State RPS Policies in Focus: Assessing RPS Policy Activity during the 2015-2016 Legislative Session

Dec. 7, 2016 by Jeffrey J. Cook

The 2015-2016 legislative sessions are coming to a close across the states and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have had renewed policy activity (See Figure 1). Since the start of 2015, six states have enacted new or more stringent RPS policies, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont (See Figure 1).


Figure 1. 2015-16 RPS Policy Activity by State

The most stringent standards were adopted by Hawaii and Vermont. Hawaii requires certain utilities to serve electricity loads from 100% renewable sources by 2045, while Vermont established a 75% renewable procurement target by 2032. Vermont also requires that 10% of retail sales be served by distributed renewable sources, such as small-scale rooftop solar by 2032. California and Oregon both adopted 50% RPS requirements by 2030 and 2040 respectively. Oregon further stipulated that 8% of retail load must be served by small-scale (less than 20 megawatts) renewable generation projects. Though not enacted via legislation, New York also increased its RPS to 50% by 2030 through a Public Service Commission rulemaking proceeding. Finally, Rhode Island increased its RPS standard to 38.5% by 2035. In contrast, only one state, Kansas, reduced their standard in 2015. The state repealed their mandatory RPS in favor of a voluntary 20% target by 2020.

Though this legislative activity would suggest that RPS policies have seen net increases, seven states with an existing RPS did not act in the 2015-16 legislative session, including Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. This inaction had ramifications, as each state’s existing RPS policy reached its target date in 2015. As a result, utilities subject to mandatory programs in Michigan, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin are no longer required to add proportionally more renewable generation to their energy mix. Simply put, obligated electric service providers in these states must maintain the percentage of renewable generation stipulated in the RPS, say 10%, each year thereafter, but do not need to exceed that target. North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota had voluntary programs and the target date for these policies has also passed.

Setting aside the three states with voluntary compliance programs, seven states increased their standards this session, while RPS policies reached their targets, or were reduced in five states (Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Texas, and Wisconsin). The seven states that increased their standards account for about 5.5% of the total electricity produced in the United States in 2015.[1] In contrast, the five states that did not expand their RPS programs account for about 8.7% of all electricity generation over that span.

The upcoming 2017 – 2018 legislative session may result in more changes to RPS policies across the states. For example, Ohio froze their RPS standard in 2014 for two years. Absent legislative activity, the Ohio RPS will be reinstated in 2017. In comparison, Maine’s RPS program will reach its target in 2017, while five other states’ policies expire in 2020 (Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, New Mexico, and Washington). These are just some of the states that may address RPS policy in the near future and any changes that occur in the upcoming session could help clarify the outlook for RPS policy more broadly.

[1] These estimates are based upon EIA 2015 net generation data available here: