Incoming chair of WGA outlines the West’s energy strategy

The incoming chair of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) said June 11 that the organization will continue to focus on developing the West’s energy resources, as well as the transmission needed to get that energy to market.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert (R), who takes over the chair from Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D), told the WGA’s annual meeting in Cle Elum, Wash., that he will continue the organization’s long-standing position of supporting the development of all forms of energy, from wind and solar to clean coal and natural gas, in part because they lessen the nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy.

“All these fuels have one thing in common, and that is that they’re produced right here in North America,” Herbert said.

Herbert said the region needs to talk about the challenges it faces “in a realistic fashion and with some common sense.”

“We are significantly challenged … about transmission of electrical energy and getting it from where it’s being produced, whither it’s a wind farm or some other area, and getting it into the grid, and getting that energy to the marketplace,” Herbert said. “Large interstate transmission has not been built in over 25 years in the West, and it’s becoming a constraint and a significant inhibitor for us to develop our energy.”

Herbert also referenced a report that was previewed earlier in the meeting that outlines ways to develop renewable resources while reducing the costs associated with, and the barriers to, developing wind and solar energy.

The report, Herbert said, “Has given us a blueprint for developing the kind of policies that will help us to find less expensive and more effective use of all our electricity generating resources, especially the variable resources that we have here in the West.”

Other “significant and unique challenges” in the West, according to Herbert, include the reality that a large percentage of lands are controlled by a state, or by the federal government.

“In the West, it’s all but impossible to build any significant infrastructure at all, let alone transmission lines for energy, without going across public lands,” Herbert said.

“There are challenges that are uniquely caused because of the public lands issue … and we need to address those issues, particularly when it comes to the transmission of energy and the development of energy,” Herbert said.

To that end, Herbert announced the creation of a task force, to be composed of stakeholders from the public and private sectors, which will delve into “federal permitting and siting, as well as how we can work better with state agencies and with federal agencies,” Herbert said.

By the end of his term as chair, Herbert hopes “The task force will be able to identify some specific ways in which we can get these projects moving forward more effectively and efficiently.”

In general, however, Herbert said Western governors are working well with federal government agencies and public lands agencies, and pledged that the WGA will continue to advance its partnership with those agencies. “Maybe we can save some time in the permitting process and become a little more efficient in the building of transmission projects,” Herbert said.