U.S. states do not need to seek energy imports to meet their renewable energy goals. That’s the conclusion of a new report from the 35-year-old Institute for Local Self-Reliance entitled Energy Self-Reliant States. The report finds a total of 31 states can serve all their electricity needs with in-state renewable power, and that every state could reach its renewable mandate with domestically available renewable resources.
The potential unveiled in this report means that many states can reach their renewable energy goals without waiting for a controversial new, nationwide, high-voltage transmission grid. For example, every state west of the Mississippi could be self-sufficient in electricity with in-state renewable energy. In the East, Virginia and the Carolinas, as well as Delaware, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine can also be self-sufficient with domestic renewable energy resources. Other states in the Northeast, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York could get at least two-thirds of their electricity from in-state renewables rather than imports.
The goal of self-reliance is often cast in contrast to proposals for a nationwide transmission superhighway. This new infrastructure has an estimated tab of $100-200 billion, and typically requires significant cost sharing for import states (such as New York, Massachusetts and others on the East Coast). The rationale is that costs to generate wind and solar electricity are lower in the Great Plains and Southwest, respectively, than in other regions of the country. The envisioned transmission network would send this renewable power to areas of high demand on the coasts.
However, the argument for long distance transmission runs up against the desire of many importing states to first harness their homegrown renewable energy before depending on imports. This issue led the Governors of ten East Coast states, in May 2009, to write to senior members of Congress to protest that requiring their residents and businesses to pay billions of dollars for new transmission lines that would import electricity from the upper Midwest and Southwest into their region “could jeopardize our states’ efforts to develop wind resources….”. They added, “it is well accepted that local generation is more responsive and effective in solving reliability issues than long distance energy inputs.”
In an Op Ed in the New York Times, Ian Bowles, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs explained, “lawmakers should resist calls to add an extensive and costly new transmission system that would carry electricity from remote areas like Texas, the Great Plains and Eastern Canada to places with high energy demands like Boston, Chicago and New York… Renewable energy resources are found all across the country; they don’t need to be harnessed from just one place.”
This transmission preference also runs afoul of the economics of sending power long distances. At $3 million a mile, a new transmission superhighway can outweigh the cost of local generation, especially when factors beyond the per kilo-watt hour price are included, from local jobs to economic impact.
The expanded Energy Self-Reliant States shows that states can meet their renewable energy needs with domestic onshore and offshore wind, rooftop solar PV, geothermal, combined-heat-and-power, and micro hydro. Its 15 multi-colored maps allow the reader to quickly compare their state’s commercial renewable energy potential with that of other states and provide a clear illustration of the potential for dispersed renewable energy generation to shift states from import-dependence to energy self-reliance.
The expanded second edition of Energy Self-Reliant States is available online at http://www.newrules.org/
John Farrell is a senior researcher on the New Rules Project at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where he examines the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper is the second and expanded edition of Energy Self Reliant States, illustrating the potential for every state to meet their renewable energy goals with in-state renewable energy sources.