A report released on Monday by the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as part of the Western Renewable Energy Zones (WREZ) initiative identifies 36 areas in the Western Interconnection that have the potential both for large-scale development of renewable resources and low environmental impacts.

The “Western Renewable Energy Zones—Phase 1 Report” marks the end of the first of four phases. According to the WGA, as well as identifying important renewable energy hubs (see p. 12 of the report for map), the WREZ initiative allowed for development of an applied methodology to identify and characterize specific resource-rich areas that could become Western Renewable Energy Zones. This included screening out areas where development is prohibited or severely constrained by geography or by regulation or statutes.

But the report also marks the completion of important work to assist evaluating various transmission strategies. “The intention of the WREZ initiative is not simply to identify renewable energy zones in the Western Interconnection, but to facilitate the development of high voltage transmission to those areas with the potential for abundant renewable resources and low or easily mitigated environmental impacts,” the report says.

“To this end, the WREZ initiative has created a modeling tool to evaluate the relative economic costs of renewable resources on a delivered basis, including transmission costs, from specific renewable resource areas to specific population (load) centers. The model also will calculate how much theoretical energy could be supplied from the Western Renewable Energy Zones, once identified, to the load centers across the region.”

The WGA and DOE launched the WREZ initiative in May 2008, seeking to identify areas in the West with vast renewable resources to expedite development and delivery of renewable energy to where it is needed. As part of the initiative, renewable energy resources are being analyzed within 11 states, two Canadian provinces, and areas in Mexico that are part of the Western Interconnection.

The WREZ project is guided by a steering committee comprising governors of the 11 Western states within the Western Interconnection, public utility commissioners from each of those states, and the premiers of British Columbia and Alberta. Also included as nonvoting members are federal officials from the Departments of Energy, Interior, and Agriculture, as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

When complete, the WREZ project is expected to provide decision-makers from those states/provinces with reliable information, as well as conceptual transmission plans for delivering that energy to load centers within the Western Interconnection.

The project will also evaluate all feasible renewable resource technologies that are likely to contribute to WGA’s goal of developing 30,000 MW of renewable energy by 2015.

The forthcoming July issue of POWER magazine provides an in-depth look at the WREZ initiative.

Source: WGA, DOE