What's the difference between Kansas and Colorado? There are quite a few, and those of us in Kansas are well aware of many of the ways we differ from our neighboring state to the west. For example, the speed limit is lower on most Kansas highways, and most of our state is in a different time zone. Colorado also has mountains, while Kansas has been mathematically determined to be flatter than a pancake.
But not all the differences are as widely known, and last fall when I traveled to Fort Collins, Colo., to attend the Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Fair, I discovered a surprising fact: Renewable energy costs a lot less on the other side of the state line, especially if you want to install photovoltaic (PV) panels. Many Colorado utilities offer large rebates, and combined with a federal tax credit, in some places you could purchase a PV system for half the price of the same system here in Kansas. (On a related note, Colorado also offers net-metering, another financial incentive to install home renewable energy systems. Kansas is one of the few states that doesn't have it.)
This substantial difference in incentives offered from one state to another isn't unusual. A number of states have adopted incentives to promote renewable energy, and Colorado has some of the best, although California and Wisconsin are other notable examples. But back to the example of Colorado: Most of their renewable energy incentives are related to the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that they adopted by ballot initiative in 2004. That standard requires investor-owned electric utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable energy by 2020. There are a variety of ways utilities can meet that goal: One is investing in new wind farms, another strategy is to offer large rebates to people who install renewable energy systems at home. (In fact, Colorado required utilities to offer these rebates for solar panels, but RPS requirements differ from state to state.)
While it's nice to see progress on renewable energy happening state by state, it's even more encouraging to see that there's now discussion in Congress of a national renewable portfolio standard. National RPS hasn't yet made much progress in Congress, but there's growing support for the idea. This month, the Union of Concerned Scientists came out in support of the idea, and presented a new analysis showing how national RPS would create jobs. Ready to get on board? You can learn more about efforts to promote national RPS here. You can also learn more about your state's current renewable energy incentives by visiting www.dsireusa.org.