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Western Governors Back Greater Role for Clean Energy in Region

Policy, co-sponsored by Arnold Schwarzenegger, promotes alternatives to the use of oil and gas.

June 23, 2004|Julie Cart | Times Staff Writer

While the Bush administration has ramped up traditional energy exploration in the West, the region's governors on Tuesday adopted an ambitious initiative calling for expanded use of clean energy sources and greater energy efficiency across 17 states.

The Western Governors Assn. unanimously adopted a Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, a project co-sponsored by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The bipartisan policy seeks to establish the region as an energy exporter and stabilize energy costs to states and consumers.

By exploiting newer, cleaner energy sources, the group says, the West has the capacity to become the "Saudi Arabia of wind and solar energy."

"California has historically been very aggressive in promoting renewable energy and the highest efficiency standards," Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement. "We have proven that cost-effective efficiency programs can help reduce overall energy use, protect our environment and save consumers in the long run."

Schwarzenegger did not attend the group's annual meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., but joined with Richardson two months ago in presenting the plan at another Western Governors meeting. The bipartisan initiative -- Richardson is a Democrat -- was a factor that helped sell the plan to the other governors.

The resolution sets a goal of developing 30,000 megawatts of clean energy by 2015 and for states to increase energy efficiency 20% by 2020. Generally, one megawatt of power provides electricity for 1,000 homes. Clean energy includes solar, wind, biomass and clean coal.

The officials established a working group that will take two years to examine how each state may implement changes to reach the goals. Tax incentives and federal and state subsidies are expected to be recommended in the working group's final report.

Some governors called the targets "aggressive" and were quick to say that clean energy sources would not replace but augment traditional fossil fuels such as oil and gas.

But the initiative's goals are in line with Schwarzenegger's aims for California and what Richardson, the former Energy secretary, has set out for New Mexico.

"This region has a unique opportunity to develop clean energy to fuel our growing economy," Richardson said. "The West also has the highest quality solar, wind and geothermal resources in the nation."

The region can set an example for the rest of the country, Richardson said, as well as eventually reduce the cost of energy.

Conservationists hailed the agreement as a symbolic step to establish the region as a leader in renewable energy.

"This really sets up the West to move toward a more affordable, reliable, energy-efficient future," said Sheryl Carter, an energy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco.

"This is a real crossroads and shows bipartisan leadership. We have enough natural resources in the West to supply the rest of the country."

The governors were presented with studies that outlined the economic benefit of newer and more efficient energy sources. According to Craig Cox of the Colorado-based Western Business Coalition for New Energy Technology, renewable energy can save states and consumers money.

"The economics are second to none," said Cox, who briefed the governors Tuesday. "Renewable energy technology is competitive with most conventional forms of energy. Wind farms are cheaper than natural gas, for example. You can predict the price so you don't need to worry about price spikes, you don't need to worry about future regulatory changes. I think these goals are very achievable."

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