"If you just sort of focus on rural energy for the sake of, 'Look at all this money we can get to do this,' you're likely to make huge mistakes," Freshwater said, adding that proper implementation requires seeing it as an element in local economic-development strategies. He said it is unclear whether renewable energy would bring green jobs into rural communities because most of the research associated with renewable energy development focuses on urban areas.
Also, he said, inconsistent state policies on renewables prevent renewable-energy growth. "It's incredibly complex to coordinate state and federal renewable energy policy," he said, with several webinar participants adding that working from county to county was often difficult. Freshwater called for a "new rural paradigm" to address rural development that would be a broad approach and lead to "bottom-up operations" that aren't sector focused.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have policies that require varying shares of electricity to come from renewables. Another seven have goals, but no penalties for failure to meet them. Some standards require only 5 percent of power to come from renewable sources, while others, like in California, require 33 percent. (North Carolina State University map)