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Power Forward: The Argument for a National RPS

65 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2010  

Lincoln L. Davies

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: July 24, 2010


The debate over a national renewable energy requirement has lost its way. Perhaps one of the most important legislative proposals in recent memory because it could transform the United States’ energy infrastructure, this “renewable portfolio standard” or “RPS” would likely compel electric utilities to obtain one-fifth of their power from renewable resources. Yet the discourse over this proposal has veered from the core question it raises. With thirty-six state RPSs already in place, the key issue is not whether there should be an RPS at all but whether a state or federal regime will best accomplish the RPS’s objectives. This Article concludes that the evidence overwhelmingly points to the need for a national law. The Article reaches its conclusion using three tools: a multi-state survey of state RPSs; a newly developed metric of state RPS design, their “efficacy tendency”; and extant data on RPS performance. Finally, the Article suggests that another overlooked rationale argues for a federal law: a national RPS can help energy law and environmental law merge.

Keywords: Renewable energy, renewables, alternative energy, electricity, utilities, utility regulation, policy design, federalism, energy law, environmental law, renewable portfolio standard, renewable energy requirements, renewable mandates, state laboratories, sustainability, sustainable development

JEL Classification: K10, K23, K32, L52, L94, L97, K20, N70, N72, Q20, Q40, Q41, Q42, Q49

Suggested Citation

Davies, Lincoln L., Power Forward: The Argument for a National RPS (July 24, 2010). Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 42, No. 5, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Lincoln L. Davies (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States


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