Clean, Green Energy Can be a Reality for the Southeast

The Southeast doesn’t have solar or wind resources that are on par with other parts of the nation, which is one of the reasons the recent attempt at passing a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) failed, but that doesn’t mean that the region has to remain on the sidelines of the renewable energy game. Governments, non-profit groups, universities and utilities across the region are making efforts to move the Southeast toward renewable energy.

Brent Bailey is a State Facilitator for 25x’25, an organization that works on the state level to promote renewable energy legislation. According to Bailey, the organization is looking for incentives, not mandates, and that any such incentives will have to bring all sides together in order to work properly.

“We’d like to see industry and consumers come together to make it happen. Industry needs economic pressures to make it happen. And state governments need to put incentives in place to make it happen,” Bailey said. “Consumers are going to have to make the demand for renewable energy. The Southeast generally has lower electric costs than the rest of the county, so until consumers are uncomfortable with the amount they’re paying, they won’t demand a whole lot.”

While 25x’25 works on a grassroots level to create support for incentive legislation, they are not the only ones in the region working to make renewable energy a reality. John Clark is Director of the South Carolina Energy Office, which currently manages a renewable energy development fund and is about to unveil a new effort.

“We work with legislators and interest groups to put in good tax incentives. We provide incentives for both purchasing equipment and providing energy. We are also working with the three investor owned utilities in South Carolina,” Clark said. “We’ve formed a non-profit organization called Palmetto Clean Energy, it’s modeled after North Carolina Green Energy and we’re kicking it off this spring.”

Utilities in the Southeast worked hard to block the national RPS in December but not because they don’t support renewable energy. Southern Company is making investments in wind, solar and geothermal across the country and biomass gasification in the Southeast.

“We’re in favor of renewable energy,” said Mike Tyndall, corporate spokesman for Southern Company. “But we feel it should be implemented on a state by state basis, and it should be done in the best interest of a region. The Federal RPS would have required 15 percent of our electricity production to come from renewables. To get biomass on that scale would be exorbitantly impractical.”

Duke Energy is also making investments in renewables partially in order to meet the 12.5 percent Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard passed in North Carolina in 2007. The company has both wind and solar projects online and in the development stages and has recently issued an RFP for a renewable energy project to be located in North Carolina.

“We love renewables, but they have to meet certain criteria for reliability and dependability. And that’s why we’ve issued the RFP,” said Tom Williams, spokesman for Duke Energy.

While Biomass and small wind projects are the main renewable sources currently being exploited in the Southeast, other sources may come online down the road to not only meet the growing number of RPS laws but also growing populations around the region. Offshore wind, wave, solar, landfill gas to energy and tidal energy projects may all become part of the mix.

Ocean energy may also be a possibility. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are currently working on a pilot project intended to test the viability of the Florida Gulf Stream as a source of tidal energy. The program will use a 20-kilowatt underwater turbine to send back data about the current’s power. The environmental impact of the project will also be studied.

“Given the resources, I don’t think an RPS is unachievable. Biomass will be a key to meeting any standard but we will need a more economical way to select feedstocks and transport the fuels. No one technology is going to be able to solve the problem. There will certainly need to be a large mix,” Bailey said.

Southern Company in conjunction with the Georgia Institute of Technology is looking into those alternatives by studying the offshore wind resource possibilities off the coast of Georgia. The South Carolina Energy Office has also look into wind power.

“In South Carolina we don’t have much onshore wind. So that leaves you with a theoretical potential future for offshore wind once the cost comes down. We’ve got good offshore wind energy resources as far as NREL tells us. We have a shallow continental shelf, which could be good for cost effectiveness. But from everything I have seen it’s still costly,” Clark said.
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Former Editor at RenewableEnergyWorld.com, now Assistant Counsel at the New York State Department of Public Service, regulating New York's electricity, gas, and telecommunications industries.

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