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Study pinpoints West's windy, sunny resource areas

Feb 7, 2009 - The Associated Press

The Western Governors' Association is working to identify the windiest and sunniest areas of the West - in other words, those areas best suited for major renewable energy projects.

Working with the Department of Energy, the Governors' Association this week released a draft study naming areas that contain the most potential for development of renewable energy sources, also including geothermal and hydropower.

The study says renewable energy projects could generate more than 235,000 megawatts of energy in the 12 western states, Mexico's Baja California and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.

Association officials say the "Western Renewable Energy Zone" project is intended to bring more renewable energy online by facilitating the construction of transmission lines between resource areas and population centers. The project is soliciting public comment on its early findings.

"The number one issue that renewable energy folks identified for us as being an impediment to greater development of renewable energy was transmission," said Rich Halvey, the Governors' Association energy program director. "We're looking at big resource areas and large-sized transmission lines that are going to move the power over significant distances."

The ongoing study finds Wyoming to have the most wind power potential - nearly 25,000 megawatts - and Arizona to have the most solar power potential - more than 22,000 megawatts. For reference, an average coal-fired power plant produces about 500 megawatts, Halvey said.

The study takes into account obstacles to energy development, such as land-use restrictions and wildlife conflicts. It assumes restrictions on regulated state or federal lands, such as U.S. Forest Service roadless areas, and other protected wildlife habitat, such as the Jackson pronghorn antelope migration corridor in western Wyoming.

Halvey said the study's resource-potential estimates are intentionally conservative.

"Most of those areas are far larger than that in terms of potential," he said. "If it was a wind resource, we assumed that only 25 percent of the resource in that area would get developed, and if it was solar, we assumed it was only 3 percent of the resource in that area would get developed."

Groups working on the study will continue to refine the renewable energy zones and will present them at the Western Governors' Association annual meeting this summer in Utah.

Also, an association committee dedicated to generation and transmission modeling is developing tools to help utilities estimate the costs of building new power lines to renewable energy zones.

"That model is going to actually enable us to calculate the delivered cost of electricity from anywhere to anywhere," Halvey said. "So if somebody in southern California says, 'I wonder how much it would be to bring wind in from Wyoming?' they'd have a tool to be able to calculate that."


On the Net, Western Governors' Association, http://www.westgov.org/