Our Work in Energy
For two decades, Western Resource Advocates has advanced renewable energy and energy efficiency policies in the West by working with the electric utility industry, state legislatures, the clean energy industry, other organizations, and state utility regulatory commissions. This work has led to:
- Billions of dollars in clean energy investments with a concomitant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from the region's power plants of 11 million metric tons in 2010;
- Commitments from utilities to retire 1,700 MW of old coal fired power plants in the region between 2010 and 2017;
- Renewable energy policies resulting in 16 million MWh of electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal resources in 2011; and
- Energy efficiency programs that saved 5 million MWh of electricity consumption in 2010.
Our energy program advocates for increased use of the West's natural bounty of renewable energy resources and for greater energy efficiency to reduce the environmental impacts of electricity production. Climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions from the production and burning of fossil fuels, will take a particularly hard toll on the mountain and desert West. The consequences of climate change are already visible: increased risk and duration of drought and wildfires, reduced snowpack, and extinction of vulnerable wildlife species.
Our energy work focuses on three main areas:
- State and Regional Clean Energy Advocacy
- Region-wide Transmission Planning (such as the placement of new renewable energy projects and associated power lines)
- Research and Analysis
State and Regional Advocacy for Renewables and Energy Efficiency
Western Resource Advocates works to develop and implement policies and market mechanisms in the West to increase the use of renewable energy and encourage energy efficiency, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. We advocate before state public utility regulatory commissions; state legislatures; and the Western Governors' Association. Our efforts also include direct outreach to utilities, community organizations, and other industry stakeholders.
Over the last 15 years, the Energy Program has made considerable progress in promoting clean energy. In 1995, there was no wind generation in the Interior West, and solar energy sources were rare. Today there are thousands of megawatts of wind generation online in the Interior West, as well as significant amounts of solar and geothermal power generation. In 1995 utilities in the region spent less than $2 million per year on energy efficiency; today that figure is well over $200 million per year.
While these gains are significant, much more dramatic investments in clean energy technologies will be needed if we are to address the problem of climate change. Western Resource Advocates is working on increasing such investments by helping to identify and extend best practices in technological innovation; analyzing additional costs of continued operation of existing coal-fired power plants; and promoting more effective delivery strategies for energy efficiency and distributed generation.
It is our goal to increase the use of renewable energy, energy efficiency and other low-carbon energy technologies so that by 2020, regional GHG emissions are 20% below 2005 levels and on a path to achieve 80% reduction by 2050.
Promoting Regional Transmission Planning
Western Resource Advocates supports the development of zero-carbon renewable resources in a manner in that minimizes impacts on air, land and water in the West. We also advocate protecting public lands, wildlife, and other natural resource values by identifying the most appropriate locations for siting renewable energy projects and transmission corridors.
We recognize that transmission planning is part of a larger resource planning process that looks equally at energy from both demand and supply-side perspectives. Increased utilization of demand-side technologies—including efficiency, demand management, combined heat and power, smart grids, and distributed generation—can reduce the need for transmission and utility scale generation and eliminate a potential rush to meet future energy demands through a massive, fast-tracked transmission build-out.
Part of advocating for regional transmission planning involves trying to change the way transmission is perceived. Many planners and policy leaders see transmission expansion as the primary answer to meeting growing energy needs, but WRA views transmission as the end result of a thorough planning process; it is our goal that only transmission that is truly needed will actually be built. New transmission for renewable energy should be the result, and not the starting point, of careful analysis of our energy options; sometimes the best transmission line is the one that is never built.
Research and Analysis
Our advocacy work is based on research and analysis that investigates economic, environmental, social, health, and safety aspects of energy decisions. Some of our past research publications include Solar Solutions: Incorporating Photovoltaics into Public Infrastructure; Renewable Energy Atlas of the West: A Guide to the Region's Resource Potential; and The Balanced Energy Plan for the Interior West. In addition we have studied the economic and community benefits of innovative ways of incorporating solar energy into public infrastructure and have reviewed the role of community-based organizations in delivering energy efficiency measures.
At WRA we have also analyzed the economic foundations of several clean energy programs that are now in common use. These include tradable renewable energy credits and using wind energy as a hedge against high natural gas prices. In addition, we have demonstrated the impact of aggressive energy efficiency programs on the growth of electricity sales across the US and analyzed the impacts of various technological and site factors on the price of wind energy.
Currently we are assessing energy storage options in the West, as well as building a database to track clean energy trends.