Date of Award

Summer 7-24-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

William Boyd

Second Advisor

Maxwell Boykoff


The energy policy arena is saturated with technocratic examinations of why an energy policy is successful. By speaking about why a policy instrument is successful rather than how it came to be this way treats the policy's successful diffusion separate from the historical contexts from which it emerged. To illuminate what becomes lost in this way of thinking, this thesis examines the origins of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), a widely-popular renewable energy policy among U.S. states. It shows how the RPS was not always the immanent policy outcome and that it initially lost to another policy instrument in California in 1996. This thesis elucidates two intertwined dimensions of the contestation over what policy instrument should be used to promote renewables: a policy instrument and a political economy debate. It shows that it is critical to acknowledge both debates in trying to understand why a policy instrument succeeds (or fails). The political economy debate also shows the policy making process not as a predictable, entrenched space of power-laden politics, but rather, a dynamic system of institutions and actors affected with different values, orientations, and obligations trying to negotiate a desirable policy outcome. Though a political landscape is often well-established, the dynamic interaction of its stakeholders sometimes gives way to gaps of opportunity, where a novel—even controversial—policy idea can take hold. This more-nuanced understanding of the policy making process helps change our understanding of the possibilities and limitations of advancing innovative policy ideas.