A political speech the West needs to hear


  • 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.

  • 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

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"The dams on your rivers make your region the leader in hydropower. Washington, California and Oregon are the top three states; Idaho ranks fifth, Montana sixth and Arizona ninth in hydropower. "For more than a century, these resources have been developed here, making your region the Old Energy Frontier.

"However, your West also leads the nation in the potential to generate renewable energy from the wind. You're the leader for potential solar energy and in the capacity to generate electricity from geothermal formations. You're even the top region for the potential to harness the energy from ocean waves. And you have significant potential to generate energy from biomass - from forest thinnings, dairy manure and crops.

"So you are blessed and you are cursed. You have Old Energy - with all its benefits and drawbacks. And you're poised to lead the nation and the world through a historic transition by blazing a different energy path. This will mean some hardships, but ultimately it will bring progress, new jobs and greater prosperity. If, together, we take the right steps, the West will become the world's New Energy Frontier.


"Throughout the 30 years since the last energy crisis, our national leaders and corporations have been partying on fossil fuels. The nation's appetite for energy keeps rising, and now that ravenous appetite is being strangled by a shortage of fuels. Prices are spiking, and many experts believe we're nearing the end of an era - we're not likely to discover enough feasible new supplies. It's way past midnight at the fossil fuel party, folks, and that inspires desperate actions that Westerners feel most of all.

"For the last seven years, the current president, with his background in the oil industry, has had his hand on the fossil fuel throttle. He's pushed drilling and mining above all other uses of public lands and resources in the West. True, this has brought paychecks and jobs. But those benefits are short-lived and not sustainable in the long term. Meanwhile, you Westerners have watched your land get torn up, the wildlife chased away, the air and water sullied. Despite attempts to extract fossil fuels responsibly, the results often end up looking like vandalism, violating Western qualities and values.

"And in the biggest threat of all, the carbon emissions - from the Old Energy power plants and the leaky wells and pipelines and the vehicles that burn those fuels - cause global warming and climate changes that will challenge generations to come.

"The current president has told the West what he wants to do: Extract the remaining fossil fuels to the point of exhaustion, and ramp up uranium mining, and build a big nuclear waste dump to encourage new nuclear power plants. Is that all you want? I don't think so. "As your next president, I'll help you find the way to fulfill your potential as the New Energy Frontier.

"This year, the wind, sunlight, geothermal rocks and ocean waves will generate less than 2 percent of the electricity used in the U.S. Federal researchers - some of the world's top experts - say that if we get into gear, we can multiply our New Energy production by 10 times in the next couple of decades. It's even reasonable to generate half the nation's electricity with New Energy by 2030, they say. This electricity can power vehicles, homes and workplaces.

"The New Energy industries have greatly improved their technologies since their birth in the last energy crisis. The price of their electricity has plunged; they are more competitive with fossil fuels, and they have far fewer environmental impacts. They still have weaknesses - mainly the intermittency of wind and solar rays - but technologies and strategies are emerging to solve those.

"While the federal government has stalled, Westerners, through the recent actions of your governors, legislatures and voters, have moved forward. Many Western states, and the Western Governors' Association, have adopted policies to require utilities to buy more electricity from New Energy projects. Private investment money, much of it from California's software industry, is pouring into New Energy companies in the West.

"Companies based in Europe and other places where New Energy is more established are proposing new projects in the West. There's a surge in wind, solar and geothermal projects. Biofuel refineries are popping up amid Colorado farmland, and it won't be long before your coastal waves are generating power. It's an exciting time.

"Yet the entrepreneurs struggle to compete with the Old Energy interests, largely because Old Energy has more backing from the federal government. As president, I'll change that. I'll roll back economic policies and infrastructure that favor Old Energy. I'll allow New Energy to compete fairly.

"As a first priority, I'll lead Congress to adopt a system for realistic pricing of electricity from fossil fuel plants. That means a carbon tax or a 'cap and trade' permitting system to bill companies for at least a fraction of their global warming impacts. That would raise the cost of Old Energy and make the New Energy more attractive in the marketplace.

"Then, I'll make the tax policies and subsidies fairer. The federal government currently provides $50 billion to $100 billion each year in tax breaks, other incentives and subsidies for energy development. Sixty-five percent of that goes to fossil fuels and nuclear power gets 12 percent. Wind, solar and geothermal combined get a measly 8 percent. I'll change that math.

"Some of the key incentives are federal tax credits for developers of wind, solar and geothermal projects. At various times since they were initiated during the last energy crisis, some of those tax credits have expired or been reduced; some have since been revived or increased. This roller-coaster has created uncertainty - investors and companies often don't know what the tax situation will be in two years, so they can't make solid plans for long-term projects. Those tax credits will expire at the end of this year, unless Congress acts. I'll work with Congress to extend the credits for six to eight years in order to give the entrepreneurs some stability.

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