For the past three years, since 2013, energy production in the United States from renewable sources (non-nuclear) has remained fairly constant at about 9 ½% of total energy production. (U. S. Energy Information Agency report, Topic 1.1.) While the potential to expand renewable production is viewed as a potentially significant economic development opportunity, there remain some practical barriers to any substantial increase in the development of renewables. This may be compounded by the mechanism used by EPA in certain states to credit renewable use.
The International Economic Development Council, in a survey published in 2010, notes that several factors including climate change, volatile fuel prices for more traditional power sources, and an interest in energy independence, have combined to increase the focus on renewables as an important source of domestic power. (IEDC and Report .) The potential additional benefit is that these types of projects can constitute economic development projects on their own, and can further spur economic development activity.
As the IEDC report indicates, and as confirmed by other sources, there remain long-standing barriers to renewable energy projects. (eg. Clean Technica; Union of Concerned Scientists – 1999.) Traditional problems such as access to financing, the uncertainty of economic incentives, location and, somewhat ironically, local environmental opposition, combine to make a transition to increased renewable sources more difficult.
One way that EPA has sought to move this forward is through use of renewable energy certificates (RECs). However, even this process apparently can mask the issue of the increase in actual, large-scale, renewable sources. (The Hill.) As this article points out, the use of RECs may actually distort and perhaps discourage the actual substantive expansion of renewable sources on a level that would encourage renewables as a replacement for large existing operations.
The transition to increased reliance on renewable sources is dependent on a number of factors. While it holds the potential for new and expanded economic development, efforts must include integrating these sources with existing sources so that renewables have an opportunity to gain their footing and to compete in a reasonably equitable manner.