The NCES website was adorned with an image of a large transmission line pylon, and the image of a towering white turbine occasionally flashed on the screen for streaming video coverage of the conference, a sad reminder that the conference failed to think beyond an old energy paradigm that requires massive destruction of public lands. Distributed generation, such as rooftop solar, is a far more efficient and dependable option for meeting our renewable energy demand.
|Several transmission lines--a hallmark of the old paradigm of central station energy generation--cross the Antelope Valley in the western Mojave Desert to feed the hungry Los Angeles basin. Massive wind farms in nearby Tehachapi have spawned new transmission lines, costing ratepayers millions of dollars. One of the wind farms is currently being scrutinized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service after killing at least 6 Golden Eagles.|
At the conference, California Governor Jerry Brown repeated his Qadhafi-esque pledge from July to "crush opposition" to big solar and wind projects, according to a Tweet by San Jose Mercury News reporter Dana Hull. Governor Brown apparently remains flippant about the dangers of such projects to public lands and wildlife, although his administration is also pursuing rooftop solar initiatives. Governor Brown went so far as to say that solar panels on public lands could provide shade for desert tortoises, according to another Tweet from Hull, who attended the event. Apparently Brown has not read the report from his Independent Science Advisors , which warned that large-scale solar facilities could have far reaching negative consequences on desert ecosystems. Desert tortoises do no coexist with industrial energy sites, despite Brown's off-the-cuff attempt to humor a crowd full of big energy cheerleaders.
All of these policymakers are determined to spearhead the largest and quickest industrialization of public lands our country has ever experienced, and they want to do it under the misnomer title of "green" energy. As of this summer, the Bureau of Land Management was processing applications for over a thousand square miles of wind and solar facilities in just California. And these projects would only meet about a quarter of California's peak energy demand.
Betting on the Wrong HorseOur national leaders continue to beat the drum of large solar and wind energy projects, but distributed generation can create and sustain even more clean jobs in local communities. The Sierra Club recently teamed up with Sungevity, a successful solar leasing company that makes it affordable for homeowners to go green and install panels on their rooftop. With proper feed-in-tariffs and legislation to free up Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE)--a means of financing personal solar installations--clean and local energy can be even more accessible to Americans.
As the Independent Science Advisors stated in their report to California, we should seek to avoid a renewable energy policy that will lead to regrets in the future, and instead build our renewable energy capacity in our cities or on land that is already-disturbed. We did not follow a "no regrets" policy decades ago when America saw a proliferation of hydropower dams--also a form of renewable energy--blocking rivers across the country. Now we are embarking on ambitious plans to remove these dams to restore ecosystems and bring fisheries back to life. Desert ecosystems are less forgiving and take much longer to revive, but such science had no place at the conference this week.
It sounds like the National Clean Energy Summit turned out to be a pep rally for corporate energy, absent any thoughtful consideration of past mistakes and future traps. One lone tweet of reason came from the Wilderness Society, whose representative was either in attendance or watching the streaming video, stating "how & where we develop renewable energy is key." Let's hope we figure that out before it's too late.