Southeast Resists Renewable Energy Mandates
Byline: Ray Henry Associated Press
ATLANTA -- States across the country are gradually forcing or cajoling their electric companies into buying renewable energy, but the trend has fallen flat in the Southeast.
The map is striking. Of the 11 states that haven't set even voluntary targets on how much alternative energy utilities must buy, eight of them are Southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Those involved in the debate say a mix of factors have deterred the states from more aggressively pursuing new sources of energy.
Conservative Republicans are wary of imposing unpopular government mandates. Utility companies that enjoy regional monopolies make little money selling renewable power generated by someone else to their customers. And those utilities are influential, spending more than $74 million this year on federal lobbying, according to tallies by the Center for Responsive Politics. Similar spending happens on the state level. Lobbyists for Georgia Power have spent more than $29,000 this year while meeting with lawmakers, utility and environmental regulators and other officials.
Residents in the Southeast also benefit from some of the lowest electricity bills in the country, making politicians reluctant to tamper with anything that could hit their constituents in the wallet.
"When things are working well, there's a little bit less of an incentive to push for something new," said Jessica Shipley, a solutions fellow for The Pew Center on Global Climate Change, which backs tighter rules.
North Carolina remains the regional outlier. It passed a law in 2007 requiring municipal power companies and cooperatives to get 10 percent of their electricity by 2018 from renewable sources such as solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams and chicken and pig manure. Investor-owned utilities will have to meet a 12.5 percent target by 2021. The companies can meet that requirement in part by taking steps to decrease electricity use.The earliest standard was created in 1983, although analysts at the Pew Center say most states created or strengthened their rules after 2000.
Proponents of the rules say they create a market for alternative energy, wean the country off fossil fuels and reduce emissions blamed for global warming. …