Credit: Duke Energy

An annual assessment of states’ progress advancing clean energy illustrates how far behind Southeast states are compared to other regions, although Florida, Virginia and other states earned high ranks in specific categories.

The U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index by Clean Edge in Portland, Oregon rated Florida first among all states for reducing emissions among existing buildings. It ranked Virginia #1 for advancing energy storage and having the most Energy Star-rated buildings.

Overall, Clean Edge’s state “Leadership Score” ranked all but one of the 12 Southeast states in the bottom half of the Score’s index. The highest ranked Southeast state was North Carolina at #25.

Clean Edge created the index eight years ago to measure the progress states are making advancing solar, wind and other generation sources of clean energy, energy storage installations, green building deployment, energy efficiency expenditures, venture capital investments and clean-energy patents issued.

While few energy policymakers in Southeast states would be surprised where the region stands overall, the Leadership Score spotlights categories that some Southeast states are among the top 10 leaders.

The primary sources used to calculate the Leadership Score are from a variety of organizations in the public domain. Clean Edge also works with private data sources, along with organizations such as the North Carolina Clean Technology Center.

Here are how the 12 Southeast states measured up, according to Clean Edge Managing Director Ron Pernick, along with the categories they scored a top 10 ranking in.

#25: North Carolina – 4th in demand response peak load shaved; 4th lowest in emissions from the built environment; 8th in installed solar as a percent of total generation; 10th in venture capital spending; 10th lowest in emissions from transportation.

#27: Virginia – 1st in energy storage; 1st in Energy Star buildings; 3rd in Energy Star square footage; 4th in biomass; 6th in hybrids.

#32: South Carolina – 3rd in energy storage; 7th in clean energy jobs; 8th in lowest emissions from the built environment.

#34: Georgia – 2nd in smart meters deployed; 5th in electric vehicles registered; 7th in biomass; 8th in natural gas vehicles; 8th in Energy Star square footage; 9th in lowest emissions in the built environment.

#35: Tennessee – 4th in energy storage

#37: Arkansas – 9th in demand response peak load shaved

#38: Kentucky – 3rd in Energy Star Buildings

#41: Florida – 1st in curbing emissions from the built environment

#42: Alabama – 8th in smart meter deployment; 9th in compressed natural gas stations

#46: West Virginia – 8th in demand response peak load shaved

#47: Louisiana – no top 10 rankings

#49: Mississippino top 10 rankings

Among the factors driving cleaner energy are helpful policies and the continuing decline in the costs of wind and solar systems. Clean Edge’s report cites an analysis by Lazard, a financial advisory firm, that found “the levelized cost of new U.S. utility-scale onshore wind and solar now beats new coal, nuclear, and, in most instances, even combined-cycle natural gas.”

While the Southeast states are lagging, as they have historically, there are examples of  advances in municipal or county governments such as Atlanta, Jacksonville, Florida, Raleigh, North Carolina and Roanoke, Virginia.

“There are a lot of bright spots coming out of the Southeast,” said Lauren Bowen, an attorney in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “But the Southeast states have a lot of room to grow and plenty of opportunities.”

Among the most recent bright spots is Atlanta’s stated commitment announced earlier this month to supplying all of the city’s buildings with 100% renewable power or “clean energy” as the city council defines it by 2025. It is the largest city in the South to set such a commitment.

In some states, the focus is as much on defending clean energy policies or defeating detrimental rules as it is on advancing them.

Duke Energy and Dominion Energy in North Carolina are trying to roll back provisions of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) which facilitates the sale of solar projects at the utilities avoided costs of other forms of generation.

Solar advocates are trying to defeat Alabama Power’s requirement that imposes a standby charge on residential and other rooftop solar systems.

“If we can address those barriers, we might be able to get ahead in the (Clean Edge) rankings,” Bowen said.

Nell Boyle, the sustainability coordinator for the City of Roanoke, said “we have a disconnect particularly at the legislative level, about the harmful, long-term effects to the environment and the real costs associated with it.”

Boyle also sees a “chicken and egg” challenge, for example, with electric vehicles and utilities and policymakers unwilling to facilitate their adoption. “You can’t have electric vehicles without access to chargers, yet it is a tough sell to place chargers without adequate demand.”

Jim Pierobon, a policy, marketing and social media strategist, was a founding contributor to Southeast Energy News. He passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer in 2018.