Developing New Energy Right
Posted April 27, 2009
The West's renewable energy resource potential is huge. According to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council the wind potential alone exceeds the total U.S. energy demand. According to National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the solar potential of the southwest is more than six times the country's energy demand. In my home state of California, after the great bulk of sensitive lands were accounted for, our renewable potential was some 500,000 MW, an order of magnitude greater than our peak demand. If military reservations were counted in this calculation, the number would be even greater.
What's so important about these numbers? They mean that we have enough renewable resources to do their development and any needed transmission right!
More specifically, they mean that we don't need to look to places with unique and sensitive resources to site renewables generation projects. We can avoid those places - many of which have been identified by land managers and/or legislators at both the state and federal level - and look instead for areas where development would pose fewer conflicts. And, we can think about transmission when we are identifying those renewable areas, to avoid situations in which proponents of a new line asserts that it "must" go through a protected place in order to access renewables.
NRDC's new Google Earth layer is designed specifically to help identify places where development isn't appropriate as a first and necessary step towards identifying where it is. We need to develop our renewable resources if we are to address the challenge of climate change, but that development must be carried out in an environmentally responsible way. If it is done right, informed environmentalists will, I believe, stand up in support.