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The University of Chicago RPS “Study” Sets a Debunking-Minded #EnergyTwitter on Fire

Tuesday, Apr 23 2019

Dan Whitten & Sean Gallagher
solar panels and sun

#EnergyTwitter exploded yesterday when a story broke on what many agreed was a half-baked study out of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

We hate to even restate the bogus premise. It was that renewable portfolio standards may reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but are costly compared to other approaches to addressing climate change.



#EnergyTwitter savants rightfully observed that the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, that its findings should be treated with “caution,” and that it used historic (1990-2015) pricing data for renewables, which on its face is laughable. Denizens of the #energytwittersphere also pointed out that it relied on a bogus study from the anti-renewable think tank, the Manhattan Institute, and that the study did not account for the vast variations in policies that exist from state to state.

Each state is indeed different. North Carolina’s REPS (which includes both energy efficiency and renewables) has saved customers $162 million since 2007 and will continue to save customers an estimated additional $489 million by 2029. Georgia PSC Commissioner, Tim Echols, coincidentally noted that solar in Georgia has “put downward pressure on rates.” Xcel Energy, which provides power to millions of customers in 8 states in the central U.S., recently committed to 100 percent clean energy, stating that “[t]here is room for a lot more renewables, and it can be done affordably.”



We’re not alone in our concern about how these inaccurate results might be perceived. “Energy Ronin” Jesse Jenkins, an electricity system planner and frequent #EnergyTwitter commentator, offered this warning as part of a thoughtful 40-tweet initial thread: 

Similarly, Ari Peskoe, Director of the Harvard Electricity Law Initiative, said this:

Commenters including Peskoe noted other methodological problems, including mischaracterizing LBNL’s 2014 RPS cost-benefit study, and ignoring more recent updates. Moreover, the report’s focus on carbon taxes, which no jurisdiction in the U.S. have been able to enact, make the assertedly perfect the enemy of the very good -- Renewable Portfolio Standards, which are wildly popular, politically achievable, produce fast and measureable results and have caused dramatic reductions in the cost of renewable energy.

These qualities are why leading corporate buyers and utilities are moving toward incorporating more renewables into their portfolios for economic reasons.

The reliance on out-of-date pricing obscures the fact that RPS programs have worked to create markets and drive down renewable pricing to the point that voluntary renewable procurement is in some places outpacing RPS-driven development. Indeed, LBNL’s most recent update shows that actual growth in non-hydro renewables since 2000 is more than double the minimum growth required for RPS compliance.

The timing of this story is curious, given that opponents of renewable portfolio standards are seeing state after state seizing on the incredible opportunity there is for low-cost renewable energy to help address climate change. If policy makers look at current pricing data, and credible science, they will continue to develop aggressive renewable portfolio standards.

Finally, Vox’s David Roberts said in assorted tweets that the study was irritating and inaccurate, and he deemed its timing as RPSs are picking up steam to be a “crap bomb.”

Thanks for the image #EnergyTwitter. We couldn’t agree more.

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