Economic Expansion, Energy Independence and Environmental Efficiency: Renewables in the South

The Southern Legislative Conference has released a new Special Series Report that explores efforts initiated by Southern states in recent years to develop the renewable energy sector in the region and an assessment of the economic development, energy and environmental benefits expected to flow from these efforts.

  Download the report in PDF

  Download an overview of the report in PDF


As states emerge from the Great Recession – the deepest, broadest and sharpest economic downturn experienced in the United States since the Great Depression – state policymakers confront an unenviable set of obstacles. Beyond the multiplicity of short-term challenges associated with balancing their states’ budgets,1 as a result of the steep drop in revenues, policymakers also are struggling with a more structural weakness in our economy: the rapidly eroding manufacturing sector in the United States.

The manufacturing sector in the United States has lost more ground than every other sector of the economy. In the 1950s, manufacturing’s share of American gross domestic product (GDP) peaked at nearly 30 percent; today it has slumped to 11 percent, a decline made more pronounced since 2007 given the rigors of the Great Recession.2 Even though globally the United States maintains its preeminence as a manufacturing powerhouse – the United States is still the world’s largest manufacturer with a global share of about 22 percent of global output, a ranking that has held steady over the last 30 years3 – it is widely accepted that action is necessary at every level of government for the United States to expand its manufacturing prowess.

There is growing awareness across multiple forums that a thriving manufacturing sector remains critical in propelling the American economy forward and sustaining America’s role as a global economic power. This notion is reinforced by the ongoing actions initiated by federal, state and local government officials to bolster the manufacturing sector. The manufacturing sector is an integral contributor to essential research and development, which in turn leads to numerous well-paying jobs and plentiful exports.

The Obama Administration has made revitalizing America’s manufacturing sector a central plank in its economic policy and the president often makes the point that “we’ve got to go back to making things.”4 In this regard, the president emphasizes that the clean energy sector* has to be a vital component of a future, revitalized manufacturing sector. In a speech on the economy he made in Parma, Ohio, in September 2010, President Barack Obama stressed the following: “[W]e see a future where we invest in American innovation and American ingenuity; where we export more goods so we create more jobs here at home; where we make it easier to start a business or patent an invention; that where we build a homegrown, clean energy industry – because I don’t want to see new solar panels or electric cars or advanced batteries manufactured in Europe or Asia. I want to see them made right here in the United States of America by American workers.”5
Even at the state level, there is increasing awareness that the array of clean energy industries has the potential to resuscitate the manufacturing base while generating a host of additional benefits. Directing America toward a cleaner and more secure energy future not only facilitates “developing in-state resources and related economic opportunities,” but also “addresses the growing energy demand, reducing energy costs, diversifying energy sources, and mitigating air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”6 This May 2010 National Governors Association (NGA) report elaborated that these state efforts to advance the green economic sector surfaced as “a new theme across the country” with as many as 39 states developing policies and making explicit investments to advance green economic development as part of their Great Recession recovery strategies.
In Tennessee, former Governor Phil Bredesen, in inaugurating the state’s first ever Governor’s Summit on Clean Energy Technology in October 2008, noted that, “[I]nnovation in the clean-energy tech sector is leading to higher skilled, better paying jobs. It also happens to be the right thing to do for energy and the environment. Globally, clean-energy technology could be one of Tennessee’s next great exports. We need to turn it to our advantage, and make it work for our great state.”7
The potential for renewable energy sources to create a significant number of jobs, among other benefits, has spurred action among state legislators as well. For instance, Texas Representative Warren Chisum made the point earlier this year that, “[W]ind is a growing business and creates a lot of jobs [by taking] some of our smallest, most rural towns and making them pretty active.”8 Representative Chisum also indicated that he would like to see Texas more proactive as it works on its energy future and focus on solar power and carbon sequestration as the state’s next big economic opportunities.
Joining President Obama and state leaders in this call for jump-starting a revolution in clean energy has been a panoply of business leaders, including founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates; former chairman and chief executive officer of DuPont, Chad Holliday; former chairman of Lockheed Martin, Norm Augustine; chief executive officer of Xerox, Ursula Burns; and chief executive officer of General Electric (GE), Jeff Immelt, who coalesced to create the American Energy Innovation Council, stressing that the United States needs sizable, sustained investments in clean energy innovation of at least $16 billion per year.9 These business leaders make the point that “there are profound public interests in having more energy options. Our national security, economic health and environment are at issue.”
Citizens around the country have formed a variety of groups, organizations and coalitions to promote renewable energy sources in an effort to produce the kind of objectives outlined earlier, such as economic development, environmental gains and energy independence. In New Orleans, Louisiana, for instance, Global Green and the Green Collaborative – a group of more than 65 organizations and businesses from the city and from around the Gulf Coast – released a Declaration of Energy Independence in early July 2010. This statement emphasized “important and widelyheld views on energy efficiency, fuel conservation and other issues” and also called for “much greater urgency in pursuing renewable energy sources and technology.”10
Similarly, in Florida, Citizens for Clean Energy, a coalition of businesses, educational institutions and community groups dedicated to bringing clean energy jobs, investment and technology to the state, continues to hold summits and meetings to prompt action on Florida’s energy future.11
These two examples encapsulate a groundswell of interest from citizens across the South and the country in pursuing renewable energy projects to promote economic development, environmental gains and energy independence. Given the broad spectrum of interest among public officials, business leaders and concerned citizens, there is overwhelming evidence pointing at activity in practically every state to promote clean energy industries, not only as a mechanism to create jobs and spur economic development, but also as a strategy to develop new and innovative technology, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, address environmental concerns and provide energy security. This Special Series Report explores actions in the SLC states in recent years designed to advance the clean energy economy and accomplish the laudable goals outlined above.
* This Special Series Report uses the terms “green economy,” “clean energy” and “renewable energy” interchangeably to refer to the broad range of industries (such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, biomass, landfill methane) that fall under this category.
1. 49 of the 50 states have at least a limited statutory or constitutional requirement of a balanced budget..See “State Balanced Budget Requirements: Provisions and Practice,” Ronald K. Snell, 1996; updated 2004, National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), http://www.ncsl. org/?TabId=1265.

2. “Ron Bloom Is Obama’s Manufacturing Emissary," The New York Times, September 9, 2010.

3. “Manufacturing: The Misunderstood Industry,” Southern Growth Policies Board, August 2010. 

4. “With White House Backing, an Envoy for Manufacturing,” The New York Times, September 9, 2010. 

5. Remarks by the President on the Economy in Parma, Ohio, September 08, 2010,

6. Clean and Secure: State Energy Actions – 2010 Update, National Governors Association,

7. “Governor Bredesen, Former Senator Baker Headline Tennessee Energy Summit,” MFR.Tech,

8. The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses and Investments Across America, The Pew Center on the States, economy_report_web.pdf.

9. “Jump-starting a revolution in energy,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 26, 2010 and

10. Global Green Energy. "Declaration of Energy Independence,"

11. “Citizens for Clean Energy announces July Summit on Florida’s Energy and Economic Future,” Press Release, July 17, 2010, blog/2010/06/citizens-for-clean-energy-announces-july-summit- on-florida%E2%80%99s-energy-and-economic-future/.