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Energy Self-Reliant States: Second and Expanded Edition

| Written by John Farrell | 14 Comments | Updated on Oct 6, 2009 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at
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Available NowEnergy Self-Reliant States 2ed (also new wind estimates May 2010)

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.

The data in this report suggest that every state could generate a significant percentage of its electricity with homegrown renewable energy. At least three-fifths of the fifty states could meet all their internal electricity needs from renewable energy generated inside their borders.  Every state with a renewable energy mandate can meet it with in-state renewable fuels. And, as the report discusses, even these estimates may be conservative.

state clean energy potential ESRS ILSR

Renewable energy is found everywhere and in most cases can be economically harnessed everywhere.  Federal policy should encourage all states, communities, individual households and businesses to maximize their internal use of this ubiquitous resource.  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.

Regrettably, current federal energy policy largely focuses on harnessing the renewable energy in a handful of states, constructing a $100-200 billion 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 while renewable energy is widely distributed, the availability of these resources and the cost of harnessing them vary widely.

That is true.  Nevada has significantly more annual solar energy than Oregon.  North Dakota has higher speed and more reliable wind than Indiana.  This means that Nevada can generate solar electricity cheaper than Oregon and North Dakota can generate wind electricity cheaper than Indiana.

However, when transmission costs are taken into account, the net cost variations among states are quite modest.   And when we factor in the overall social, environmental and economic benefits to the 50 states from homegrown energy generation, self-reliance is almost always cheaper than import-dependence.

New: see co-author John Farrell interviewed about this report on Etopia News.

Newer (May 3, 2010):  Energy Self-Reliant States has been updated with data from new wind estimates released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  See a discussion of the changes and/or download the revised report.

Download the PDF

About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. More

Contact John   |   View all articles by John Farrell

  • Ben

    I agree with you John 100% about the downsides to transmission. The state does need to focus on their own renewable energy sources. How do you think the bloombox will affect the power companies? I think it would be a great solution to power my large metal building warehouse without the use of wind.

  • Alvin Mites

    Thank you for the analysis, I agree with the premise that the economies of big centralized solar are as-cue when considering the loss inherent in long distance transmission. Also agree whole heartedly about the intrinsic value in structuring local self reliance.

  • greenwar

    To Nicholas Arguimbau: Just based on your comment here, I’m guessing you don’t understand the concept of national sovereignty too well.

  • Pingback: Monday, September 29: Next Steps in Solving the Climate Crisis » Clearing the FOG Radio()

  • Darlene Holmberg

    Living in a remote Alaskan town of 600, with the closest city of 6000 over 140 miles by roadless river away, we don’t have a chance at affording or repaying a 2.5M renewable generation installation, be it wind (too far from the coast for constant wind) or solar (Alaska normally isn’t known for a lot of sun), by the time the facility’s lifespan or usefulness is up, we’d still be in the hole for up to 75% of the cost. There are dozens of Alaskan communities with the same situation – hundreds of miles from any access road or city, all needing the same scale of help- not enough customer base to make a dent in the capital required up front or down the road when it’s time to replace. I believe our major benefit would be in upgrading minimum building standards for new construction. Our insulation standards are still based on what works for the central US, while our winter should dictate a new minimum R-value. If a 12″ insulation minimum makes a house adequately efficient in the winter in Minnesota, doesn’t a 18- or 24″ shell sound more like the super-efficient igloo? We are skimping on construction costs, but paying through the nose for the maintenance of comfort; draining our pocketbook and sapping our environmental health. Our government-funded HUD housing is a wonderful example – costing about $40,000 before construction, and appraised at around $150,000 when completed. A little more insulation wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but what an effect it would have in the long run- lower heating costs are good for the wallet as well as the environment. Please consider this when lobbying for what will affect Alaska. Our far-flung towns have the most expensive transport situations (air freight is upwards of $2/lb at the worst), where the cost of a product is doubled or tripled by the time it lands at destination. Our efforts are prohibitively expensive. My state’s 2.5M project gets us what your $1M achieves. It’s a very different environmental and economic landscape. I’d love to see something that addresses our problems of scale – too far, too few.

