Get real on S.C. energy
BY HAMILTON DAVIS
A substantive debate on South Carolinaís antiquated energy policies remains elusive, and the trumpeting for oil and gas development off our shores seems to have manifested itself as a poor substitute. Just in time for this yearís presidential election, recent editorials by leaders at the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance and the S.C. Chamber of Commerce have laid out a number of specious arguments pushing for more drilling.
Notably absent from their enthusiasm for energy security and economic development is any mention of our vast in-state renewable energy potential and our woeful national ranking of 46th in energy efficiency. Ignoring the energy resources that are available within our borders also ignores the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs that South Carolina exports each year as we import coal, uranium, natural gas and petroleum from other states and countries.
The available geologic data reveals there is relatively little potential for oil and gas development off of our coast. Even the inflated estimates used by the American Petroleum Institute suggest the total amount of oil along the Eastern seaboard from South Carolina to Florida represents only 24 percent of what the U.S. currently consumes in a single year. Natural gas reserves for that same area are estimated to equal 36 percent of a single yearís consumption. As the Department of Energy under the Bush Administration concluded, this pittance of oil and gas would have no material impact on our foreign energy dependencies or costs for consumers.
Any potential job creation or economic development that might accompany offshore oil and gas activities must be qualified with the explicit threat these industries represent for South Carolinaís tourism industry, fisheries, and quality of life in our coastal communities. A 2009 study by the USC Moore School of Business estimated that coastal tourism alone accounted for 81,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in state revenue.
As for our in-state energy potential, a 2012 study recently finalized by the Energy Advisory Council for South Carolinaís Public Utility Review Committee estimates the near-term capacity potential for solar, biomass and offshore wind to equal over 20 percent of our stateís current energy demand. By eliminating existing policy and regulatory barriers, these clean energy resources could begin to offset our reliance on imported energy while stimulating economic development and job growth.
Among East Coast states, South Carolina ranks second for shallow-water offshore-wind potential. Add to this the 33 firms and over 1,100 employees currently involved in wind energy production and service activities in our state and the soon to be operational offshore wind turbine test facility at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, and it should be apparent that this resource holds significant economic opportunity for our ailing economy.
Yet many business and political leaders in South Carolina seem incapable of untethering themselves from a 20th century energy perspective.
Certainly oil, gas, and nuclear will continue to have critical roles to play in our energy future, but these finite and increasingly expensive resources must be supplemented with investments in renewables and efficiency.
Outside of the Southeast, extensive progress on energy efficiency and renewable energy is under way. Twenty-nine states now have renewable portfolio standards and twenty-four states have energy efficiency standards. These policies that require or allow for increased investment in renewables and efficiency have resulted in substantial economic activity while having little to no impact on electricity rates.
Even absent an updated, comprehensive energy policy, South Carolina nonetheless has over 17,000 jobs in the clean energy sector. Multinational corporations located within our borders like BMW, Boeing and Google have also made renewable energy and efficiency a central component of their business model. Operating on a global stage, they understand the dynamic nature of the energy landscape and have embraced sustainability as economically desirable and necessary.
This testament to our clean energy potential should be complimented by active and visible efforts from organizations like the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance and the S.C. Chamber of Commerce to correct our policy deficiencies.
Although progress has been made in many areas related to clean energy in South Carolina, overall there remains a dearth of leadership on this topic as evidenced by the shilling for Big Oil in a state that cannot realistically impact the future supply or price of oil and gas.
North Dakota was denoted as a model state on energy development within both of the recent columns supporting offshore drilling. What wasnít expounded upon is that North Dakota has a renewable portfolio standard, aggressive clean energy tax incentives, and ranks 9th in the nation for wind energy production. North Dakota also happens to be sitting on enormous reserves of fossil fuels that simply donít exist in South Carolina.
Itís time we put aside the offshore drilling fantasies that continue to distract this state from developing a comprehensive path forward on energy.
Hamilton Davis is energy and climate director of the Coastal Conservation League.