Climate Change Stories

Clean Energy Solutions that Protect People and Nature in the West

Power of Place-West: High Electrification the Best Path for Meeting Climate and Land Conservation Goals

Photo of a man holding a hardhat standing to the right of a large array of newly installed solar panels.
Looking Forward to Renewables A technician takes a break from installing solar panels. © Stefano Lunardi via iStockPhoto

Power of Place-West is The Nature Conservancy’s new report that evaluated energy, economic, environmental, and geospatial datapoints to produce the most comprehensive clean energy analysis to date for the 11 Western grid states. 

Working with industry-leading energy researchers, we combined best-in-class energy modeling tools with the latest ecosystem and wildlife habitat data to advise the deployment of clean energy infrastructure across the West. 

Economy-Wide Energy Modeling

To identify the best path to achieve net-zero emissions, Power of Place-West performed an economy-wide evaluation of the transportation, building, manufacturing, and power generation sectors in the 11 Western grid states. Those evaluations resulted in nearly two dozen modeling scenarios that met 2050 net-zero goals by varying the mix of clean fuels energy technologies, conservation criteria, and energy transmission within each scenario.

Infographic showing current energy practices, high electrification, and renewables only scenarios.
Power of Place West Pursuing the mix of technologies identified by the High Electrification scenario will meet net-zero by 2050 with the least impact to natural areas and working lands.

High Electrification— the “Goldilocks” Solution

The economy-wide modeling scenario that emerged with the best balance of natural area and working lands conservation with energy deployment, net-zero emissions reductions by 2050, and minimal cost increases is called the High Electrification Scenario. This scenario combines solar, onshore and offshore wind, geothermal, biomass, hydrogen, some existing hydroelectric and nuclear, gas with carbon capture, direct air capture, and battery storage technologies.  The High Electrification Scenario would save nearly 50% more natural areas and working lands than pursuing current energy development practices, but cost only 3% more per year. It is also 7% cheaper per year than solely pursuing renewable energy technologies to meet 2050 goals. 

Photo of a solar photovoltaic array in the arid lands of California.
Energy Solutions in the West Power of Place-West combines energy modeling tools with ecosystem data to permit the rapid deployment of clean energy infrastructure across the West. © Stuart Palley

Policy Recommendations to Reach High Electrification

While the path to High Electrification is achievable by 2050, it will require smart adjustments in our transportation, heating, manufacturing, and energy generation and transmission development practices.  To reach this goal our state, regional, and national leaders should implement policies that:

  1. Improve energy and decarbonization planning to maximize community, conservation, and economic benefits.
  2. Develop spatially explicit energy siting plans and streamline review of projects in locations that have the least conflict with environmental and community interests (“Priority Energy Zones”).
  3. Develop state and federal mitigation programs that requires energy infrastructure to avoid, minimize, or offset impacts to wildlife, ecosystems, cultural resources, and iconic natural areas.
  4. Ensure energy siting on working lands benefits rural communities.
  5. Create a West-wide market that includes planning and coordination to develop the most cost-effective and reliable electrical grid.
  6. Create incentives that encourage energy technologies that put us on the path to net-zero.

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Voices from the West

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Voices from the West

In addition to providing a vision for meeting net-zero emissions and conservation goals for the West, The Nature Conservancy carried out interviews with Tribal and Indigenous communities throughout the West for their guidance and recommendations on the challenges and opportunities presented by clean energy development.  Tribal lands account for 7% of the lands within the 11 Western grid states and Indigenous Peoples have extensive knowledge and experience effectively managing and stewarding lands across the West.

This project aims to uplift the vision and wisdom of leaders in Indigenous organizations serving Tribes on energy-related issues, and Tribal utility managers who have first-hand knowledge of energy infrastructure. Participants shared their knowledge and experiences with historic energy and infrastructure decisions, including recent clean energy infrastructure siting decisions. Their experiences underscore the need for early inclusion of Tribal voices in energy and infrastructure planning, permitting, and development.

While by no means do perspectives from these limited interviews capture the full spectrum of Tribal interest in energy development and climate change, the Voices of the West document is an introduction to some of these perspectives. It also summarizes a range of resources to support dialogue on the intersection of energy, Tribal sovereignty, and climate policy that will help guide The Nature Conservancy’s clean energy work in the West. 

Power of Place-National

The Nature Conservancy will build on the Power of Place-West analysis with a full national study, called Power of Place-National.  Look for the release of this comprehensive nation-wide analysis in early 2023.

Voices from the West

Companion Report for Power of Place West

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