SALT LAKE CITY — Putting the country on the path of securing domestic energy security and establishing the West as an international hub for new energy technologies are among the six main objectives of a regional 10-year energy "vision" unveiled Friday by the Western Governors Association.
The document details regional goals that despite differences of member states create a common foundation that will guide them in the decade to come, said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, this year's chairman of the association.
Herbert added he believes the plan, the result of bipartisan cooperation, represents a "first step" toward a blueprint for entire country in the creation of an energy policy that promotes economic growth while protecting the environment.
The document stresses cooperation among states in interstate projects such as transmission lines, increased oil production and modernization of pipeline infrastructure. At the same time, it calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emission, protecting Western wildlife, and supporting technologies that reduce water demand.
The plan puts emphasis on the promotion of increased energy efficiency, including the embrace of building standards that go beyond the minimum and revamping current housing and commercial stock to save energy.
That emphasis brought praise from Utah Clean Energy, which has mounted multiple campaigns over the years to get Utah lawmakers to adopt the most stringent international energy efficiency codes for new home construction. While some progress has been made to retool existing standards, a major overhaul has yet to be accomplished.
"By prioritizing energy efficiency as the cornerstone of any energy strategy, the Western Governors Association’s 10-Year Energy Vision includes a common-sense approach to meeting our growing energy demand, creating jobs and saving Utahns money, all while reducing our carbon footprint," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.
"We have immense potential to stop energy waste through energy efficiency and develop the West's untapped, inexhaustible renewable energy resources," Wright said.
Earthjustice and the Sierra Club criticized a component of the plan that recommends shaving the review and permitting process for energy and transmission projects to three years.
"Generally speaking, that is a bad idea," said Heidi McIntosh, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Denver. "Today more than ever, projects carry with them some time-significant environmental costs to wildlife, water and other resources such as cultural resources. It takes time to look at those impacts carefully, and it requires expertise and oversight."
Tim Wagner said anytime public review and comment is diminished for projects, it is a concern.
"It definitely raises a red flag for us," he said. "There are processes put in place to protect publicly owned resources. Trying to shortcut those results in the public being cut out of the process."
The six goals of the 10-year energy vision detailed in the document are:
Put the United States on a path to energy security by increasing North American oil production. This goal also calls for recognition of the continued importance of Western renewable resources such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. It does not leave out coal, nuclear, natural gas or hydropower.
Ensure energy is clean, affordable and reliable by providing a balanced portfolio that includes renewable, traditional and nontraditional resources. The plan calls for the Department of Energy to restore financing for geothermal exploration, increasing the efficiency of hydropower systems, and encouraging the federal government to identify and approve permanent solutions to the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.
Increase energy productivity associated with electricity and natural gas. This goal calls for the support and enhancement of utility energy efficiency programs and the encouragement of the current inventory of homes and commercial buildings in the West to retrofit with state-of-the-art energy efficiency technology.
Establish an energy distribution infrastructure for transmission lines and pipelines that includes a siting and permitting process that promotes more development, yet protects the environment. This goal emphasizes cooperation among the states in multi-state projects, while maintaining local autonomy.
Protect Western wildlife, natural resources and the environment. This goal calls for the continued development of air and water quality improvements in each state and across state lines and achieving balance between responsible development of energy projects and wildlife conservation.
Make the West an international leader in energy education and development of new energy technologies. This goal would be accomplished by tapping into the expertise of industry, national laboratories and academic institutions. The objective also includes the establishment of private-public research and development of partnerships and increased support of training in energy-related fields.