Energy independence.  Passing a national RPS has the nifty side-effect of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. In addition, it should promote economic security by helping keep clean energy jobs in the US, instead of ceding the upper hand to countries such as China (read all about China in our blog below).  According to Senator Klobuchar, “The strength of our nation is tied to the strength of our energy economy. Not only are we still dependent on foreign oil, but other countries are making great strides in developing clean energy technologies.”