Southeast Positioned for Renewable Energy, WRI Report Says
More than 25 percent of the Southeast United States' electric power could come from locally available renewable energy supplies by 2025, according to findings released on April 30 by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), and Southface.
Prompt policy action to develop these resources can create tens of thousands of new jobs, attract more regional energy investment, and help protect regional air and water resources.
"The Southeast has a strong portfolio of renewable energy resources that offers several economic and environmental advantages over traditional electric power generation," said Eliot Metzger, a project manager at WRI and an author of "Local Clean Power," the first in a three-part series of reports about energy opportunities in the Southeast United States.
The report estimates that investments in local renewable energy resources—like biomass, solar, wind, and hydropower—can meet more than a quarter of future electricity needs in the region by 2025. That amount would be sufficient to meet national renewable energy targets currently being discussed as part of upcoming federal energy legislation.
The expansion of current renewable power production from its current level of about 5 percent will be a critical step toward meeting future electricity needs with cleaner supplies and increasing energy independence.
Stephen Smith, executive director at SACE, another research partner, added, "Right now we are depending on other regions of the country, and foreign countries like Columbia and Venezuela, to supply us with coal. Doesn't it make more sense to be producing cleaner power, closer to home? Our research suggests we certainly have sufficient resources. It's just a matter of recognizing and capitalizing on these home-grown energy supplies."
Renewable power potential is well distributed throughout the region, though differences in total electricity sales mean that states like Mississippi and Alabama can meet much more than 25 percent of electricity needs with renewable resources. Some electric power utilities are starting to develop renewable resources in the region, but additional policy action is needed to drive investment and carefully manage the transition to new energy resources.
"A focus on developing our own renewable energy resources will create good-paying jobs that cannot be exported from our region," said Dennis Creech, executive director at Southface, which was a partner on this research. "However, we need public policy to remove market barriers and encourage these investments in the Southeast."
"Additional policy action and investment in a clean energy future translates to new growth opportunities—which for us mean the creation of more jobs," noted Tim Blackwell, president of OneWorld Sustainable, a company specializing in efficiency and renewable energy in the Southeast.
The report offers several recommendations for policies that can advance renewable energy development in the region, including: firm targets for renewable power production; flexible incentives to advance local investments in renewable resources; and comprehensive state-level resource assessments, economic analyses, and regulatory guidance to integrate renewable power into the electricity grid.