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Report: Energy Self-Reliant States, 2nd edition

| Written by John Farrell | 2 Comments | Updated on Oct 14, 2010 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

How self-sufficient in energy generation could states be if they relied only on their own renewable resources? In November 2008, ILSR began to address this question in the first edition of Energy Self-Reliant States.  That report included a limited set of resources – on-shore wind and rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) – and also examined the potential for biomass-derived transportation fuels.

This updated edition of Energy Self-Reliant States narrows the focus to electricity, but includes virtually all renewable resources (on shore and off shore wind, micro hydro, combined heat and power, geothermal, rooftop PV).  We also discuss the potential gains from improving energy efficiency and estimate the per kWh costs for each state to become energy independent.

Download: Energy Self-Reliant States, 2nd Ed. [pdf]

Executive Summary

In 2009, the nation is involved in a vigorous and far reaching debate about the scale of future energy systems. As we shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy a new question looms before us. Will we embrace a centralized renewable energy future characterized by greater federal involvement in planning, or will we meet local and state needs with local and state-based strategies?

The ubiquitous nature of renewable energy argues for a decentralist energy approach. This ILSR report offers data that supports that argument. Energy Self-Reliant States examines the renewable electricity potential for each state. The estimates do not represent the technical potential but rather the commercial potential.

The conclusion is both surprising and welcome. All 36 states with either renewable energy goals or renewable energy mandates could meet them by relying on in-state renewable fuels. Sixty-four percent could be self-sufficient in electricity from in-state renewables; another 14 percent could generate 75 percent of their electricity from homegrown fuels.

Indeed, the nation may be able to achieve a significant degree of energy independence by harnessing the most decentralized of all renewable resources: solar energy. More than 40 states plus the District of Columbia could generate 25 percent of their electricity just with rooftop PV.

In fact, these data may be conservative. The report does not, for example, estimate the potential for ground photovoltaic arrays – although it does estimate the amount of land needed in each state to be self- sufficient relying on solar – even though common sense suggests that this should dwarf the rooftop potential.

Even as FERC and Congress and environmental groups, spurred by independent renewable power producers (some of the biggest of whom are subsidiaries of regulated utilities) rush to pre-empt state authority and accelerate the construction of a new $100-200 billion interregional transmission network, the case for state-focused planning has never been stronger.

For it is at the state, not the federal level, that comprehensive, least cost energy planning is used. It is at the state – not the federal or multi-state regional level – that efficiency, demand reduction, distributed generation and other commercially available strategies are often evaluated together.

It is at the local level that new technologies like smart grids, electric vehicles, distributed storage, and rooftop solar will have their major impact. The integration of millions of electric vehicles into the grid, for example, will change the context for energy planning by creating, for the first time, abundant storage for electricity.

It is at the state and local level that the most important new energy developments are taking place. Efficiency Vermont has empirically proven that an aggressive electric conservation program can reduce current consumption even with economic and population growth. Cities like Berkeley already are mapping their rooftop solar potential, installing charging stations for electric vehicles, and directly financing efficiency and renewable energy in households and businesses.

Perhaps the most important reason to make states the principal actors in energy planning is that their collective economic self-interest is consistent with the national interest Every state could create thousands of new jobs and hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in economic development, through a vigorous strategy of energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Those promoting a new inter-regional 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 cheaper.
That is undeniable. Nevada can produce solar electricity from photovoltaic panels at a price about 20 percent less than Iowa and about 35 percent less than Pennsylvania.    A typical North Dakota commercial wind turbine can produce electricity at a cost about 30 percent less than one in Ohio.

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 centralized renewable energy might not be in the nation’s economic interest, even when the cost- benefit analysis focuses solely on the impact on the retail price. But if we were to use a more expansive definition of economic interest, that is, the impact of renewable energy development on local and state jobs and economies, state-based energy self-reliance strategies can be clear economic winners.

States have clearly indicated their 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.

The data in this report argue that a new extra high voltage inter-regional transmission network may not be needed to improve network reliability, relieve congestion and expand renewable energy. The focus should be on upgrading the transmission, subtransmission and distribution systems inside states.

This report reveals that many states have sufficient renewable energy to generate 100 percent of their electricity. Clearly this is a theoretical statement in the sense that it is very long term and to achieve high penetration rates of variable renewable energy will require significant developments in storage technology as well as significant investments in upgrading distribution and transmission networks to allow for massive amounts of dispersed generation.

Yet even if there is much to do before very high proportions of our electricity system can be generated by renewable energy, these data do suggest that for the foreseeable future states can and should harness homegrown renewable fuels to meet in-state demand. No state has yet exceeded 10 percent renewable electricity (excluding large scale hydro) and as this report shows, all states with renewable energy mandates, no matter how high, could satisfy them by relying solely on in-state energy sources.

The power of states to control their renewable energy future hangs in the balance. Others have documented how states have used their authority to improve the prospects for renewable energy, from policies favoring domestic generation to smart grids and conservation programs. This report provides compelling evidence that if states retain their authority, energy self-reliance is within their grasp.


About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power. More

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