Look on the bright side


We have the technology to generate electricity from renewable resources, but most of our machines, from blow driers to conveyor belts, continue to run on coal. That’s because it is easier to create renewable energy than to transport it. Rigging a new power line from, say, a remote Nevada wind farm to a population center like Las Vegas would be a logistical nightmare. Hundreds of landowners would need convincing and perhaps a few environmental groups as well. On top of all this, the existing century-old power grid is already strained to capacity.

Or at least it was until recently. According to The Wall Street Journal, American energy consumption has unexpectedly dropped. Xcel Energy Inc., which provides power to Colorado among other states, reported that home-energy use fell this fall, for the first time in 40 years. Other large utilities report similar drops. One might blame the grim economy or the vagaries of the weather, but some analysts say the plunge is a permanent trend. Traditional power companies are none too pleased about this turn of events. But there might finally be a little breathing room in those transmission lines for the renewable powers that be.

keep it local
Brian Ertz
Brian Ertz
Dec 05, 2008 08:41 PM
It seems to me like the best way to deploy renewable energy is by keeping production of renewable energy as close to its destined place of consumption as possible. How much energy is lost/wasted in transmission ?

There's no need to tear up some of the last remaining habitats left in the Mojave when there's plenty of real-estate available on the residential & commerical roof-tops of already existing sprawl. Similarly, there's no need to tear up some of the most imperiled & ecologically productive public land sage-steppe for wind (as does the China Mountain wind farm in Idaho - as one example among many) usually in places of high-wind, there exist marginal agricultural landscapes that have already been ecologically bankrupted surrounding communities that would be better served by the local power than by carrying it away to far off communities. Finding innovative ways to encourage lease of these private landscapes while even allowing them to keep in ag-production might just be a pretty good way to supplement hard-pressed farmers income while gearing down other subsidies that have become antiquated and wasteful.

And ultimately - I've got a question that no one's responded to me with an answer about: Which coal-fired power plants will be decommissioned when utility scale renewables are deployed ? It seems to me if the answer is "none" - then renewables don't really address the problem of global-warming emissions - their potential is more to keep energy cheap - so we can continue to afford to waste it.

Ultimately - I think that dealing with energy conservation is among the smartest ways to address the problem. Finding alternative solutions that don't use energy, or improving the efficiency of technologies that do use it. It seems to me like its the cheapest and most promising way to mitigate the problems all of us seek to avoid.

Brian Ertz
Western Watersheds Project