July 14, 2009 in Idaho

NW energy resources form the ‘Middle East of North America’

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Betsy Russell photo

Vice Admiral John Grossenbacher, director of the Idaho National Laboratory
(Full-size photo)

Quotable: “I sometimes look at this area and it looks like the Middle East of North America, given all the resources that are here.” - Vice Admiral John Grossenbacher

BOISE - The Pacific Northwest, on both sides of the Canadian border, is the “Middle East of North America” when it comes to energy resources, experts say, and it will eventually supply both nations with an array of fuels, from wind, geothermal and biofuels to oil, coal and uranium.

“The resources are there, and in my opinion, they will get used in the future,” said John Grossenbacher, director of the Idaho National Laboratory. “So let’s do it in a way that 50 and 100 years away, we’re happy with the outcomes.”

Ken Cheveldayoff, minister of enterprise and trade for the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, said, “We all want a safe, secure, sustainable, clean energy supply. By working together, we can enhance our two countries’ goals.”

Both spoke at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference in Boise on Tuesday, where 500 state and provincial lawmakers, other officials and business people from the United States and Canada are gathered to explore economic issues including energy, agriculture, border issues and economic development.

Energy has been a key focus of the conference, which runs through Thursday.

Roger Woodworth, vice president of Avista Corp., told the gathering, “We are tremendously blessed with energy resources of all kinds here in the Pacific Northwest region - the question is how will we decide to optimize those.” He added, “If ever there was a time to be bringing policy leaders together to decide how are we going to deal with this … this is the time.”

Grossenbacher, a highly decorated U.S. naval officer who retired with the rank of vice admiral and who served as commander of the U.S. Naval Submarine Forces, said the region’s immense energy resources could power North America, but they haven’t in the past, mainly because they weren’t needed.

“The history of our energy use is that there’s been really cheap fossil fuels available elsewhere, and we decided to utilize that,” he said. “We’re now rethinking that. The other thing that’s changed is the sensitivity … to environmental impact. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t a priority.”

PNWER represents five states and four Canadian provinces in the region. Between them, every type of energy is available, from major oil and gas deposits in Canada to unrivaled wind resources in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and elsewhere, to rich sources of uranium and coal, hydropower, geothermal, solar and biofuels.

Canada is now the top source of petroleum imported into the United States, well ahead of Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Renewables have a lot of potential,” Grossenbacher said. But the “lowest-hanging fruit” to increase energy supplies in the region is efficiency and conservation. “The good news about efficiency is it can buy us time, because we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.

Cheveldayoff said his province, Saskatchewan, produces more oil for the United States than Kuwait, and 23 percent of the world’s uranium.

Experts said the key to the Northwest’s energy production future is finding the right mix. Grossenbacher warned against “romanticizing” renewables to the point of overlooking their limitations, such as the intermittence of the wind power supply, and against “demonizing” nuclear power.

“The bigger issue is dealing with our understanding of these energy resources, these technologies, and dealing with them in a rational way,” he said. “Technologies aren’t good or bad. They’re means to an end, and we choose the ends and we choose the means.”

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