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Obama Officials Announce Steps to Promote the Clean Energy Potential of the West

June 15, 2009 - 4:03pm

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Secretaries Chu, Salazar and Vilsack and Chairs Sutley and Wellinghoff announce energy and transmission policies at the Western Governors’ Association Annual Meeting

PARK CITY, UTAH – Senior Obama Administration officials today announced a number of steps that will help the West to tap its clean energy potential and create green jobs. The efforts announced during the annual meeting of the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) reflect a comprehensive, broad-based strategy across the Administration to support western states in their efforts to grow their local economies and meet their energy needs.

The West has been at the forefront of the country’s development and implementation of clean energy technologies, leading the way in passing effective Renewable Portfolio Standards and harnessing the region’s significant renewable energy resources.  The initiatives announced today – a collaboration of federal and state efforts - will help these states continue to lead on energy and climate issues, while driving our economic recovery and protecting the environment.

Today’s announcements include initiatives to advance the development of a smarter electric grid and more reliable transmission system, protect critical wildlife corridors and habitats, promote the development of renewable energy sources, and lay the groundwork to integrate these energy sources onto the national electricity grid.

“These steps send an unmistakable message: the Obama Administration will be a strong partner with the West on clean energy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.  "We will create jobs, promote our energy independence, and cut our carbon emissions by unlocking the enormous potential for renewable energy in the Western United States.”

“Our collective presence here demonstrates the Obama Administration’s commitment to working with the Western governors as we begin to meet the challenge of connecting the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live,” said Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior.

"President Obama has been very clear about his intent to address our country's long-term energy challenges, and this multi-department approach will help increase production of energy from renewable sources and generate new, green jobs in the process," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.  "When we produce more energy from clean sources, we help protect our farmland and our forests for future generations."

“With their focus on clean energy, electricity transmission, and Western water supply, the Governors have shown a commitment to addressing the critical issue of climate change and the challenges it presents to state and local governments,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “The areas covered during this meeting, from water supplies and renewable energy, to fostering international cooperation on energy and the environment, are issues we are also focused on at the White House under the leadership of President Obama. We look forward to working together to meet these challenges.”

"FERC looks forward to coordinating with DOE and working with the states and local planning entities and other interested parties in the course of facilitating the resource assessments and transmission plans," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said.

Obama Administration officials participating in the meeting included: Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Jon Wellinghoff.

Actions announced today include:

$80 Million for Regional and Interconnection Transmission Analysis and Planning
The Department of Energy announced $80 million in new funding under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to support long-term, coordinated interconnection transmission planning across the country.  Under the program, state and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders will collaborate on the development and implementation of the next generation of high-voltage transmission networks.
The continental United States is currently served by three separate networks or “interconnections” – the Western, Eastern and Texas interconnections.  Within each network, output and consumption by the generation and transmission facilities must be carefully coordinated.  As additional energy sources are joined to the country’s electrical grid, increased planning and analysis will be essential to maintain electricity reliability.

Secretary Chu announced the release of a $60 million solicitation seeking proposals to develop long-term interconnection plans in each of the regions, which will include dialogue and collaboration among states within an interconnection on how best to meet the area’s long-term electricity supply needs.  The remaining $20 million in funding will pay for supporting additional transmission and demand analysis to be performed by DOE’s national laboratories and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).   

Access the full Funding Opportunity Announcement

$50 Million for Assistance to State Electricity Regulators
Secretary Chu announced $50 million in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support state public utility commissions and their key role in regulating and overseeing new electricity projects, which can include smart grid developments, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, carbon capture and storage projects, etc.  The funds will be used by states and public utility commissions to hire new staff and retrain existing employees to accelerate reviews of the large number of electric utility requests expected under the Recovery Act.  Public utility commissions in each state and the District of Columbia are eligible for grants.

Access the full Funding Opportunity Announcement

Nearly $40 Million to Support Energy Assurance Capabilities for States
The Department of Energy also announced that $39.5 million in Recovery Act funding will be available for state governments to improve emergency preparedness plans and ensure the resiliency of the country’s electrical grid.  Funds will be used by the cities and states to hire or retrain staff to prepare them for issues such as integrating smart grid technology into the transmission network, critical infrastructure interdependencies, and cyber-security.  Throughout this process, the emphasis will be on building regional capacity to ensure energy reliability, where states can help and learn from one another.  Funds will be available to all states to increase management, monitoring and assessment capacity of their electrical systems.

Access the full Funding Opportunity Announcement for State Assistance

$57 Million for Wood-to-Energy Grants and Biomass Utilization Projects
The Department of Agriculture announced $57 million in funding for 30 biomass projects.  The projects - $49 million for wood-to-energy grants and $8 million for biomass utilization - are located in 14 states, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

In keeping with the Obama Administration's interest in innovative sources for energy, these Recovery Act funds may help to create markets for small diameter wood and low value trees removed during forest restoration activities. This work will result in increased value of biomass generated during forest restoration projects, the removal of economic barriers to using small diameter trees and woody biomass, and generation of renewable energy from woody biomass. These funds may also help communities and entrepreneurs turn residues from forest restoration activities into marketable energy products. Projects were nominated by Forest Service regional offices and selected nationally through objective criteria on a competitive basis.

Biomass utilization also provides additional opportunities for removal of hazardous fuels on federal forests and grasslands and on lands owned by state, local governments, private organizations, and individual landowners.

More information on the selected projects is available at: http://www.fs.fed.us/

Memorandum of Understanding to Improve State Wildlife Data Systems, Protect Wildlife Corridors and Key Habitats across the West
During today’s Annual Meeting in Park City, Utah, Secretaries Salazar, Vilsack and Chu agreed to partner with the Western Governors’ Association to enhance state wildlife data systems that will help minimize the impact to wildlife corridors and key habitats.  Improved mapping and data on wildlife migration corridors and habitats will significantly improve the decision-making process across state and federal government as new renewable and fossil energy resources and transmission systems are planned.  Because the development of this data often involves crossing state lines and includes information from both private and public lands, increased cooperation and coordination, like this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), are important to developing a comprehensive view on the impact of specific energy development options.
Additional information is available at: http://www.westgov.org/wga/meetings/am2009/index.htm

Western Renewable Energy Zones Report Identifies Target Areas for Renewable Energy Development
The Department of Energy and the Western Governors’ Association released a joint report by the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative that takes first steps toward identifying areas in the Western transmission network that have the potential for large-scale development of renewable resources with low environmental impacts.  Participants in the project included renewable energy developers, tribal interests, utility planners, environmental groups, and government policymakers.  Together, they developed new modeling tools and data to facilitate interstate collaboration in permitting new multistate transmission lines.

In May 2008, the Western Governors' Association and DOE launched the Western Renewable Energy Zones initiative to identify those areas in the West with vast renewable resources to expedite the development and delivery of renewable energy to where it is needed. Under the Initiative, renewable energy resources are being analyzed within 11 states, two Canadian provinces, and areas in Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection.

Additional information is available at: http://www.westgov.org/wga/meetings/am2009/index.htm

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Media contact(s):
Office of Electricity Delivery & Energy Reliability
(202) 586-4940

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