  • D. Vasquez

    I think that states can definately realize renewable and clean energy producing methods in the very near future. However, the wind farms seem to me as just a fad and will soon be obsolete. Below I noted a case study of the new BLOOM ENERGY solution that was implemented at a large Google campus and powered a great deal of their needs there. I believe it’s solutions like this that are the true future for realizing renewable energy for states independantly. I work for a Pest Control company that uses only environmentally friendly means of inspections and control applications. At EcoChoice we strive to use the most renewable, green methods. Our new facility that is roughly 60,000 sq. ft and will be completed in 2013 will be using the Bloom Energy, Bloom Boxes for 30-33% of our energy needs and will be up and running by 2014. Again, look below for the Google/Bloom Energy case study (very compelling info)

  • Hanafi Fraval

    Have you looked at anaerobic digesters? Costs are still significant ($5m for a 1 MW system installed) but there are developers, like ourselves, who will pay for the system as long as there is a Power Purchasing Agreement in place and the source of the biomass is secured under contract (urban green waste, green waste, crop waste, food waste, manure, fats, oils and grease, etc).

  • Global Energies Inc

    To suggest that Alaska could not have a self-reliant sustainable system for Energy (or other uses) is a cop out. The resources are all around you and already going to waste each and every minute.
    Our Hydrokinetic System could easily provide Energy, Pumping and Water needs for remote locations nearly anywhere within the State, large or small; all we need is the chance to introduce it and put it to your test.
    Simplified operating system, submerged in a River or Canal or Tidal area can offer substantial Energy resources 24/7.
    We also offer VAWT system that can produce 1MW in locations where most other systems would not be considered.
    We also offer High Tech, low light absorption, high performance and output Solar panels in several functional and sustainable sizes, from 140watt, 560watt and 630watt. All are coming out for distribution within the next 4 weeks and will be available. Costs will be higher but ROI will be much quicker than anything we have seen on the market as our production will be increased substantially. No need for Tracking Arrays either; all from a 25″X49″X3/4″T panel.
    Drop me a line if you’d like to explore the ideas and systems a little further. Adaptable in any State and a resource any State can put to work to help them achieve any goal they aspire too.
    Dave B.

  • Rachel Feilden

    I live next to the River Frome in Somerset, England, and next door to our house is a watermill. The potential energy of this river has been harnessed since before the Norman invasion of 1066, and is documented in the Domesday book as belonging to two Saxons. The mill had a 6kW Francis turbine installed in 1895 but the building and its flocking business were badly damaged by a fire in 1896. When we decided to reinstate the mill as an electricity generating plant it consisted of 5 roofless, ivy covered stone walls. We followed the example of mill owners in South Somerset and formed Mendip Power Group, a shared interest community of water mill site owners who want to harness clean, green energy. It took five years from decision day to commissioning the new 60kW double-regulated vertical syphonic Kaplan turbine from Ossberger in Germany, and our learning curve was almost vertical. We’ve also put in coils for a closed loop heat pump of 8kW to heat the rebuild mill building. Two MPG members have reinstated old turbines, two are installing 21st century equipment, and one has put 10kW of solar PV on his roof. Only another 500-odd Somerset watermill sites to go. There are at least five hydropower groups in the south west of England: mutual support and sharing of information is necessary because (a) it is so difficult to get good professional advice about microhydro power, especially the civil engineering design aspects, and (b) our bureaucracies, local and national, are a major impediment to harnessing river power.
    Therefore, this year MPG has formed River Energy Networks to provide information on how to harness the potential energy of our rivers. We are in the process of specifying the website that will provide the information to help people determine whether they have a suitable site for hydropower, and if so how best to harness it. This comment is therefore premature because the site is not yet available. But my eye was caught by your mention of a roadless river: therein lies energy.

  • Gloria Flora

    Just wanted to let you all know that a few years ago, under the wing of AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization, Helena, MT), a group of us wrote a detailed report called “Repowering Montana: A Blueprint for Homegrown Energy Self-Reliance, How all of Montana’s power needs can be met using conservation and clean, renewable energy while creating jobs, saving money, and revitalizing rural and urban communities.” The title says it all. There are a lot of good tips, resources and creative thinking that may help others. Check it out at

    I concur with Darlene Holmberg’s post on the difficulties encountered in rural Alaska and the need to focus on conservation and energy efficiencies vs. renewable energy (although biomass to energy shows some promise where biomass is readily available). As a contractor with the Center for Climate Strategies, I just helped the State of Alaska, through a multi-stakeholder process, put together recommendations for climate change mitigation. Jack Herbert and his team from the Cold Climate Housing Research Center participated and at one point gave us a tour of their research facility in Fairbanks. Very impressive!

    Thanks for the great work.
    Gloria Flora, Helena, MT

  • Nicholas Arguimbau

    A nice job you have done!.

    It has become all too clear from the behavior of Congress, from the behavior of the Obama Adminsitratikon, from the latest reports from Copenhagen, from the strength lobbiss have shown in Washingtoln this year in opposition to meaningful financial reform, meaningful climate protectkion , and meaningful health ccre reform that if the United States is to meet or come anywhere close to the mnimum goal of 40% reduction of GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% reduction by 2050, the goals are not going to be met throujgh national initiatives and in the absence of serious moves within the United States are very unlikely to be met through international coercion of the United States.

    Therefore, to accomplish the scientifically recognized goals and to forestall devastating international coercion of the United States (e.g. through the sorts of economic sanctions that were found necessary to accomplish reform of South Africa), which the world will likely find necessary for planetary survival if the United States does not otherwise meet its obligations for climate protection, state and local initiatives are absolutely necessary.

    What you are showing is that most US states have the ability to meet there energy needs through renewable, non-carbon sources. If all those that can do so, DO do so, we wll be well on our way to meeting our global-warming obligations without federal legislation.

    It is therefore necessary for those states capable of becoming energy self-sufficient through conservation and non-carbon renewabloe resources, to adopt programs to do so forthwith. This will not happen spontaneously, but it may happen if there is a coordinated effort of the greens, while not abandoning attempts to obatin meaningful federal legislatiopn, to obtain state and local programs for reductikon of carbon use to the extent the scientists have deternmined necessary,. through conservation, specific GHG emission-reduction programs, and shift to non-carbon renewables.

    If the feds won’t do it, the states mus do it. If the states won’t do it, the locals must do it. If the locals won’t do it, we as individuals must do it. Otherwise, the United States risks international snctions to force us to do what is necessary for planetary survival.

  • C Turner

    I live in N. Arizona. We have coal powered plants close by. We also have the Navaho nation not far from us and they have major coal mines. We have different individuals building wind farms. Two are finished and more are planned. I’am not a expert on any of this just a believer in alternative energy because we are going to have to save us from us. Many are protesting the wind mills ,even though they are not close to any major development, as they say they can hear them. There is a movement going on to not allow anymore be built in this county. It is aggrvating to listen to the ignorance and lack of reasoning. We have a dominate faith in this community and it is amazing how much weight they carry sice they mainly belong to the same political party. On the other hand we have a lot of people living, 20 miles or so out, completely off the grid. They rely on solar, wells and septic. It is going to be interesting to watch what transpires here.

  • Gene Preston

    In order to make wind renewables a viable replacement for base loaded coal and nuclear power we need diversity and we need a lot of wind. The peak demand on the US is about 800,000 MW. We need about 200,000 MW of wind power that is available 24/7. Since wind at any single wind generator or wind farm in an area runs with about 1/3 rd average energy output, we will need to install three times the 200,000 MW or install 600,000 MW of wind generation. Lets assume we install 200,000 MW of wind in the great plains and the rest of the 400,000 MW around coastal areas and out in the oceans a short distance off shore. This entire network of wind generators will need to be interconnected so it appears as a single electrical entity with an output power on average of 200,000 MW.

    Now lets consider the transmission needed to interconnect this much wind. I will use the highest voltage lines being constructed in the US, 765 kV, because the overall transmission cost and losses are lowest as well as taking up less right of way and needing fewer lines at 765 kV. A 765 kV line can be designed to economically carry 5000 MW. If we had 200,000 MW wind in the great plains we would need at least 40 of these lines going to the east coast, Texas, and west coast. The average length would be about 1000 miles.

    Can we realistically build this much transmission in ten to 20 years? I don’t think so. There is simply too much opposition by the public to the construction of new lines, especially in California where environmentalists have strongly opposed power lines and the eastern US, where the routing of new extra high voltage lines through densely populated areas is nearly impossible. A more realistic expectation is that we will be able to build some of the lines that are needed but not nearly enough to replace all the coal and nuclear base loaded generation in the US.

  • John Farrell

    You are absolutely right about the downsides to transmission, which is why we strongly advocate that states focus on developing their own wind resources and plug into the existing grid (or develop upgrades to the grid for short distances). Balancing renewable energy variability does not require a nationwide supergrid, but can be accomplished with generation diversification (wind, solar, hydro, etc) and with demand response, energy storage, and even small fossil fuel backups.