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COP15: Senior US official maps vision for new energy future at UN climate change summit

The international agreements being negotiated in Copenhagen “will propel all of us forward in the clean energy economy,” the US Secretary of the Interior has assured delegates to the UN conference on climate change, COP15, in Copenhagen.

“Carbon pollution is putting our world and our way of life in peril,” Ken Salazar warned in his keynote address. “The places we love; the resources on which we rely; the peoples of the world who are most vulnerable, are all at risk if we do not act.”

The US government is debating clean and renewable energy legislation that will “trigger a massive new investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” he says. “We will pass this bill; we will build a clean energy future.

“The truth is - until now - America’s vast deserts, plains, forests and oceans have been largely unexplored for their vast clean energy potential,” he adds. “But the possibilities are immense.”

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) estimates the wind potential in the Atlantic Ocean to be 1 TW, and wind turbines are already capturing winds in the midwest interior. There is “huge solar potential” in the southwest, including near Los Angeles and Las Vegas, while geothermal opportunities exist across the country and opportunities to increase hydropower production include adding generation units to existing facilities and through pumped storage.

“These renewable energy resources hold great economic promise; by one estimate, if the US fully pursues its potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20% of our electricity by 2030 and create a quarter-million jobs in the process,” he explains. “It's a win-win: good for the environment, great for the economy.”

During the past year, Salazar says his department has been finding ways to develop the renewable energy potential on public lands in an environmentally responsible manner. It has created the first US framework for offshore wind energy development and has decreased red tape among federal agencies that was creating unnecessary confusion for potential offshore renewable projects.

It has awarded the first exploratory leases for wind energy production on the Outer Continental Shelf off New Jersey and Delaware, and it is opening Renewable Energy Coordination Offices in western states to review solar, wind, geothermal and related transmission projects on public lands. It has set aside 1000 square miles of public lands for 24 ‘Solar Energy Study Areas’ which are being evaluated for solar energy development, and it has invested US$41 million through the economic recovery plan to facilitate “a rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of renewables on public lands.”

Of the solar and wind projects currently proposed, 5.3 GW of new capacity could be ready for construction by the end of 2010, he estimates, which would create 48,000 jobs from construction.

To facilitate development of green and renewable power, the US government is upgrading the transmission grid and fast-tracking 1000 miles of new transmission projects by the end of next year. “Collectively, the actions we have taken in the last 11 months are opening a new frontier for renewable energy production in America,” he adds.

“Across America, the seeds of the clean energy economy have been sown in the soils of our lands, the minds of our engineers and the imagination of our citizens,” says Salazar. “They are the seeds of an American renewal that, by the end of next year, will spring to life: new solar plants under construction in the desert; new wind turbines spinning over the prairies; new tools and technologies being deployed across the world.”

During his trip to Copenhagen, Salazar toured the Middelgrunden wind farm and announced that his department’s Minerals Management Service will establish a new regional office next year to support renewable energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf off the Atlantic seaboard. It will evaluate permits for renewable energy activities and implement the offshore renewable energy programme, including leasing, environmental programmes, the formation of task forces, consultation with states, and post-lease permitting in federal waters off the east coast.

“Given the enormous potential for renewable energy development, especially wind energy, in the mid- and north Atlantic, MMS needs a dedicated Atlantic Region office as we plan for offshore renewable energy commercial leasing,” he said.

The governors of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a formal partnership to generate renewable energy. Immediate tasks under the agreement include identifying transmission strategies for offshore wind energy deployment, ways to encourage sustainable market demand for renewable energy and to pursue federal energy policies which advance offshore wind in the mid-Atlantic area.

The Department of the Interior manages 20% of the US landmass and has 70,000 employees.

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