The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced a joint initiative—the Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) project—to expedite the development and delivery of clean and renewable energy to those areas in the West with vast renewable resources.

According to Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., vice chair of the WGA, the project will help WGA states reach their goal of adding 30,000 megawatts of clean and diversified energy by 2015.
“The West has vast, untapped renewable energy resources that we need to bring online to help meet the region’s demand for clean energy,” he said at the kickoff meeting for the joint project held in Salt Lake City in May 2008.

Steering the WREZ process are the governors, public utility commissioners and premiers from 11 states, two Canadian provinces, and areas of Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection. Officials from the U.S. Departments of Energy, Interior and Agriculture, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will serve as ex officio members of the steering committee. A WREZ Technical Committee and several work groups will be formed to examine development potential, costs and environmental impacts, among other issues.

According to the WGA Web site, Western governors have been working together regionally to encourage increased investment in cleaner and more diverse energy sources in the West, but a critical barrier to continued expansion of renewable energy in the region has been the lack of transmission lines to areas with the greatest potential.

For that reason, the organization representing the governors of 19 states and three U.S. islands in the Pacific teamed up with the DOE to launch the WREZ project. The goal of the WREZ is to generate the following:

1. Reliable information for use by decision-makers that supports the cost-effective and environmentally sensitive development of renewable energy in specified zones

2. Conceptual transmission plans for delivering that energy to load centers within the Western Interconnection

A number of factors will be considered, including the potential for development, time frames, common transmission needs and costs. The project will evaluate all feasible renewable resource technologies that are likely to contribute to the WGA’s goal of developing 30,000 megawatts of clean and diversified energy by 2015.