District of Columbia Adopts a Renewable Energy Requirement

April 27, 2005

Photo of a solar panel with the Smithsonian Institution in the background.

Under the new law, solar panels will become a more common sight in the District of Columbia. Credit: Byron Stafford, NREL

The seat of power in the United States will draw increasingly on renewable energy in the years to come, thanks to a new bill signed by District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams in January. Following a congressional review period, the bill, the "Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act of 2004," officially became law on April 12th. The new law requires electricity suppliers in the district to draw on renewable energy for 4.5 percent of their electrical supply in 2007, increasing gradually to 11 percent in 2022. Power suppliers must also draw on solar power for 0.005 percent of their electrical supply in 2007, increasing to 0.386 percent in 2008. The law differentiates between "Tier 1" renewable sources—defined as solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, and ocean energy, or fuel cells powered by biomass energy—and "Tier 2" renewable sources, which include hydropower and waste-to-energy plants. Although Tier 2 sources are allowed to provide more than 60 percent of the renewable energy requirement in 2007, their contribution is phased out by 2020. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the new law will result in 32 megawatts of solar power in the district by 2022. See the text of the law (PDF 22 KB), its official status, and the SEIA press release. Download Acrobat Reader.

Renewable energy requirements, often referred to as renewable portfolio standards (RPS), are being adopted by an increasing number of U.S. states. The New York Public Service Commission (PSC), for instance, approved an implementation plan for the state's RPS in mid-April. However, some states are falling behind on their requirements. In Massachusetts, for example, utilities fell short of a 1.5-percent-renewable requirement in 2004, resulting in $15 million in alternative compliance payments that will be invested in new renewable energy projects. Despite such shortcomings, a new report from Global Energy Decisions projects that 52,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity will be needed to meet RPS requirements over the next 15 years, with wind power providing more than 40,000 megawatts of the needed capacity. See the press releases from the New York PSC (PDF 26 KB), the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources, and Global Energy Decisions.