PARK CITY, Utah -- Cabinet members of the Obama administration vowed Monday to help Western states develop a robust system for delivering renewable power.
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 Monday 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 other members of the administration vowed to make renewable energy a priority and find ways to streamline permitting.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said agencies have been meeting for months to find ways to simplify and speed up the permitting process.
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 Monday, the Western Governors' 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 on Monday announced $80 million in federal stimulus money to develop the next generation of high-voltage transmission networks.
As researchers and planners take more aggressive steps in upgrading transmission, energy officials need to look at a wide range of energy sources, Chu said. That includes continuing with coal and natural gas while pushing for more hydro, solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear power.
"We have an opportunity to get this going again and become leaders in this technology," Chu said.
Also Monday, the Cabinet members and Western governors sounded several notes in favor of protecting the environment. They signed a memorandum of understanding to protect important wildlife habitats in the West during energy development.
In a separate resolution, the governors called on the government to invest tens of billions of dollars for research and application of "clean energy" technology.
"There are serious challenges ahead," Vilsack said, later adding: "The new 21st Century energy economy that President Obama envisions is one that embraces innovation and creativity."