The Great Electricity Disconnect

Patrick Dorinson
Host of The Cowboy Libertarian Radio Talk Show in Sacramento

For
years, the California Legislature, Governor Schwarzenegger and
environmentalists have been pushing for California’s investor-owned
utilities to get more of the power they generate and sell to their
customers from renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass.

On paper, the efforts have produced great fanfare in the media but on the ground they are falling short.

In
2002, the legislature passed a bill requiring the investor-owned
utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources
by 2017. In 2003, the California Energy Commission moved it to 20
percent by 2010.

Two years later they got even more
aggressive and came out with a new plan that said it should be 33
percent by 2020. In 2006, the Legislature put the 20 percent by 2010
into law and in 2008 Governor Schwarzenegger waved his mighty pen and
signed an Executive Order requiring 33 percent by 2020.

So come
January 1, 2011, almost exactly four months from now, the 20 percent by
2010 goal is supposed to have been reached. Unfortunately the utilities
are likely to fall short of that goal.

In July, California
Energy Commissioner James Boyd told the Los Angeles Times, "I hate to
be a naysayer but even though many contracts have been entered, the
actual construction and thus the delivery of electricity have lagged."

Part
of the problem is the need for new transmission to get the energy from
the remote areas where it is produced to the population centers where
it is needed. Tight credit market conditions in this uncertain and
volatile economy have put a damper on financing some of these projects.

But
one of the biggest problems has been in permitting and siting renewable
energy as some environmentalists have suddenly discovered their "inner
NIMBY" and fought against some of the very projects they have been
advocating for lo these many years.

To paraphrase Senator John Kerry during the 2004 Presidential Election campaign, "They were for it before they were against it."

A perfect example of this is unfolding along windy Walker Ridge that encompasses parts of Lake and Colusa counties on BLM land.

The wind on Walker Ridge makes it a prime spot for wind energy development.

In
its Resource Management Plan for the area in 2006, the federal BLM
identified this site as having the potential for wind power development.

AltaGas,
a Canadian company, has been working since early 2008 to get the
project permitted and built. They are doing exhaustive studies on
environmental issues and are developing mitigation plans to meet
concerns.

But as has happened so many times before with other
renewable projects in other locales, efforts being undertaken by
AltaGas may not be good enough for some in the environmental community.

The
local Sierra Club Redwood Chapter and another group, Tuleyome, have
voiced their concerns; these concerns could delay or doom this
worthwhile project that will meet California’s worthwhile goals.

They both say they steadfastly support renewable energy-just not on Walker Ridge.

Sierra
Club, Redwood Chapter Vice-Chair Victoria Brandon said, "Of course the
Sierra Club favors renewable energy in the abstract, but each project
has to be assessed individually to see how green power balances against
ecological damage."

NIMBYism was never so beautifully and deceptively expressed.

The
fact is that wind projects need to be sited where the winds are strong
and can produce the maximum megawatts they are capable of, just like
solar projects need to be sited where the sun’s rays are the most
intense like the Mojave Desert. This keeps renewable power prices to
California purchasers as low as possible.

Sometimes the debate
on siting renewable energy projects reminds me of the arguments for
building more prisons. The "lock’em up law and order" groups demand
more prisons be built to house the bad guys. But try building one in
their community and they use the same NIMBY excuses that
environmentalists use over renewable energy projects.

Everyone
needs to understand that there is no pristine way to develop renewable
energy resources. Even with the mitigation efforts like those that
AltaGas is developing, there will be changes to the landscape. There is
no other way.  But if California wants more renewable energy then it
will have to make the hard choices of where to put these new facilities.

Environmentalists
have been pushing renewable energy for years and they are being
confronted with the practical aspects of what they have been preaching.
Passing laws is one thing but putting them into practice is quite
another.

There is a great disconnect between their rhetoric and their actions and they need to be called on it.

Progress
is never easy but if California is ever to meet the ambitious goals
that they have set into law, necessary and difficult choices will have
to be made.

Walker Ridge is one of those necessary and difficult choices.

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