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PUBPOL 750.006

PUBPOL 750.006: Topics: Renewable Energy at the State and Local Level

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Fall 2020
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As national concern for addressing global warming grows, more and more Americans are looking for governmental action to speed a transition to low-carbon energy sources. Most of the focus has been on federal action or—in the Trump era—reversal of prior federal action. Furthermore, the lion’s share of attention has been paid to a handful of policies that either put a price on carbon (e.g., carbon tax or cap-and-trade) or require utilities to meet renewable energy or improved energy efficiency targets. Below the radar, though, are state level policy choices—on tax policy, siting authority delegation to local governments, infrastructure investment, use of public lands, and even conflict of interest law—that can serve to facilitate or hinder an energy transition. Taken individually, these policies may seem innocuous, but collectively they can serve to provide preferred status to some energy sources and impact the performance of other policies. As a result, some states have opted to play a stealth game, relying on these lower-profile policies to facilitate an energy transition even in states where talking about climate change is politically untenable. Meanwhile in other states, these lower-profile policies may—knowingly or unknowingly—undermine achievement of even more explicit state climate policies including renewable portfolio standards.

This course will consider both the content and consequences of this complex web of policies shaping the energy mix, paying particular attention to the treatment of renewable energy sources compared to those of traditional fossil fuel based sources. It will also explore the diverse stakeholders who shape these policies and the motivations behind their positions—from economic development, to energy independence, to landowners’ rights. While this course will focus on U.S. state-level policy, the lessons learned may be applied at the federal level, and beyond the U.S. Furthermore, most attention will be on utility-scale wind and solar energy, but there will be content on distributed generation, energy storage, and transmission.

Course readings and discussions will draw from a wide range of literatures on each of these policy mechanisms—from public administration, economics, political science, urban planning, and environmental policy. To understand the interaction between policies and the state-level politics that gave rise to these policies, seminar time will also be spent examining the case of a single state both through public documents and news reports, as well as through guest lectures by policymakers and scholars from that state. Outside of class, students will work together in teams, with each team developing an additional state case study that they will present at an end-of-term public symposium.

Funding for guest lecturers and the symposium will be provided by the Ford School Renewable Energy Support Fund. Furthermore, this Fund will allow the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) to host paid research assistantships for exceptional students from this course to further develop their case study into a publishable paper or chapter.

A copy of the syllabus for the last time the course was taught is available on CLOSUP’s website: