Diversified Renewable Energy Base Emerging in the US Northeast
Renewable energy initiatives and investments in the northeastern US are producing results and paying dividends economically, socially and environmentally, according to a report from ACORE, the American Council on Renewable Energy.
Northeast region state governments have been at the leading edge of the drive to craft and implement policies to foster development and use of a distributed, diversified mix of renewable energy resources. With supportive policies in place in nearly every state in the 12-state region, the Northeast ranks second in the US for both solar and biomass power capacity. This progressive policy framework, which includes establishment of the pioneering Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is driving renewable energy deployment and driving down costs to the point where they are competitive with fossil fuel power, ACORE's “Renewable Energy in the 50 States: Northeastern Region,” the third in a four-part series of reports on renewable energy conditions and prospects nationwide.
As the ACORE report authors highlight:
“Renewable energy is steadily becoming more cost competitive in the Northeast. Three large utilities in Massachusetts recently signed long-term contracts to purchase renewable energy at less than $0.08 per kilowatt hour, below the cost of most conventional sources. If the contracts are approved by state regulators, they would save customers between $0.75 and $1.00 a month.5 Likewise, if it doubles the amount of wind power it plans to build, the PJM Interconnection could actually reduce wholesale energy market prices and save nearly $7 million per year in the mid-2020s.”
Renewable Energy Resource Diversity: The Northeast's Strength
Heavily dependent on imported energy and affected by retirements of fossil fuel power plants, Northeastern states have good reason to develop and deploy local renewable energy sources, ACORE notes in its latest regional report. Supportive state and local policy initiatives are proving instrumental in helping residents, businesses and the public sector realize the economic, social and environmental benefits that renewable energy resource development, along with greater energy conservation and energy efficiency, offer.
Eleven of the 12 states profiled in the report have instituted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate power utilities increase their use of renewable energy resources. Vermont, the 12th, has instituted a standard contract program along the lines of a renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT), the first of its kind in the US, ACORE highlights in its report. Established to spur clean energy and energy efficiency investments across the region and reduce the regional greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, RGGI, is also helping fund New York's $1 billion Green Bank, the report authors note.
With less in the way of large, utility-scale wind and solar farms, the US Northeast ranks lower overall than other regions profiled in ACORE's “Renewable Energy in the 50 States” series. It's comparatively strong when it comes to local, distributed renewable power capacity, as well as the diversity of renewable energy resources available, however.
“An array of policies and incentive programs, including feed-in tariffs, renewable energy credits (RECs), green banks, and rebates, support the development of renewable power, heat, and fuels in the Northeast.
“Many Northeastern states have set targets for solar energy generation, which, coupled with financial incentives, are largely responsible for driving more solar power capacity in the Northeast than in the Midwest or the Southeast. In fact, ISO New England, the regional transmission organization serving six Northeastern states, anticipates distributed generation installations within its territory to increase from 250 MW in 2012 to 2 GW by the end of 2021, with generation forecast to be mostly solar power.”
Moreover, most of the states in the region are working to produce clean energy from waste and biomass by making use of municipal solid waste, wood waste and landfill gas. They're also looking to produce more and make greater use of biodiesel and ethanol to reduce reliance on petroleum, an area where they have lagged other regions.
“To reduce reliance on expensive heating oil, some states, such as New Hampshire, have set goals for renewable thermal energy use. With the availability of wood waste from the forestry sector, homes in New England use wood for space heating, water heating, and cooking at nearly twice the national rate, and growth in this sector is expected to continue.”
Large-scale hydropower has and will continue to play a large role in the Northeast region's energy mix. Meanwhile, recent developments suggest that offshore wind power could play a significant role in fueling renewable energy growth.
“The Northeast’s wind power market has grown more slowly than other regions’, but this fact could change soon,” the report authors state.
“Coastal states in the region have identified immense offshore wind power potential, and developers are in the advanced stages of planning what would be the first offshore wind projects in the country. In August 2013, the U.S. Department of the Interior held the nation’s first offshore wind lease sale off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the scale of which could support enough turbines to power one million homes.”
Main and featured image credit: All Earth Renewables