The Western Governors’ Association ("WGA") gathered in Park City, Utah for its annual meeting, which was held on June 14-16, 2009.   Attendees at the meeting included Governors Bill Ritter (Colo.); C.L. "Butch" Otter (Idaho); Brian Schweitzer (Mont.); Dave Heineman (Neb.); Bill Richardson (N.M.); Benigno Fitial, Northern Mariana Islands; Ted Kulongoski (Ore.); Mike Rounds (S.D.); Dave Freudenthal (Wyo.); and Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Gary Herbert (Utah) , along with Canadian Premiers Ed Stelmach, Alberta; Gary Doer, Manitoba; and Brad Wall, Saskatchewan. 

The morning session on Monday, June 15, 2009, was kicked off with the unveiling of the Western Renewable Energy Zones-Phase 1 Report, which was a product of a joint initiative between the WGA and the U.S. Department of Energy (the "WREZ Initiative").  The intention of the WREZ Initiative is twofold:  (1) to identify Western Renewable Energy Zones in the Western Interconnection and (2) to facilitate the development of high voltage transmission to those areas with abundant high-quality renewable resources and low environmental impacts.  Governor Schweitzer provided an overview of the WREZ Phase I report, which included a summary of the process for obtaining feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders to provide the analysis and tools for constructing a plan to facilitate the construction of new, utility scale renewable energy facilities and any needed transmission to deliver that energy across the Western Interconnection.  The WREZ Initiative has developed a modeling tool for evaluating the relative economic attractiveness of costs of delivered renewable energy, including transmission costs, from specific renewable resource areas delivered to specific load centers. 

With the WREZ Phase I Report as the backdrop, the Western Governors were joined by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff for an insightful and fulsome discussion on the current challenges faced by the Western states in developing renewable energy projects and building the necessary transmission infrastructure, along with policy recommendations to assist in overcoming those challenges through collaboration between the federal and state agencies.

Governor Freudenthal indicated that from his perspective, there were several major challenges to building transmission in the West, but that the largest hurdle was permitting transmission lines or other renewable energy projects on federal lands.  Another issue of concern for Governor Freudenthal was in "right sizing" the transmission lines and how Stimulus monies could be used to jumpstart the process of transmission upgrades.  Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar responded that the Department of Interior will be establishing renewable energy offices throughout the West, including one in Wyoming, that will be staffed by employees familiar with renewable energy project development.  The goal is to be able to fast track renewable energy applications and to obtain quick decision making.  Secretary of Energy Chu indicated that the Department of Energy would be announcing funding opportunities related to transmission, including:

  • $80 Million for Regional and Interconnection Transmission Analysis and Planning
  • $50 Million for Assistance to State Electricity Regulators
  • Approximately $40 Million to Support Energy Assurance Capabilities for States

Secretary Chu also indicated that several of the federal agencies under his watch, including WAPA and BPA, are not moving in a timely manner in facilitating funding opportunities for renewable energy and transmission development.  Secretary Chu expressly requested that the Governors contact him directly if any of these agencies are taking actions that will deter private investment in renewable energy and related transmission projects so that he can address these potential impacts immediately.

Overall, the presence of the three cabinet members from the Obama Administration, along with FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghof and Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley at this conference was a strong indication of the Administration’s desire to partner with the Western Governors to address the country’s long-term energy challenges, create jobs, and to cut the country’s carbon emissions by unlocking the enormous potential for renewable energy in the Western United States.  The Western Governors passed Policy Resolution 09-1 (Energy Policy, Renewable Energy and Transmission for the West) with directives to WGA staff:

  • To work with Congress, the Administration, and other appropriate entities to implement the policies contained in the resolution;
  • To continue to implement the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative and to report on the progress of the initiative at the next scheduled meeting;
  • To work with the federal government as necessary to create and implement a long-term, comprehensive-energy policy that ensures that the WGA moves toward affordable and environmentally responsible energy security and independence;
  • To work with WECC to establish future transmission scenarios;
  • To work with Congress to extend the duration and amount of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) existing federal loan guarantee program and to expedite the issuance of loan guarantees in all energy sectors.