Governors act to improve transmission permitting, lower cost of wind, solar generation

December 8, 2011

Palm Springs, Calif. -- Western Governors meeting here today announced plans to improve the efficiency of electrical transmission permitting and to promote more efficient utilization of the existing transmission grid. It was also announced that state wildlife agencies are receiving a second round of grant resources through WGA to complete landscape-scale wildlife maps across the West that will assist in the planning of transmission and other large scale projects.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (Mont.) kicked off the transmission permitting roundtable by noting that Western states, federal agencies and industry are accelerating their efforts to site and permit the new energy generation and transmission needed to power the West's future.

"There is a dramatic mismatch between the timeframe for planning generation resource additions and electric transmission development," Schweitzer said. "This mismatch poses unwarranted risks to vital resource development and the development of transmission needed to move those resources to consumers. Our goal is to narrow the gap."

Governors heard from John Wellinghoff, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission); Lauren Azar, Senior Advisor to Energy Secretary Steven Chu; and Steve Black, Counselor to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on the problems and opportunities federal agencies are individually or collectively attempting to address and resolve through new regulatory and policy initiatives. They also heard from Pat Reiten, President and CEO of Pacific Power, and Bob Rowe, CEO of North Western Energy on the problems the electricity industry is experiencing in permitting and constructing new transmission lines.

Gov. Gary Herbert (Utah), WGA Vice Chairman, added that WGA is committed to eliminating the inefficiencies in permitting new transmission and improving the use of the existing grid.

"We are committed to working with the newly established federal agency Rapid Response Teams to improve state-federal coordination in transmission permitting," Herbert said.

To emphasize the Governors' commitment, Herbert announced that WGA has hired a permitting consultant to identify why projects are not being built and to draft recommendations for improvements. With the support of the Energy Foundation, WGA also announced development of a white paper on the barriers to lowering the cost of integrating wind and solar generation and actions that could overcome such barriers.

The Governors will consider recommendations for improving transmission permitting and actions for lowering the cost of integrating wind and solar generation at the WGA Annual Meeting in Cle Elum, Washington in June 2012.

"The time has come to fix a system that has been broken far too long," Herbert said.

The governor also announced that WGA is making a second round of grants to state wildlife agencies totaling $1.4 million to complete landscape scale wildlife maps and to develop a West-wide map of important wildlife habitat and corridors to assist in the planning of large-scale energy and other projects. Four individual Crucial Habitat Assessment Tools, or CHATs, are already online. Additional state CHATs will be online in 2012 and the regional CHAT will be available in 2013.

Herbert said the WGA and its Wildlife Council are "committed to leading on the issue to ensure the West's abundant clean energy resources can be used in a rapid, efficient, and environmentally sensitive way."