Renewable Energy Sources See Growth

Ethanol played lesser role in Iowa caucuses this year.

Published on: Jan 9, 2012

The latest data from the Energy Information Administration shows renewable energy sources continue to grow rapidly while outpacing the growth rates of fossil fuels and nuclear power.  For the first nine months of 2011, renewable energy sources provided nearly 12% of domestic U.S. energy production, compared to just less than 11% for the same period in 2010. By comparison, nuclear power provided 10.62% of the nation's energy production in the first three quarters of 2011.

Electricity, transportation, and thermal, renewable energy output, including hydropower, grew by 14.44% in 2011 compared to 2010. Among the renewable energy sources, conventional hydropower provided 4.35% of domestic energy production followed by biomass at 3.15%, biofuels at 2.57%, and wind at 1.45%, geothermal at 0.29% and solar at 0.15%. Meanwhile, renewable sources accounted for 9.35% of total U.S. energy consumption, including oil and other energy imports.

The EIA says renewable energy sources, including biomass, geothermal, solar, water and wind, provided 12.73% of net U.S. electrical generation, an increase of nearly 25% compared to the same nine-month period in 2010.

Conventional hydropower accounted for 8.21% of net electrical generation during the first nine months of 2011 - an increase of 29.6%. Non-hydro renewables accounted for 4.52% of net electrical generation. Compared to the first three quarters of 2010, solar-generated electricity expanded by 46.5%; wind by 27.1%; geothermal by 9.4%; and biomass by 1.3%.

In a related matter, a breakdown of the Iowa Caucuses reveals that allegiance to ethanol, once required for political success in rural states, has faded in importance as some candidates skeptical about biofuel subsidies fared better than supporters. Becky Beach, a Republican operative in Iowa says ethanol’s strength allows voters tied to the farm economy to worry less about biofuels and look more at other issues.

Staunch ethanol opponent Ron Paul took second in rural counties. Rick Santorum, who won the vote in farm country, relied on support from religious conservatives although support for biofuels helped. Mitt Romney, who has criticized long-term government subsidies for the fuel, carried the entire state. Newt Gingrich, who took fourth, consulted for an industry group and had the highest rating on farm policy from the Iowa Corn Growers Association.

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says ethanol’s growth and rising acceptance that it no longer needs tax credits and trade protection reduces the political importance of a fuel that once stood as a litmus test for candidates, a lesson that may reverberate in other states.