William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Rebecca Wescott


Since the early 1980s, states have utilized Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (“RPSs”) as policy mechanisms to “promote broader investment in renewable energy without requiring passage of a comprehensive energy policy measure that includes a pricing mechanism for carbon.” RPS policies can be drafted in one of two ways: (1) as a mandatory RPS, a legal mandate on what percentage of a state’s power portfolio must come from specific eligible renewable energy sources by a specific date in the future, or (2) as a non-binding or voluntary RPS, a policy goal that recommends that a certain percentage of a state’s power portfolio comes from specific eligible renewable energy sources by a set date in the future.

The introduction of RPS policies into state energy regulations has completely revolutionized the renewable energy industry. While most states enacted RPSs by the mid-2000s, RPSs are beginning to again appear on state legislature agendas as the fixed statutory targets within existing authorizing statutes are coming to pass. Partly due to this, 2016 saw largescale change to RPSs across the country with over 20% of the states that utilize RPSs revising their existing statutory language to increase set target percentages or to introduce new eligible sources of renewable energy. D.C., Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Oregon all revised their RPS policies to increase their statutory targets of, as existing targets were realized ahead of the existing statutory timelines. The success of these RPS policies are not unique to the before mentioned states. It becomes clear, when looking at the mid-Atlantic/south Atlantic region as a whole, that states with RPSs have been widely successful in increasing their renewable energy level.

The passage of a mandatory RPS can guide a state towards “investment in renewable energy generation that may not otherwise occur” by providing state-backed incentives to utility corporations for the development of renewable energy. However, Virginia has not elected to pass a mandatory RPS. Instead Virginia’s RPS language makes any participation voluntary and, as such, Virginia’s renewable energy lags behind neighboring states that have mandatory RPS objectives. “As currently structured, Virginia’s non-binding RPS leaves significant untapped potential for future renewable energy production.”

Maryland and North Carolina are both neighboring states to Virginia. Additionally, both of those states, unlike Virginia, have mandatory RPS programs that have found success. This Note will seek to compare and contrast Virginia’s current RPS with those in Maryland and North Carolina to analyze the weaknesses of Virginia’s RPS and offer recommendations for reform within the Commonwealth.