The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports environmentally sound and equitable community development, has issued a report that says every state could generate a significant percentage of its electricity with homegrown renewable energy. At least 30 U.S. states could meet all internal electricity needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders.
The updated edition of ‘Energy Self-Reliant States’ narrows the focus to electricity and includes onshore and offshore wind, solar and geothermal power.
According to the report, all 36 states with either renewable energy goals or renewable energy mandates could meet them by relying on in-state renewable fuels. Twenty-three states could be self-sufficient in electricity from in-state renewables, and another seven states could generate 75% of their electricity from homegrown fuels.
The report indicates that federal policy should encourage all states, communities, individual households and businesses to maximize their internal use of renewable power. Such a policy would reinforce the clear desire for states and cities to combine a low-carbon energy strategy with an aggressive energy-based economic development strategy, the report says.
However, current federal energy policy largely focuses on harnessing the renewable energy in a handful of states, constructing extra-high-voltage national transmission network and transporting that energy a thousand or more miles to customers in other regions.
The rationale for this focus on new extra-high-voltage transmission lines is that although renewable energy is widely distributed, the availability of these resources and the cost of harnessing them vary widely, according to the report.
Those promoting a new interregional transmission network argue that even if renewable energy is to be found everywhere, states with more reliable and higher-speed winds or with more abundant sunshine can generate electricity more cost-effectively.
A typical North Dakota commercial wind turbine can produce electricity at a cost about 30% less than one in Ohio, according to the report. But in most cases, these significant variations result in modest variations in the retail cost of energy when the cost of transporting the energy is taken into account.
For example, if Ohio's electricity came from North Dakota wind farms – 1,000 miles away – the cost of constructing new transmission lines to carry that power and the electricity losses during transmission could result in an electricity cost to the customer that is about the same, or higher, than local generation with minimal transmission upgrades.
Thus, the report says centralized renewable energy might not be in the nation's best economic interests, even when the cost-benefit analysis focuses solely on the impact on the retail price.
Some states have clearly indicated a desire to harness renewable energy within their borders. For example, Ohio requires half of its renewable energy mandate to be met with in-state production. Colorado and Missouri each have a 1.25 multiplier for in-state resources used to meet their renewable energy requirements.
Minnesota's Community-Based Energy Development statute encourages more locally owned wind power. Washington state offers solar incentive payments based on the portion of the panels made in the state, as well as reserving incentives for community solar.