Yes, there is renewable energy in the southeast

This blog was written by John D. Wilson, former Deputy Director for Regulatory Policy at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | March 19, 2009 | Energy Policy, Solar, Wind

We must have hit a nerve somewhere, because our opponents are bringing forward a country music phenom turned energy expert who says our song won’t play. Lance Brown, executive director of the otherwise-unknown “Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy,” says that we’re exaggerating when we claim that “unproven resources such as solar, wind, and biomass to account for the RPS requirement.”

Someday maybe we’ll invite Mr. Brown to visit the Buffalo Mountain Wind Park, or down to Florida Crystals agricultural waste power plant, to see some of these “unproven” resources. Mr. Brown’s fear of clean energy resources isn’t really of great interest to me, but some of his misrepresentations or misunderstandings of the report could easily be repeated by others. So we’ll set the record straight here.

The sun shines in North Carolina, too.
One claim is that our report is at odds with a report commissioned by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, known as the “La Capra” report, for North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. As Mr. Brown notes, we relied on that report as one of our primary resources, but we relied on more recent data and analysis that indicates that solar energy has the potential to play a much larger role than was apparent in 2007. It is our opinion that if the La Capra report were revisited and gave attention to the assumptions and findings in the recent Navigant study for Florida, a solar energy potential similar to the value we estimated would be provided for North Carolina.

In fact, our previous report (2008) adopted the La Capra perspective on solar. What changed is that a highly reputable consulting firm provided authoritative modeling data showing that the conditions under which solar energy would make sense in the southeast are within reach.

Mr. Brown went further and claimed that, “In every case, the Alliance’s estimate of North Carolina’s potential and the state’s official estimate are in total conflict.” There is indeed one other “conflict” between our findings and the La Capra study. We adopted recent findings regarding offshore wind potential that were not available in any form at the time of the La Capra study. In fact, that study scope explicitly excluded analysis of offshore wind.

In other areas, our findings were broadly consistent with the La Capra study findings. We used updated figures from the same or similar original sources that La Capra used to derive our onshore wind and biopower estimates, and also used an authoritative national study to provide small hydroelectric potential estimates.

Hydropower is renewable energy.
Mr. Brown also makes a big deal out of our mention of hydropower as renewable energy. First of all, in our report of the current production of renewable energy (it is useful to know where we’re starting from), we report renewable energy based on Energy Information Administration data, which includes hydropower.

Mr. Brown’s commentary implies that the Department of Energy has said that hydropower would not be an “approved” renewable energy resource. Since the proposed law hasn’t been passed yet, that would be conjecture. But Representative Markey’s American Renewable Energy Act (HR 890), Section 610(a)(11), clearly identifies new hydropower as an eligible resource. Existing hydropower effectively gets credit, too, by reducing a utility’s baseline, see Section 610(a)(13).

The bottom line is that our report was intended to remind everyone of the obvious: there is more than enough potential for renewable energy in the south. Exactly how Congress will define renewable energy was beyond the scope of our report (we weren’t fortunetelling).

Who wants your electricity rates to double?
Mr. Brown’s website claims we want “your electricity rates to double.” In addition to selectively quoting a few words out of context, Mr. Brown delivers as evidence our note that we assume electric rates will “increase from 9¢ to 17¢ per KWh” (which actually isn’t exactly what the footnote he refers to says). This isn’t our assumption – the Navigant study adopted this assumption from one of the scenarios used by Florida’s electric utilities in their planning process. So, that would be Florida’s utility companies – including Southern Company, parent to Alabama Power – who “want your electricity rates to double.”

In fact, a linear forcast of Florida’s electric rates illustrates that the state’s electric rates could increase to about 16¢ per KWh. Unless Mr. Brown has evidence that southeastern utilities have recently discovered a way to stop raising utility rates, he should join us in recognizing that electric rates will likely double within about a decade if nothing is done to change that.

Southeastern utilities are currently embarking on a nuclear power plant building spree that cost customers about twice as much as what they currently pay for market power purchases. One of the reasons we are getting more and more allies in our effort to bring truly clean energy to the southeast is that business and residential customers recognize that renewable energy is a better long term investment.

The Southeast has plenty of clean, affordable energy.
Our report’s goal was simply to refute the nonsense being spread that biopower, wind and solar energy are scarce to nonexistent, and that their use in the southeast would require a massive transformation of the landscape. We’ve shown that a balanced strategy would transform the way the southeast gets its power – for the better.

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