Wind, solar, other sources still go begging in most of the West
By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 04/17/2007 01:16:04 AM MDT
What’s not to like about renewable energy?
Apparently a lot, given that non-hydroelectric renewable energy accounts for just 2 percent of the nation’s energy mix. Wind power, which makes up half that total, accounts for just one-tenth of 1 percent of Utah’s electricity despite abundant potential.
And it’s not just wind resources that go begging. Solar, geothermal, biomass, biofuels and landfill and livestock methane present economic opportunity as well as a way to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a panel of experts said Monday at the Utah Energy Summit in Salt Lake City.
“The United States is well-endowed with renewable resources, basically in every state,” said Doug Arent, of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.
The discussion was part of Gov. Jon Huntsman’s three-day summit that began Sunday with a meeting of the National Governors Association on the subject of Western energy development.
Opening the summit, Huntsman said the governors want to spur economic development through expanded alternative fuels programs, vehicles with better fuel efficiency, continued renewable energy development tax credits, new clean-coal technology that will eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases, enhanced focus on conservation and energy efficiency and a massive funding infusion for new technology.
Above all, they want to counter global
warming, Huntsman said.
But even with escalating technological advances and significant efforts to increase energy efficiency and conservation, the world’s energy demand is expected to double current levels by 2050, when it will reach 20 million megawatts, Arent said.
By that same year, renewable energy is expected to yield one million megawatts of electricity.
Environmental advocates and renewable energy developers – including large corporations such as Chevron and Mid- American Energy Holdings, owner of Rocky Mountain Power – exchanged opinions on this apparent contradiction.
Their conclusion? Federal leadership has fallen short, state legislatures refuse to mandate renewable portfolios and regulatory commissions have yet to fully appreciate the costs of including renewables in the utility mix.
Transmission lines need to be built and utilities are unable to attract investment when financial returns can’t be guaranteed. Obstacles also include inconsistent federal tax incentives, a global wind turbine shortage, huge cost increases for construction, materials and transportation and a persistent attitude that wind isn’t a reliable resource.
Still, major players are investing in wind and other renewable resources. General Electric, Siemans, Goldman Sachs, BP and Shell are now big names in wind investment, said Ron Lehr, the American Wind Energy Association’s Western representative.
“The wind is always blowing someplace,” Lehr said.
What’s needed is more turbines. And remember, Lehr said, all energy is subsidized – witness the recent 20-year extension of the $10 billion nuclear industry insurance program under the Price-Anderson Act – so get over the idea that renewables ought to stand on their own in the market.
But bringing renewables to market is expensive, said Jonathan Weisgall, MidAmerican’s vice president for regulatory and legislative affairs and president of the Geothermal Energy Association.
“No company is going to put up three, four, five billion dollars for transmission without understanding the cost of [investment] recovery,” he said.
All renewable energy sources together account for about 2 percent of the mix in the seven Rocky Mountain interior states, said John Nielson, executive director of Western Resource Advocates, a nonprofit law and advocacy organization based in Boulder, Colo.
But no state has more than 500 megawatts of renewable generation, far below what could be developed, Nielson said.
The organization’s studies have shown that the most effective policy for unleashing renewable potential has been renewable portfolio standards, which state percentage goals for the energy mix.
Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Montana have goals ranging from Arizona’s 1.1 percent renewable mix by this year to California’s 20 percent goal by 2017. Utah, Idaho and Wyoming do not have renewable portfolio standards.
Instead, Huntsman has chosen to focus on efficiency and conservation, and has set a goal of increasing overall savings of 20 percent by 2015.
Utah’s 2007 Legislature also passed laws extending the renewable energy tax credit, establishing a revolving loan fund for energy efficiency and state fleet efficiency requirements. It did not, however, approve a tax credit for fuel-efficient vehicles.