The Southeast has enough renewable resources to meet the 25 percent renewable-power mandate proposed by draft House energy and climate legislation, according to a new assessment [pdf] by environmental groups.

The report was released today as lawmakers negotiate over whether to scale back the renewable electricity standard in the bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

A dozen or so moderate and conservative committee Democrats want to lower the target. Southeastern lawmakers, who say their states could not meet the targets, say their districts would face higher costs because utilities would be forced to buy credits or make other payments.

But the World Resources Institute paper argues the target is more than achievable, finding that renewable energy could supply as much as 30 percent of the region's power needs within 15 years.

It calls for a range of policies, such as low-interest loans and strong state interconnection standards that enable new renewables to link to the grid. The paper is a survey of existing research and assessments by the federal government and other experts.

"Right now we are depending on other regions of the country, and foreign countries like Columbia and Venezuela, to supply us with coal. Doesn't it make more sense to be producing cleaner power, closer to home?," said Stephen Smith, head of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the groups that released the study with WRI. "Our research suggests we certainly have sufficient resources."

Renewables were used to meet 5 percent of Southeast power sales in 2006, according to the paper, which defines the region as Alabama, the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia.

A nationwide renewable electricity standard is a major goal for Democratic leaders and environmentalists. The draft bill would require utilities above a certain size to supply 25 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind, solar and biomass energy by 2025, although efficiency measures could be used to meet a fifth of the target.

Waxman had offered a lower renewable target of 17.5 percent, according to Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a member of the committee. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) called the RES a "moving target."

"There have been at least three different proposals back and forth," Stupak said in a short interview yesterday. "It is very active."

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), one of the panel's more liberal members, said there should be "flexibility" to address regional issues but warned against watering down either the bill's emissions or renewable energy targets.

"We have to keep our eyes on the prize and actually achieve something," Inslee said.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500