The Vast Potential For Renewable Energy In The American West

Under these assumptions, and using the development scenarios in Figure 2, we find that more than 209,000 direct jobs could be created by building these 34.4 gigawatts. These results can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Additionally, building these projects will create direct investment in the six states. Many large financial institutions plan to invest in clean energy. Wells Fargo & Co., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Bank of America Corp. have pledged to invest a combined $120 billion in the clean energy technologies sector over the coming years. Responsibly developing clean energy projects on America’s eligible public lands can help attract these investments, particularly in more rural areas that would benefit from the jobs and economic opportunity that the new projects can bring.

To calculate the investment in renewable energy development that public lands might help stimulate, we looked at average investment in the renewable energy sector per megawatt by determining the costs to install the projects. According to data from the Energy Information Administration, the average installed costs for utility-scale solar are $4,667 per watt ($4.667 million per megawatt), $2,403 per kilowatt ($2.403 million per megawatt) for wind, and $2,482 per kilowatt ($2.482 million per megawatt) for geothermal. In total, we estimate that $137 billion of investment in the renewable energy sector could be stimulated by reasonably foreseeable development on public lands in the West. (see Figure 4)

Figure 4

Making clean electricity from western public lands a reality

Several important policies are necessary to ensure that we meet the realistic projection to build 34 gigawatts of renewable energy on appropriate public lands over the next two decades, and to eventually exceed that goal. Policies are also needed that account for the impacts of any industrial development on air and water quality, and landscapes. Specifically:

  • A national clean energy standard
  • A public lands clean resources standard
  • New energy zones
  • Electric transmission policy reforms

Let’s examine each of these proposals briefly in turn.

National clean energy standard

President Barack Obama proposed a clean energy standard of 80 percent by 2035 that includes low-pollution electricity generation such as wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas, coal with carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power. This standard would require utilities to ensure that 80 percent of the electricity that they deliver is low carbon by 2050.

We support this proposal because of the jobs and market certainty that it would provide, but also urge that the standard include a requirement that at least 35 percent of electricity be generated by wind, solar, geothermal, other renewables, and efficiency by 2035 to ensure continued investment in these technologies. This would help energy development on public lands by stimulating a strong market for renewable energy across the country.

The Center for American Progress is an independent nonpartisan educational institute dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action. Building on the achievements of progressive pioneers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, our work addresses 21st-century challenges such as energy, national security, economic growth and opportunity, immigration, education, and health care. We develop new policy ideas, critique the policy that stems from conservative values, challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter, and shape the national debate.

1 Comment

  • Reply August 9, 2012

    paul radcliff

    Our future may be looking up. If enough of these types of projects are successful, private lands and private enterprise could utilize, from the developed technology, even cheaper to manufacture in vast quantities. More jobs, still. “How is this a bad plan?”

    Quote from ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ movie with James Cavesiel

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