For quite some time, supporters of clean energy programs have been saying that state governments in the Southeast have been significantly lagging the rest of the US in adopting effective energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s State Energy Efficiency Scorecard is one of the benchmarks used as a ranking reference. In 2014, the only state in the region that broke into the top half of US programs was North Carolina – and it squeaked in at #24.
Recently, some interesting things have been happening in this part of the world. Some events reinforce the point above, but many others indicate that changes are afoot.
First, some bad news. In December, the Public Utilities Commission in the Sunshine State decided to eviscerate both the energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Apparently, the major utilities argued that that it’s cheaper for them to produce energy then to save it. An amazing claim given the mountain of evidence from energy programs across the US that shows the opposite to be true.
Responses have poured in from many quarters – some particularly interesting. Debbie Dooley, the co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party is quoted as saying: “There’s just a lot of disbelief that Florida, the Sunshine State, has policies that block the sun.” At least on the renewables side, the voters of Florida might have the chance to line up with her opinion and send a powerful rebuke to the commission. A broad coalition of Floridians from across the political spectrum is working on a state constitutional ballot initiative that would overturn the utility stranglehold on renewable energy. No doubt one of the drivers is the recognition that the state’s neighbors see the world differently. By the end of 2016, the Peach State will have deployed about 900 MW of solar, about twice what will be up and running in Florida. And, Georgia has about one-half the population. Given that last month the solar rebate program in Florida (residential and commercial) sold out in 3 minutes, it’s pretty obvious that a lot of Floridians have issues with the utility commission’s thinking.
One of the other groups interested in the potential of renewables in the region is the US military. In Georgia last year, the state Public Service Commission approved three 30 megawatt solar projects located on US Army bases – all will be up and running by 2016. These installations are part of the Department of Defense’s stated goal to have 25% of its power needs met with renewables by 2025. ( Too slow – but that’s a different debate. ) The Air Force and the Navy have announced applications for Florida utility commission approval of 120 megawatts of new solar. All this might have something to do with the fact that the Pentagon has quite publicly stated that global warming is a major threat to the national security of the United States.
Then there’s this. Koch Industries is investing $70m on energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades at a Georgia Pacific paper mill in Palaltka, FL. So, apparently saving energy is a pretty appealing idea – despite the fact it also addresses the scientific fiction known as global warming.
That’s a quick look at a smattering of energy stories coming out of the Sunshine Sate and the Peach State. Not all the messages are rosy if you care about climate change. But, the seeds of change are in the air. The Tea Party, Koch Industries, the US Army and US Navy supporting investment in clean energy – this is good news. Why is it happening? Simple. Clean energy projects make economic sense and are a sensible way to generate energy. Lots of people across the Southeast and across the country see it. Layer on recognition among a growing majority that man-made global warming is quite real and that we’re not powerless to deal with it, and you have the start of a serious societal shift toward a very different approach to energy.
The clean energy train has left the station and it is gaining speed. I believe we’ll finally see an intense debate in the US about energy policy as part of the 2016 election – and we’ll also start to see some prominent politicians get run over because their constituents have moved on. The twin forces of clean energy project economics and fossil fuel divestment are going to help power that train. Savvy politicians will start to hop on before it gets too far down the track.
Then, we’ll see what happens ….