Reassessing renewable energy

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

Guest Blog | May 1, 2009 | Energy Policy

In fits and starts, energy experts are reassessing renewable energy. Ken Silverstein of EnergyBiz Insider recently commented on offshore wind possibilities.

… the Obama administration says that wind facilities placed offshore along the East Coast could replace most of the coal-fired power plants now in the United States. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says that the technology to do so currently exists and that it would be a “very real possibility.”

…. the Bush administration had planned to allow more oil and gas drilling in more than 300 million acres offshore but was silent on the issue of developing wind sites there. Obama’s team says that its predecessors have relied on 25-year-old geological information and that rushing through new exploration policies is unwise. It will therefore study the issue and then synchronize that with its renewable policies.

According to the Interior Department, harnessing the waters off the Atlantic coast could produce about 25 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. The most accessible and economic areas, though, are those in the shallow end, which could still supply states along the East Coast with about 20 percent of their power. Meantime, states along the Pacific Coast are rich with wind but facilities would have to be built in deep waters.

Altogether, the Interior Department says that offshore wind power could generate one million megawatts. If all of that came to fruition, that number would dwarf the amount of currently available coal-fired electricity.

During press calls announcing the publication of Local Clean Power with World Resources Institute and Southface, we also discussed the possibility of offshore ocean current power generation.  Solar PV prices are dropping, and other innovative ideas about.  Even old ideas like biopower from agricultural and forest wastes are getting a fresh look across the Southeast.

What’s the holdup? There are still too many energy managers and influential leaders who are resistant to change. Just a few years ago, offshore wind was completely excluded from North Carolina’s study of renewable energy. No explanation given.  Critics offer vague claims about reneable energy potential in the Southeast or the costs of developing resources here, but it feels like we’re shadowboxing.  We’ve now published three reports over two years without any serious refutation of the data we’ve summarized.

There are certainly reasons that the Southeast might not develop renewable energy, even if a federal renewable energy standard is enacted. It might be cheaper to build it elsewhere. Even with a premium paid for renewable energy, utility regulators might continue to undervalue energy from independent power producers, forcing them to make up the base value with the renewable premium. But if we enact a policy that puts energy independence and homegrown, clean power first, then we will only have ourselves to blame if the renewable energy generation isn’t built at home, at a reasonable cost.

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