Local governments can work to shape the state energy system by engaging in legislative processes. State legislatures vary across the country, but legislative processes generally follow a similar, predictable path. Local governments can influence this process and its outcomes in a variety of ways. This includes engaging with legislators, governors’ offices, state agencies, or any number of non-governmental stakeholders (e.g., NGOs, community groups, businesses) who participate in the legislative process.
Engaging with State Legislative Processes
All local governments.
Renewable energy access and adoption is influenced by state laws and policies. State laws also dictate how state regulatory bodies operate and what they are authorized to do. For example, legislation can enable, authorize, or direct PUCs/PSCs to make changes to the ways they incentivize utilities financially. Legislation can also authorize community choice aggregation (CCA), set renewable portfolio standards (RPS), enable financing tools like securitization to retire coal plants, require utilities to have competitive processes for procuring new generation, and more.
Local governments can influence state legislation by engaging with other parties before or during an official legislative process. They may also be able to influence implementation of a law following its passage.
Prior to a legislative session, local governments may wish to first engage with other entities to confer on one another’s priorities and discuss the potential for collaboration. Depending on the local governments’ intentions and goals, these other parties might include:
- Legislators: Local governments can sometimes collaborate with legislators directly to draft new bills or provide input on bills that are already under development.
- Governor’s office and attorney general’s office: Governor’s and attorney general’s offices can at times exert significant influence over the legislative process.
- State agencies with relevant jurisdiction over areas such as energy, climate, or environmental quality (including state energy offices): State agencies can sometimes have greater influence on legislative discussions than outside interest groups because they are part of the government and acting on behalf of the governor. Note that executive branch agencies plan their agendas for upcoming legislative sessions in advance, and also sometimes hold meetings or listening sessions to collect stakeholder input on proposed legislative priorities.
- Utilities: Joint advocacy efforts undertaken by utilities in partnership with large customers can be particularly powerful for swaying legislators.
- Other large customers such as corporations, interest groups, or other local governments: Partnerships and coalitions create a collective voice that can carry greater weight and influence than any one organization.
During a legislative session, local governments can attempt to influence the process by meeting with legislators, particularly those on relevant committees, to support or oppose a bill. They can also provide public testimony during committee hearings or submit written comments to be entered into the legislative record.
Following a bill’s passage, local governments may still be able to affect how the responsible state agencies implement the law. Depending on the state, there may be stakeholder processes conducted by a PUC or PSC, a state energy office, or others involving listening sessions, public comment periods, or working groups to inform the implementation and rulemaking.
U.S. Congress maintains a list of links to state legislatures around the country.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides nonpartisan support for state legislatures and individual legislators. Its website contains a variety of resources that could be valuable for engaging with legislative processes, including topical research, bill tracking, and educational information. These include NCSL’s publication Legislatures and Citizens: Public Participation and Confidence in the Legislature.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program maintains a list of state energy offices and provides an overview of what they do.
This REBA Institute report provides an analysis of potential policies intended to increase access to and decrease the costs of renewable energy in the United States. The report evaluates several policy pathways for eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Virginia. Appendix C expands on the details of the three main policy pathways: (1) advancing state policies that would expand mandated renewable energy purchases for jurisdictions (i.e., renewable portfolio standard (RPS)), (2) expanding utility subscription programs for renewable energy, and (3) introducing retail supply choice.
To review examples of local governments that have utilized one or more engagement pathways to advance their renewable energy goals, visit the Engagement Tracker in the Local Government Renewables Action Tracker.