Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Steven Vaderheiden

Second Advisor

Dr. Nancy Billica

Third Advisor

Dale Miller

Abstract

The 2018 IPCC report is a sobering reality that the anthropogenic climate change will have vast effects on our world, the science is clear that emissions emitted by humans are responsible for the current climate crisis. In order to mitigate further damage governments must create policy that addresses human emissions which are leading to climate change.

As the U.S. federal government moves away from climate mitigation policy, including abandoning the Paris Agreement, the role of state-level policy tools such as the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) take on increasing importance. RPS are the regulations, which require utilities to increase the percentage of energy they sell from renewable sources by a specified amount and date. They have been adopted in varying forms by about 35 states. For example, New York requires 50 percent of all electricity sold in 2050 to come from solar. Many states have created these standards to 1) diversify their energy resources, 2) promote domestic energy production and 3) encourage economic development. Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements. My analysis shows just how critical state energy laws are today, particularly as the Trump administration alters national energy policy. Regardless of the mechanisms used to promote and enact the use of renewable energies my analyses strongly suggest that the state governments are where the action is and will driving the future of our electric grid.

This thesis investigates key factors that have allowed states to implement an RPS and identifies factors that have hindered states from implementing an RPS, describes ways in which states that don’t currently can find way to implement one in the future. We discuss the impact RPS’s have on renewable generation in states finding that 1) Political ideology has a direct impact on whether or not a state has adopted an RPS and the strength of that RPS 2) Resource Availability and Fiscal Health of a state do not have a direct correlation to the strength of a states RPS. An RPS is a useful policy mechanism that encourages development of renewable energy. In general, states with RPS policies have seen an increase in the amount of electricity generated from eligible renewable resources. If states aim to improve upon their RPS they can follow the metric that we have laid out. Making the RPSs mandatory, increasing the percentage (over 25%), not including non-renewables, and making the standard state-wide states.

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