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Know the West

Distributed Generation Is The Answer


I live out in the Mojave Desert near where a bunch of large utility-scale solar thermal power plants are being planned on public land (HCN, 5/11/09). Thousands of acres of desert tortoise habitat will be scraped, and the company is trying to buy ranchers and farmers out for their water rights, because this power plant is really similar to a coal- or natural gas-burning power plant (or nuclear) in that it uses a lot of water to make steam to turn turbines to generate electricity. Folks around here are worried about groundwater in this already overdrawn basin. Nearby are springs with rare plants and pupfish at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Trying to get involved, I went to a congressional field hearing in Palm Desert, Calif., recently, and was pretty appalled at how our representatives in the Energy Committee are already deciding to use all types of energy: "clean coal," natural gas, nuclear, and big corporate wind and solar power plants on remote pristine ecosystems, that, yes, will have to be "sacrificed."

The frustrating thing was that a local councilman from the city tried to explain to the committee how his town is already making local energy generation and use a reality, with rooftop solar loan programs and a test feed-in-tariff. If all houses and buildings were mandated to be energy-producing in the future, we could have all the energy we needed, produced without the need to construct distant power plants out in wildlife habitat, without the need for long public environmental review processes on federal lands, and without the need to supersize huge new transmission lines to join the remote solar/wind power plants to the cities, which will be costing billions.

Laura Cunningham