A political speech the West needs to hear

  • THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES, 177660

  • ECOFLIGHT PHOTO PROVIDED BY SKYTRUTH (WWW.SKYTRUTH.ORG)
  • NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LABS
  • The Western Governors' Association in 2006 called for the region to develop 30 gigawatts of new clean energy by 2015. The association also wants to remove bureaucratic obstacles to enable construction of new regional transmission lines to "renewable energy resource zones" — rural areas with great potential for wind and solar generation. Colorado's 2007 Legislature passed an innovative law allowing utilities to build transmission lines to wind and solar zones, to spur development of wind and solar plants that don't yet exist. Also in 2007, California's agency regulating the electricity grid OK'd an urban utility's plan to build a $1.8 billion line into the Tehachapi area to spur new wind, solar and geothermal projects. Both actions are models for how other states could encourage new lines into wind and solar zones.

    PETER ESSICK/AURORA/GETTY IMAGES
  • The federal government responded to the energy crisis of the 1970s by pouring more money into the Department of Energy's research and development projects. But as soon as the crisis ended, and Ronald Reagan took office, the funding faucet was reduced to a trickle, especially when it comes to renewable energy sources. Even as the nation faces another energy crisis, research funds are less than a third of what they were in 1978.

    Gallagher, k.S., Sugar, A, Segal, D, de Sa, P, and John P. Holdren, DOE
  • ISTOCK, US BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, NATIONAL RENEWABLE ENERGY LAB
 

Page 3

"As president, I'll also do more to provide federal loan guarantees for New Energy projects, which will encourage conservative bankers to finance new projects. The government already offers guarantees for energy projects; the only taxpayer cost comes if projects fail. That's a diminishing risk these days, with the advances in New Energy technology. But the loan guarantee program now favors nuclear and coal over renewables. We need to do a lot more with loan guarantees for renewables. It's a strategy that's proven effective.

"I'll also encourage discoveries - the equivalent of the Lewis and Clark Expedition - by increasing federal investment in energy research. The government is now spending only one-third of what we did each year during the last energy crisis. Researchers say we're on the verge of important breakthroughs in storing wind and solar energy. Engineers have already learned how to store solar energy in molten salts, making power from the sun available up to 18 hours every day. Some say they're close to developing a way to spray photovoltaic films onto panels, which would make solar power a lot cheaper. The West already has research centers in the National Renewable Energy Lab near Denver and the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, and in the entrepreneurial companies now springing up in the region. In the future, the West will export both energy and discoveries made in its labs.

"Some of the biggest moves I'll make on the New Energy Frontier have to do with the grid of electricity transmission lines. We need to build new lines into the isolated areas where our wind and solar resources are most concentrated. I'll do more to push agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management to site transmission lines to facilitate New Energy development.

"I'll use two gigantic federal tools in the West - the Bonneville Power Administration, which runs hydropower dams on the Columbia River system, and the Western Area Power Administration, which runs more than 50 dams on the Colorado River system and other rivers. Those federal agencies own big transmission lines - the power backbones of the West. They could build new lines aimed at wind and solar and geothermal areas. That would make it easier to hook up. Costs could be subsidized, or fronted and then recovered from New Energy companies as they hook up.

"The more New Energy projects we have connected to the grid across the region, the more reliable New Energy becomes.

"I'll also put more effort into figuring out how to use the federal dams - the cheapest constant source of electricity - to 'firm up' the intermittencies of wind and solar power. When wind or solar cuts out temporarily, hydropower could be used as a backup. It wouldn't be easy, because much of that hydropower is already committed to other demands, but researchers are already studying how to do it. A lot of people are pioneering thinkers on the New Energy Frontier.

"I'll also push efficiency and conservation. The Department of Energy must continue to toughen the efficiency standards for appliances, for instance. There was almost no progress on that front during the current administration until Congress passed new standards in the 2007 Energy Bill. Still, there's room for progress. More than 50 million homes still have gas-fired hot-water heaters that waste half the energy that goes into them, even though companies are already making far more efficient - and affordable - hot-water heaters.

"But as important as conservation is, it's not enough on its own. We need to develop our New Energy resources. We can't just conserve our way out of this crisis.


"New Energy will have impacts and costs. Expanding the grid will cost more than $1 million per mile. Some public land will be crossed with new lines. Wind projects can take a toll on birds and bats. Solar projects have to cover a noticeable amount of land for each megawatt. Some environmentalists will oppose almost any proposal, and some neighbors will inevitably say 'not in my backyard.'

"Critics will argue that the shift toward New Energy will mean higher electricity rates for a while. Some Old Energy jobs will disappear.

"But this frontier will also create new jobs and new income streams. A solar power plant or a field of wind turbines can provide just as many jobs for each megawatt as a smoke-spewing power plant. We'll also have new manufacturing jobs for solar and wind equipment - those kinds of manufacturers are taking root in the West as we speak. The equipment prices will drop, and the power will become even more affordable.

"Many believe, and I share the belief, that New Energy will be the cheapest energy in the future, even if we don't count the environmental benefits. And because much of the New Energy frontier lies in rural areas, including Indian reservations, where wind and solar potential is high, it will give us a chance to address poverty and stimulate neglected economies.

"We won't abandon those who make their living in Old Energy - the coal mines and gas drills will continue running far into the future. But even those companies are already branching out into New Energy, because they're energy companies and they'll take that dedication wherever it may be useful. And who knows, scientists may come up with an effective way to sequester carbon in the West's geologic formations, so Old Energy can be used in a responsible manner.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....