Energy, Power, and Transmission and NIMBY
by: John Stewart
Natural Resource Consultant
California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs
Of importance to southern California recreation are several proposals to develop renewable resource power generation project. The State of California already mandates that by 2010, 20% of state power consumption will be from renewable resources. "Renewable" means wind, solar, and geo-thermal. The "environmental movement" loves renewable sources of power anywhere but in their back yard.
In a May 16, 2007 article in the San Diego Union discussing a proposed wind generation site in eastern San Diego County, David Hogan, conservation manager for the Center for Biological Diversity, is quoted as saying he favors greater use of wind to provide energy but that other spots should be found for the turbines. The Golden State is a shining example of other "environmentally friendly renewable energy" projects that site idle while law suits wind through the court systems citing view-shed impacts and increased bird mortality rates.
Meanwhile, another "renewable" power source faces its own host of issues -- solar. During a presentation to the BLM Desert Advisory Council, energy officials noted that there certain areas of the country where solar energy makes sense - deserts. Seems, the solar panels require sunshine, which is in abundant supply in "deserts". In reality, the "deserts" have two commodities necessary for renewable power generation -- sunshine and wind.
Over 200,000 acres of solar power generation projects are proposed for southern California; primarily in the I-10 corridor east of Palm Springs. While extolling the virtues of renewable energy, the environmental movement is quick to point out that the proposed sites are not compatible with development of renewable energy projects. To the mix of anti-progress reasons are added weed and dust abatement. Seems the operating solar power sites engage in active programs to reduce weed growth and dust in the vicinity of the solar collector mirrors.
The third "renewable" energy source is geo-thermal. As with wind and solar, geo-thermal is a great renewable energy source anywhere but where the heat source exists.
Lost in the noise about power generation is the critical issue of moving the power from the source of generation to the point of use -- transmission lines. Recent legislation enabled the government to enter into the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors and Congestion Study (http://nietc.anl.gov/).
A key component of this study is designating the southern California region as a "critical" area in terms of its ability to meet demand for energy. While the reality is there, the scope is downplayed. The southern California "corridor" starts in the San Diego-Los Angles area and moves east to Las Vegas and Phoenix in a swath covering in excess of 100,000 square miles.
While everyone wants to flip a switch and have the lights come on, few want to look at the infrastructure necessary to provide that connivence. While the environmental movement is waging their battle to "promote" renewable energy "anywhere but here", the impact on recreation is being glossed over.
Already pushed into ever smaller areas, recreation is being squeezed again by the various proposed energy projects. Wind, solar, and geo-thermal power generation require space; lots of space. Typically, the power generation locations are enclosed with a "public safety and security" buffer. Additionally, solar projects are susceptible to reduced efficiency due to dust accumulation on the solar collector mirrors. The unspoken expectation is that dust abatement procedures will be applied to broad areas around solar power sites.
The potential for significant impact to recreation opportunity as a result of renewable power generation is real. What is the true impact? Can the impacts be mitigated?