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The Southeast's Clean Energy Opportunity

New reports show the Southeastern states have big potential for clean energy and efficiency improvements.

Some have argued that Southeast states do not have the resources to meeting national renewable energy targets. For example, Stan Wise of the Georgia Public Service Commission recently wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

While we can grow our use of renewables in Georgia, we cannot come close to meeting the mandates considered by Congress.

However, with firm targets and flexible incentives, Georgia and other states in the Southeast can develop renewable energy resources such as biomass, solar, and wind power. In fact, renewable power could meet more than 25 percent of the region’s electric power needs by 2030.

This is just one of several energy policy opportunities highlighted in a new series of reports by WRI and regional experts at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA), and Southface.

The reports also show that within the next 15 years, the Southeast can:

  • Enhance energy efficiency by 20 percent to save money and create new jobs.

  • Leverage the links between energy and water use to secure supplies of both resources.

Near-term policy action is critical, especially considering the population in the region is expected to grow more than 30 percent through 2030 and the increasing demands for electricity will otherwise be met with conventional power supplies.

Clean Energy Development

The Southeast imports much of its conventional electric power resources (coal and nuclear fuels) from outside the region. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, states in the Southeast spent more than $700 million in 2005 to import coal from Columbia, Poland, and Venezuela.

Developing local clean energy resources would keep energy investment dollars in the region, while also building new markets and job opportunities. Cost-effective investments in efficiency and renewable power supplies would also lead to consumer savings and dramatic environmental benefits.

Energy Efficiency

According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a national efficiency target for electricity and natural gas savings would save the Southeast more than $37 billion in 2020—creating more than 56,000 new jobs and reducing peak demand by the equivalent of 126 power plants.

Water Resources

Avoiding the need to build new power plants has benefits not only for local air quality and consumer costs, but for water resources as well. Electric power plants often need vast amounts of “cooling water” and in the Southeast approximately two-thirds of all freshwater withdrawals go to meeting these needs. Reducing electricity demands, therefore, leads to significant water savings.

Water savings, meanwhile, also translate to significant energy savings. As much as 25 percent of a home’s energy bill is related to heating water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if just half the households in the Southeast used WaterSense® labeled faucets or faucet aerators, it could save more than 6 billion gallons of water and $120 million in water and energy bills each year. These local water savings would also reduce demands at costly, energy-intensive water and wastewater treatment plants.

Opportunities in the Southeast

In general, the Southeast can capitalize on policy opportunities to save energy, water, and money. Robust state and federal policy can create targets for energy savings and renewable power production. Financial incentives—including tax credits, low-interest loans, on-bill financing and rebates—can help spur new markets for energy and water efficiency and save consumers money.

As Southeast states seek out solutions to future resource challenges, they should prioritize investments in efficiency and renewable power to ensure a strong, sustainable energy economy.

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