Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the West has vast untapped potential for harnessing wind, the sun and geothermal energy to create electricity. But "it doesn't do any good to generate energy if you can't get it to market," Salazar said during the annual meeting of the Western Governors' Association.
That's long been the concern of Western governors eager to develop renewable energy projects but frustrated by limitations in the transmission system and sluggish bureaucracies.
Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack vowed to make renewable energy a priority and find ways to streamline permitting.
Salazar said four Western states Arizona, California, Nevada and Wyoming will get federal renewable energy planning offices to help make sure projects don't get stalled.
In a report released recently, the association which represents the governors of 19 Western states and American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands identified 54 areas with renewable energy potential across the Western U.S. and Canada.
Delivering the kinds of power loads those areas might generate will require an upgrade in the existing transmission system and the likely need for creating new transmission corridors.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the United States has fallen behind places such as China in the capacity of transmission lines.
"This is a little bit embarrassing quite frankly," said Chu, who announced $80 million in federal stimulus money to develop the next generation of high-voltage transmission networks.