/What’s causing the state’s slow shift to renewable energy

What’s causing the state’s slow shift to renewable energy

The United States generates approximately 20% of its electricity from renewables. This includes solar, wind, and biomass such as wood or plants. Renewable energy sources are more efficient than traditional energy sources such as oil, gas, and coal and produce significantly less harmful emissions. According to federal data, just 2% of Mississippi’s net electricity is generated from renewable energy. While other states have addressed the issue directly, state legislators have mostly ignored the climate debate. This conservative state is slowly beginning to change. Entergy Mississippi, the largest utility company in the state, committed last November to sourcing almost a third from renewable energy by 2027. Entergy and other power firms are making such a dramatic shift because it costs less to produce renewable energy than it did a decade ago. Solar power costs have fallen by 90% since 2009 and are now less expensive than natural gas, coke, and nuclear energy production. Since 2020, several new solar projects have been approved by the state’s Public Service Commission. These combined would nearly double the state’s total solar capacity. The PSC is currently developing programs that allow homeowners and renters to produce and sell their own solar energy. It is taking comments on an expanded net-metering rule and is beginning the process of creating a community solar program. Simon Mahan, executive Director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association said he was encouraged by recent PSC work on renewables. This includes requiring utilities submit annual forecasts for their future energy needs (also known as Integrated Resource Plans). Mahan believes Mississippi can soon be a leader in the region’s transition. He said, “If you and I had this discussion a year ago it would have been really different.” “But now we are seeing things really take off in Mississippi. This is partly because we have good commissioners in Mississippi. We’ve just gone though a good process and utilities are beginning to value renewables. “Mississippi may not be a leader in (renewable energies) yet, but it is on its way,” said Crosslin. But clean energy advocates claim that the market-based approach to energy is not sufficient and that emissions must play a greater role in state energy decision-making. Jennifer Crosslin is a regional coordinator for the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. She explained that data from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that greenhouse gas emissions must be drastically reduced by 2030 in order to prevent the worst effects of global warming. 25% of these emissions are from the U.S. energy sector. Crosslin stated that the United States is far behind in terms of national emissions and that if we look at the country, we are even more behind as a nation. Crosslin pointed out the structure of investor-owned utilities like Entergy or Mississippi Power, which is where their profit comes primarily from spending on new projects and does not offer incentives to reduce emissions. She stated that the current structure of investor-owned utilities is not moving the needle fast. This market-based approach is not working. It is time for the state of Mississippi to take the lead in climate change. Studies show that Mississippi and the Gulf states will be among the most affected by rising sea levels and stronger storms. Brandon Presley, Northern District Public Service Commissioner, is the longest-serving PSC leader. He explained that Mississippi’s focus will always be on the economy and not the environmental effects. Presley stated that economic development is more likely to get these projects completed than trying to convince the merits of emission reductions. Presley approved last month a new solar plant in Union County that will power a Toyota manufacturing facility in Blue Springs. Brent Bailey, a Republican Central District Public Service Commissioner, echoed Presley’s sentiment. Bailey stated that while you do appreciate the environmental aspects, it is not the main driver of a lot this. It always goes back to the economic benefits.” The Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a requirement that at least a portion of the state’s power be generated from renewable sources. This standard applies to both the District of Columbia and most states. Thirty-eight states have an RPS and eight others have a non-enforceable variant. Mississippi is one twelve-state state, which includes all its neighboring states and most of South Carolina, that has neither. Presley claimed that it was politically pointless to try and pass an RPS in Mississippi. RPS’s are usually adopted by the state Legislature in most cases. He stated that it was not politically or practically possible for the RPS’ to be adopted. “If it wasn’t going to happen, why would you waste your time hunting rabbits that aren’t going to be caught?” Presley said. Mississippi is a state that has been slow to adopt renewable technologies. Creating new facilities can often result in higher costs being passed on to customers. This means Mississippi ratepayers will have to pay more than most other states. Mahan, who works in the Southeast with renewable developers, stated that RPS’s in other states is part of why renewable costs are lower now. This policy requires utilities to think about environmental benefits and not just costs. As it stands now in Mississippi, there is no requirement for power companies to compare the emissions from different sources. He also stated that Mississippi is moving in a positive direction. Georgia is one example of a state that has seen a rise in renewable capacity, despite not having to follow any legislative mandates. He said, “The state has seen the renewable industry because it believes it’s going be a great state to do business.” Could it have been quicker with an RPS?” Maybe. However, again, it’s the economics of these projects that drive the interest in Mississippi and the growth in Mississippi.” Commissioner Bailey visited several schools in his district with rooftop solar panels. He also admitted that he hasn’t had much conversation with state legislators about creating new incentives for renewable energy. He is more confident in the market-driven approach and excited about the potential economic impact renewables will bring to Mississippi. He said, “We are excited about this opportunity, we are excited about investments at the local and the potential revenues that could be obtained from those, and hopefully leveraging the state and attracting new industries to the state.” “You want your state, community, and your area to be innovative. I believe these are some of the measures that will allow you to do that.