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Is the RPS Hurting New Mexico? (Part 2)

Last week we introduced you to the theory that the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS, might not be good for New Mexico, and to this theory’s creator, Dr. T., a guy who doesn’t live in New Mexico and who may very well have been paid to come to this conclusion.  This week, we take a look at what started it all, his study. After that, we might join hands to defeat evil or something. We’re not really sure. We like to keep our options open.

If you’ve already started reading the study, you should fit right in with our Solar Book Club, if not, we’ll try to be as clear as possible.

First off, for a study with the title- “Evaluating the costs and benefits of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards” it doesn’t really do much of that. Nor does it seem to understand what the study is about.

As we pointed out in Part 1, an RPS is a regulatory mandate authorized by state statutes. Adherence to an RPS is both compulsory and enforceable by state law. Currently 29 states have legislated RPS. There are a few states with voluntary compliance programs, but those are not RPS. This study looks at 12 states, ( It is true that accurate statistics can be drawn from a random sampling of a larger group, but in general that is not done when the larger group is less than 30.) which is less than half of those with an RPS in place and this limited sampling is anything but random. You will notice that for a study that claims to evaluate costs and benefits, none of the states reported on lack an RPS altogether. There is no baseline to draw a comparison from. That’s like doing a study on what the best ice cream is and leaving out Vanilla. Said study finds that all non Vanilla flavors cause cancer at higher rate than Vanilla.

Long story short, we found some errors, right off the bat, in this study. To remedy this, we asked our artist in solar residence to correct one of the first charts included in the study:

rps wrong and right

Because if you can’t get your data right, your study probably has some issues.

As you might be able to see, there were some significant issues that needed to be addressed. These included-

  • incorrect dates
  • inclusion of voluntary compliance states with mandated states
  • Oregon’s goal being listed as double what it really was, and with an incorrect completion date
  • and, of course, a complete lack of hand drawn hearts, kittens, or any  kind of positive message to make a reader’s day brighter. (Thank you, Ms. Grey. We love you, too.)

In all they got 17% correct, which is still less than the number of states without an RPS goal, which saw electricity costs rise in the last year (38.46% is our new favorite percent, apparently). Incidentally, if charts and graphs aren’t really your strong suit, you are in luck. You don’t actually need to look at data to contradict this study. It does that quite well by itself.

rps

Here’s one example.

For example, increased economic activity is included as a benefit, according to the study. As they put it: “On the benefit side, there are avoided greenhouse gas emissions and also additional economic activity generated by the construction of renewable energy plants.” Which goes against the obvious negative, “higher electricity rates affect(s) regional economic activity.” Most of these contradicting pairs occur on the same page as their counter part, frequently in the same paragraph.

rps

“How does one surf the internet if you aren’t near a beach?”

Of course, there were also less obvious mistakes made, like how the report states “Given the fact and the limited information available on these alternatives to wind and solar, this study assumes that RPS goals are met by building wind and solar generation capacity.” I mean, it’s a shame that the EIA, you know, the agency whose data this study is based on, has absolutely no information on alternative renewable energy. Man, I’m so glad I didn’t find enough info published on the EIA’s own website, to be tempted to pull some silly stunt like, I don’t know, maybe making each one of those words above, a link to a different page of information, because that would make Dr. T look come across a lazy Luddite who couldn’t figure out how to use the EIA site’s standard website search function.

Moving on.

Since I am no math prodigy (anymore) and, surprisingly, many “formulas” are based on this “math” thing, I did what I assume any right blooded American who doesn’t know the metric system but has a math professor on speed-dial would do in the same situation. I used that contact info forthwith, which I believe means “at 4am”. The professor, who still wished to remain anonymous, since she may or may not be in close proximity to Wyoming, came to this conclusion: “While the formulas could be tighter, they’re functional.” So, that’s at least one nice thing we can say about this study. The formulas were functional. Too bad we can’t say the same about the way they were used.

rps Forget the introduction, get straight to reinforcing the point you've said in every other section.

Forget the introduction, get straight to reinforcing the point you’ve said in every other section.

Section 2.6 is about Economic Impacts, the one place where I think we can all agree, Renewable Energy shines. Well, everyone except Dr. T, who starts the section out by reminding us, yet again, that electricity prices and employment will suffer for our good deeds. Honestly, if I’m starting to seem like a broken record, just read this study. If I’m a broken record, then this study is a Victrola trying to make sense of a Betamax Tape.

Hold on a second… I think I’m having an epiphany!

rps

HOLY FRACKING BATMAN! I FIGURED IT OUT! I am so proud of me!

Go with me for a minute. See, I was looking at this report from the point of view of someone who supports Renewable Energy, but this report isn’t for me. No, this is for the people who will continue using non-renewable energy sources. In an unlikely twist, the Rio Grande Foundation has inadvertently produced a report supporting the switch to Renewables.

Is this one of those cheesy sci-fi (or syfy for the “hip” crowd) plot twists like a dimensional shifts? I don’t think so, but you should be on the look out for goatees, just in case. This, I believe, is just an unintended consequence of creating conclusion based science.

Hear me out.

Let’s roleplay and say that you, yes you wrote this report. If you aren’t good at lying, don’t worry, neither is this report. So the question we pose to you, the “writer” is this: Who was this written for? Since rising electricity costs will primarily effect those who rely on traditional utility based, fossil fuel generated energy sources, with a far lesser impact on those with distributed generation, roof top solar systems, this report would be most beneficial to those debating investing in solar. If you believe this report, then this is the best argument that can be made for switching to solar. Afraid of the unemployment rate? If more people switch to solar, more jobs will be created; manufacturing, installing, and servicing these systems, thus lowering the unemployment rate in much the same way the industry has been for the last several years.

But what about those pesky “rising electricity costs” that seem to be in every paragraph of this study? If only there was a way to “install” something that would make it so those darn electricity costs wouldn’t be the fifth horsemen of the apocalypse (bankruptcy, we assume).

Is that too much to handle since you’re pretending to be Dr. Mr. T? I’ll make it easier to understand with pretty pictures.

In 2011, Clean Power Research released a report on how much systems cost per state and how much was estimated to save in the following 20 years:

rps

via Clean Power Research

The red dots indicate the states where the investment in a house-based solar system would not pay for itself, if purchased back then. Innovation and inspiration have both done a great job of driving down the costs of renewable energy technologies over the last 5 years, i.e. they have gone down in general. Here’s the same map but with that lower cost accounted for:

rps

Also via Clean Power Research

Besides Wyoming still being a horrible place in general, look at the difference. Now, there are only 5 states where an investment in a solar system, would not pay for itself. That’s 5 out of 50, which is 10% and still less than 38.46%, then again, I didn’t have my math professor friend verify that, so it might be more. Anyway, this is great news for anyone thinking of investing in solar, and ironically, we wouldn’t have known about this, if it weren’t for the Rio Grande Foundation and their report showing the benefits of utilizing Renewable Energy. We should do something nice for them, like an in depth look at other accomplishments of this clearly accomplished foundation.

So, thank you Rio Grande Foundation for one of the most Pro-Renewable reports ever put out! I might even send Dr. Timbo a pie because this is probably the greatest argument anyone could make to get solar for their home.

Even though that was probably the greatest point to stop our research, we still have a few sections to go, this time they’re about individual states. Next week, we wrap up our report with rainbows and kittens and send off pies to people. See you then!

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