SE States, Utilities Demonstrate Openness to Broader Sources of Electrical Power

A major tenet of the 25x’25 Alliance is that the development of a strong and viable renewable energy sector can only mean good things for the economy. Solar facilities, biofuel plants, wind farms and so many other projects not only represent a new sources of power and fuel in this country, but also offer a wider tax base and new jobs.

The DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) just this week released figures showing that while more than 5,800 jobs were lost in the power generation sector over the last three years, none of those losses came in the renewable power field. In fact, says the EIA, non-hydro electric sources such as wind and solar, gained nearly 1,800 jobs over the same period. (The agency, which counted only power generation jobs, did not show just where the job losses occurred, but does say a fall in coal-related power jobs was offset by an increase in jobs in the natural gas power sector. Overall, the losses were principally attributed to lower electricity sales.)

So it should come as no surprise consumer demand and the potential for economic development are leading to state-level policymakers and utilities slowly recognizing the opportunities and multiple benefits of a lower carbon energy future. The nexus of regulations, reduced cost of renewables, volatile costs of fossil fuels, concerns for public health, job creation, energy diversification and new integration technologies are fostering growth in states – particularly in the Southeast – that for years showed little interest in renewable energy, including distributed-scale renewables.

For example, in South Carolina, an agreement reached between the solar industry, local utilities and the state regulator will make the state the 44th in the nation to offer solar net metering. It will allow homeowners and businesses with rooftop solar systems to sell any excess electricity they generate back to the utility, receiving the full retail electricity rate in compensation. The deal, which has been praised by solar advocates and utilities like Duke Energy, calls for the issue to be addressed again in 2020, with anyone installing a solar system before the end of this decade continuing to benefit from existing terms until 2026 – offering what advocates says is a full decade of pricing and regulatory certainty for South Carolina homeowners currently considering installing solar.

A recent look at North Carolina shows the state installed 95 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) the third quarter this year, a total higher that all solar installed in the state in 2010 and 2011 combined. A report from the Solar Energy Industries Association says the total ranks the state third in the country for added capacity during the quarter. Furthermore, Duke Energy says it will add another 386 MW of solar to its portfolio in North Carolina, a $500 million commitment that includes the 65 MW Warsaw Solar Facility, which, when completed, will be the largest PV plant east of the Mississippi River.

In Georgia, the state’s Public Service Commission last week unanimously approved and certified ten solar power purchase agreements (PPA) for the Georgia Power Company. These projects will add more than 515 megawatts (MW) of solar generation to Georgia Power’s energy mix. After completion of the projects, Georgia Power will have nearly 900 MW of solar energy on line by the end of 2016. And the commission approved a solar energy project between Georgia Power and the Navy to initiate a 30 MW solar project at King’s Bay Naval Submarine Base near St. Mary’s, in southeastern Georgia. The King’s Bay project is also scheduled to come on-line in 2016.

On a more local basis, Austin, TX, earlier this month passed a new plan to get 55 percent of its power from clean energy by 2025. The proposal calls on the municipal utility, Austin Energy, to install 600 megawatts of utility-scale solar by 2025. Another 150 megawatts might be called for once additional cost-benefit analysis is concluded next year. Furthermore, the plan calls for another 200 megawatts of locally sourced solar, at least half of which must be customer-owned.

These are developments that demonstrate states taking a far-sighted approach to meeting future energy needs while stabilizing the investment and regulatory environment needed to insure the path to that future is clear.. The start of a new Congress in Washington always gives cause for optimism, and it is the hope of the Alliance that lawmakers will take note of the progressive leadership states are providing in incentivizing renewable energy and take bold and decisive steps that widen our sources of energy beyond fossil fuels and promote alternatives that not only boost our economy, but enhance our nation’s energy security and improve our environment.

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