Governors of western states have rallied behind a bipartisan proposal from California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico’s Bill Richardson to significantly increase their regional production of renewable energy over the next two decades. The governors have agreed to institute new sources of government funding—along with tax breaks and other incentives and regulatory measures—in order to encourage utilities to develop more renewable power sources and rely less on fossil fuels moving forward.
While western states may have disproportionate stores of fossil fuels as compared with the rest of the country, they also have abundant sources of renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy. “The American West is the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy,” says Richardson, who was Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton.
Arizona has already moved forward with a big push for solar power, hosting America’s largest solar-powered electric generating station, located outside the town of Springerville. Additionally, the state has added a per capita surcharge of about 35 cents per month to help defray the costs of increasing renewable power production.
While more than 90 percent of western states’ electricity today comes from burning fossil fuels, the governors would like to generate up to 10 percent of their power from renewable sources within one to two decades. While Arizona may have a head start thanks to its Springerville facility, California’s plan is the most aggressive, with Governor Schwarzenegger pushing to derive 20 percent of his state’s electricity from renewables by 2017.