It's All Somebody's Backyard
Regarding the editor's note, "For the love of wasteland," make no mistake about it: Conservation alone is no silver-bullet solution (HCN, 5/11/09). Yes, conservation is often overlooked in favor of supply-side solutions. Yes, huge gains can be made through energy-efficiency programs. I fully agree and support energy conservation efforts -- in fact, some conservation should be made mandatory. However, we can't fantasize away energy impacts by thinking all we need to do is conserve more. If we as a nation are really concerned about curbing our use of fossil fuels -- a monumentally important direction for us to take -- we need to have a serious discussion of where renewable energy projects and their associated infrastructure could be placed.
I agree we should look for places such as abandoned mine sites and alfalfa fields first, but although it's a great goal, it's naive to think we can "find ways to develop large-scale renewable energy plants and transmission without sacrificing large tracts of pristine land." HCN recently ran an informative piece about resisting solar projects in the Mojave Desert. Of course there are important ecological values there. Now, we have Sarah Gilman telling us there is even ecological value in "wastelands," and of course she's right, too. This is my point: Nearly every single place has value and every single proposal will be in someone's backyard and will be opposed and probably litigated by someone.
As environmentalists, we need to sit down at the table and play a constructive role in deciding where the best places are to build our new renewable energy system. Opposing every alternative energy project is obstruction, not constructive discussion. When environmental interests merely veto every renewable project, it has disastrous consequences for our world: We simply fall back on the same destructive fossil fuels we currently have in place. Resist solar development? More coal gets burnt. Resist a transmission line for wind energy from Wyoming to Vegas? More oil gets burnt.