Will the South Rise Again, Efficiently?

It may be a thoroughly carpetbagging idea, but a new study published by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) suggests Dixie could have a lot to gain from energy efficiency, in terms of dollars saved, jobs gained and water conserved.

In fact, if all of the efficiency programs covered by the study, such as stricter building codes and improved commercial appliance efficiency, were implemented, no net new power plants would have to be built in the 16 southern states between now and 2030.  

Way down south where the A/C’s blowin,’ the truck needs fuelin’ and… (yes, I’m a Yankee)

If you have a stereotypical view of the South as being backward when it comes to a “green” thing like energy efficiency–you’re right. Despite having 36 percent of the population, the South has a 44 percent share of total US energy consumption and 48 percent of the supply, according to the study.

In a 2007 report by Forbes, listing the greenest states, the first southern state to appear on the list was Florida at 20. (And Florida isn’t really southern, now is it?) Southern states (see the pic for the study’s geographical definition) also took 7 of the 8 bottom spots.

The SEEA report compiled a number of reasons for this, including historically low electricity rates, heating requirements for cold winters and cooling for hot, humid summers, and a relatively weak energy conservation ethic (based on public opinion polls), among other factors.

So there’s a lot of opportunity for improvement.

Dollars, jobs n’ carbon

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University, predicts that with nine common efficiency initiatives in place, by 2030 energy bills would be reduced by $41 billion, 380,000 jobs would be created and the regional economy would grow by $1.22 billion.

Water use, increasingly an issue in the South, could be cut by 20 billion gallons by 2030.

No new power plants would need to be added during that time (though some, but not all, decommissioned plants would need to be replaced). That includes renewable energy; the study assumed retired plants would be replaced with combined cycle natural gas. In the best case scenarios, energy use would actually decline slightly.

And reduced carbon (shh..)

The efficiency gains would of course result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; the study’s authors do not exactly emphasize this finding. It isn’t included as one of their major findings, although it is in there (as well as calculated savings factoring in a price on carbon).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that south of the Mason Dixon terms like “global warming,” “carbon footprint” and “cap-and-trade” are rather unpopular, in general, and thus not the best thing to put in your report urging Southerners to change their ways.

But that’s just a stereotype, now isn’t it?

(Thanks to Green Inc. for the heads up on the study.)

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

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