Report finds big clean energy opportunity in the South. If we only had a renewable electricity standard

Potential Utility-Scale Generation in the South

The dramatically scaled-back energy and oil-spill bill released by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday lacks both a carbon pricing mechanism and a renewable electricity standard (RES). While support for a RES increased as the chances of passing more substantive legislation dwindled, Reid insists that 60 votes for an RES simply do not exist in this Senate. That is particularly true for an RES that would actually push renewables beyond business as usual projections (see Chu: Proposed renewable standard is too weak).

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Misplaced regional concerns routinely prevent Congress from passing a national renewable electricity standard. Southern lawmakers on both sides of the aisle claim that a RES would pose a disproportionate burden to their states, for example, perpetuating a myth that the South lacks clean energy potential.

A new study from Georgia Tech and Duke University, “Renewable Energy in the South: A Policy Brief,” dispels that myth, finding plenty of clean energy opportunities in the South””especially if Congress enacts a national renewable electricity standard (RES) or puts a price on carbon. With comprehensive policies to support renewable energy development and address climate change, the study reports, southern states can generate 15 to 30 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Today, the South lags far behind the rest of the country in clean energy: just 3.7 percent of southern electricity comes from renewable sources, compared to 9.5 percent for the country as a whole. Only four southern states””Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, and Delaware””have state-level renewable electricity standards. And at least one of those states isn’t usually considered part of the South.

Already, Southern states are moving toward a clean energy future. Thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), boots are on the ground building renewable energy projects across the region, doubling southern solar and biomass power. Even without new renewable energy and climate policies, the Georgia Tech and Duke University research team determined that renewables could grow to 13 percent of the south’s electricity share by 2030, if existing R&D and tax subsidies are extended.

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But a national RES is needed to seriously capitalize on the south’s renewable potential. The study finds that if Congress enacts a 25 percent by 2025 RES, the amount of renewable electricity produced in the south could increase 250 percent by 2030. The RES makes renewable resources competitive””so competitive that wind, a power source often thought to hold little potential in the South, out-competes all other renewable power sources in the study’s model.

Under a strong RES, the study predicts wind generation to grow almost six fold; under a carbon pricing scenario, it could grow by a factor of nine. While most of the wind potential lies in the western part of the South, biomass and hydropower growth will be economically viable in the Southeast if clean energy and climate polices are implemented. Smart grid improvements and the ever-falling price of solar power could make other renewable energy technologies competitive as well.

Enacting an RES not only makes massive growth in renewable energy possible, it also could save consumers money. If no action is taken to capture the clean energy opportunity, the study predicts that the average electricity price in the Southern Atlantic will be $0.10/kWh in 2030. With a RES, electricity is predicted to cost only $0.09/kWh. Yes, renewable energy can actually be cheaper than dirty electricity, if Congress only moved to put the right policies in place!

Lastly, the study found that a strong RES could reduce greenhouse gas pollution in the south by 167 million tones of CO2 equivalent by 2030. Capping carbon would prevent four times as much pollution, while increasing the price of electricity only $0.01/kWh over business-as-usual. One cent a kilowatt hour seems like a small price to pay for cleaner air, a brighter future, and a reduced risk of hell and high water. By abandoning a RES, Senate leaders appear to disagree.

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