Is the Southeast ready to clean up its energy act? 

Marilyn Brown, Energy Petal imperatives

Increased utility competition could create a windfall for both Southeastern consumers and the environment, according to a new analysis by the research firm Energy Innovations.

The Southeast historically has lagged the rest of the country in development of renewable energy. In 2012, for example, just 6 percent of the region’s electricity was generated by renewable sources, including hydroelectric, compared to 12 percent nationally, according to the American Council on Renewable Energy

The Energy Innovations analysis, which was spotlighted in a recent column by Vox’s David Roberts, explored what would happen if the least expensive energy option could be chosen and shared in the region. The bottom line: Ratepayers would save as much as $384 billion and greenhouse gas emissions would fall 37 percent below 2018 levels by 2040. 

While coal still generates approximately a quarter of the region’s electricity, the report found that 92 percent of the Southeast’s existing coal plants are uneconomic. This means it is more expensive to operate the coal plants than it would be to build and operate new renewable energy sources. 

So why isn’t this transition happening more quickly? In a word, monopolies.

There’s a history and logic behind those utilities operating as regulated monopolies. As Roberts explains:

Around the turn of the 20th century, they were established with the goal of electrifying America. … In a given region, a single entity would be given monopoly control over electricity, from generation to delivery … . It would not make money from the sale of electricity — it would not be fair for a monopoly to set its own prices. Rather, it would sell electricity at cost. Its profits, its incentives, would come from the building of electricity infrastructure, the power plants and power lines needed to extend electricity to everyone in the country.

More than 100 years later, it’s debatable whether these monopolies continue to serve the region well. The Energy Innovations report notes that the setup gives electric utilities an incentive to overbuild power plants and to keep them operating long past their prime, because they provide the companies with guaranteed revenue. That, in turn, inhibits the development of newer, cleaner and less expensive energy sources.

 To place the report, as well as Roberts’ argument, in local context, I contacted one of the Southeast’s most knowledgeable energy experts. Marilyn Brown, Ph.D. is Regents’ and Brook Byers Professor of Sustainable Systems in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech and a former director of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Brown noted that on one hand “people are prone to jump on the South for not enough renewables but we have extremely reliable electricity and very low rates.” On the other hand, “time is of the essence when it comes to climate change so we need to work toward more accelerated coal retirements.”

The central premise of the Energy Innovations’ analysis is that increased competition in the South would lead to growth in renewable energy. Not only that, but air pollution would fall to nearly zero by 2040, and more than 400,000 new jobs would be created in the region due to the increased competition.

How is this possible? At risk of oversimplifying, as coal plants are retired and replaced with new solar energy generation, pollution would decline and new jobs would be created manufacturing and installing solar arrays, mostly at larger community and utility scales (as opposed to rooftop solar, such as the array that powers the Kendeda Building). 

Brown offers a more sober assessment. “I don’t know that the evidence is definitive that competition results in superior performance,” she said. “Some of the most open markets are having the most difficulty meeting loads and have some of the highest prices.” (We’re looking at you, California.)

While there’s no doubt that energy market dynamics are complex, and unintended consequences are common, one basic truth is clear: Clean, renewable energy is now cheaper than dirty fossil-fuel energy. 

So how do we get from where we are to where we need to be? 

Brown points to “key policies that could transform the market for solar in Georgia and other states in the Southeast: state renewable portfolio standards and various carbon pricing mechanisms.” This is exactly the work that Drawdown Georgia is focused on. “There are alternative policies that could make a big difference in today’s highly regulated marketplace in the Southeast,” Dr. Brown noted via email. 

Whether through increased competition, policy changes within the existing regulatory framework, or both, it is clear there is a big opportunity to achieve win-win solutions in the Southeast.

Brad Kahn is a communications consultant based in Seattle, Wash., whose clients include the International Living Future Institute and the Kendeda Fund. His practice focuses on climate, forests and green building. He holds a Master’s degree in watershed systems and management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

COMMENTS (37)

  1. Hi there would you mind letting me know which hosting company you’re
    using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a reasonable price?
    Many thanks, I appreciate it!

  2. What i do not understood is in fact how you’re not actually a lot
    more smartly-liked than you might be now. You’re so intelligent.
    You already know thus considerably in terms of this topic, produced me individually imagine it from so many numerous angles.
    Its like men and women are not interested until it is one thing
    to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your individual stuffs great.
    All the time deal with it up!

    my page – best CBD gummies

  3. Hmm it looks like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the
    whole thing. Do you have any helpful hints for beginner blog writers?

    I’d definitely appreciate it.

    Also visit my blog – best CBD gummies

  4. Howdy would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re using?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I
    must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good
    web hosting provider at a fair price? Many thanks, I appreciate it!

    Here is my webpage … CBD gummies for sleep

  5. My developer is trying to convince me to move to .net from
    PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the
    expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using WordPress
    on various websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform.
    I have heard fantastic things about blogengine.net. Is there a
    way I can import all my wordpress content into it?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    my blog buy delta 8 thc near me

  6. You really make it seem really easy together with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be actually something which
    I feel I might never understand. It sort of feels too complex and extremely huge
    for me. I am taking a look forward for your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

    Also visit my webpage … buy delta 8

  7. I do agree with all of the ideas you’ve introduced in your post.

    They’re really convincing and will certainly work.
    Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for starters.
    May just you please lengthen them a little from next time?
    Thank you for the post.

    Also visit my web blog … buy delta 8

  8. Can I just say what a comfort to discover an individual who genuinely understands what they’re discussing over
    the internet. You actually understand how to bring an issue
    to light and make it important. A lot more people really
    need to check this out and understand this side of
    the story. I was surprised that you’re not more popular because you most certainly have the gift.

    Feel free to surf to my page: best CBD gummies

  9. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets
    I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have
    some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything.
    I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to
    your new updates.

    Review my web blog … cbd for sale

  10. My spouse and I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your post’s to be what precisely I’m looking
    for. Do you offer guest writers to write content for you personally?
    I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on some of the subjects you write in relation to
    here. Again, awesome blog!

    Feel free to surf to my blog … gold bee

  11. Hello would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m
    having a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something
    completely unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

    Here is my website … cbd

  12. Awesome blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that
    I’m totally overwhelmed .. Any tips? Bless you!

    My web blog :: delta 8 THC for sale area 52

  13. Amazing blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m hoping to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything.

    Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely confused ..

    Any suggestions? Thank you!

    Here is my web page; best delta 8 thc vape

  14. After I initially left a comment I seem to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I
    get four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there
    is an easy method you are able to remove me from that service?
    Thanks a lot!

    Check out my webpage slot online

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *