Southern utilities, lawmakers resist call for renewable power

WASHINGTON - Six of the nation's 10 largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions are coal-fired power plants in the heart of the South, clustered from Georgia to Texas.

Yet year after year, when Congress tries to push utilities toward cleaner renewable energy, Southern lawmakers balk.

Last month, Republican senators from the South accounted for about half of the opposition to failed legislation that would have required power companies to get 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Nationally, almost half the states have adopted their own renewable mandates, but only one, Texas, is in the South.

Southern lawmakers - responding to heavy lobbying from local utilities - argue that the region isn't conducive to solar or wind power like the sun-baked Southwest or the open plains of the West.

The utilities - among the largest political donors in Washington - have vehemently opposed mandates from Congress. They argue that 'one size fits all' standards would drive up Southern utility bills, and urge that the technologies be gradually phased in when the market is ready.

The Energy Department reported recently that the Senate proposal that stalled last month would cause utility bills nationally to rise by less than 1 percent more through 2030. That study and others have projected that price increases from renewables would be partially offset by reduced demand for coal and natural gas.

Renewable advocates acknowledge that the South could see slightly higher increases, in part because the region's electricity rates already are among the lowest in the country. But they say the South should be ready to meet modest new mandates.