A pending case in a US district court challenging the constitutionality of Renewable Energy Standards (RES) could have far-reaching implications for the 29 states that currently feature similar mandates.

The American Tradition Institute filed a complaint contending that Colorado’s RES are unconstitutional:

Colorado’s law mandates that 30 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by the year 2020. That discriminates – by mandating the purchase and use of renewables – against other legal, less costly, less polluting, safer and more reliable in-state and out-of-state sources of electricity. …

There are many other ways Colorado’s law violates the Commerce Clause, which are outlined in the complaint. For example, the law places a greater value upon alternative energy initiated within its borders but not outside them. This falls under the federal government’s regulatory powers, not Colorado’s.

Paul Chesser further asserts that the mandated renewable energy, whose stated goal is to reduce CO2 and other emissions from carbon-based fuels, in fact increases pollution in the state:

You read that right – “less polluting” and “safer.” Colorado is widely recognized for its wind-power capabilities, but even there, wind power is inconsistent and undependable. Studies by Bentek Energy, which examined energy deployment in Texas and Colorado, found that emissions of pollutants actually increase with RES because wind requires backup generation by fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. When generators powered by those fuels are required to turn on and off constantly as backstops for wind, they burn more coal or gas than if those fossil-fuel generators ran consistently. Think of your car’s extra use of gasoline in stop-and-go traffic as a similarity.

So, contrary to what green believers have put their faith in, Colorado has installed a power prejudice against more environmentally friendly energy sources.

Proponents of RES familiar with the constitutional challenges posed by the dormant Commerce Clause, therefore, suggest a federal renewable energy standard. In order to garner more bi-partisan support for federal energy mandates, President Obama’s proposes a Clean Energy Standard instead, which would include renewable energy mandates among mandates for other lower-carbon sources (i.e. natural gas, nuclear, and carbon sequestration for coal).

The Independent Women’s Forum recently published its Misguided Renewable Energy Policies newsletter, which discusses several reasons for why renewable energy mandates are a bad idea, and also discusses some problems with a federal standard:

The national impact from a renewable electricity standard would be no less devastating. Studies from the National Association for Manufacturers, the American Council for Capital Formation, and the Heritage Foundation all show that a federal renewable electricity mandate would increase US electricity prices by 30 percent and lead to at least 1 million lost jobs, as US industries shut down their operations or relocate outside the U.S.

A federal mandate isn’t the answer to meeting America’s energy and environmental needs. If renewable energy is going to develop to better meet our needs, it will do so in an environment of competition where consumer and investor choices direct energy resources, not governments.

Reihan Salaman suggests that we may soon enter an era where solar power and electric cars become economically viable and “we could see carbon emissions plummet without the federal government asserting more control over the economy.”