Tuesday, July 14, 2009

NYT: Debate on clean energy leads to regional divide

I came across this NY Times article about the regional conflict over how to move forward with green energy plans. (hat tip: stateline.org NH RSS feed)

Last week, I posted a graphic from the US Dept of Energy that shows how some of the best sites in the country for wind power potential are located in the midwest.

Well, it turns out that harnessing that power in the midwest and building transmission infrastructure to ship it up to the Northeast is not something that the northeast is eager to have done.

An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.

They want the wind farms built in rural New England and offshore from Massachusetts to Delaware, and for now it appears that they may get a chance to do that. They are campaigning to keep a provision out of the legislation that would mandate a huge super-high-voltage grid, with the cost spread among millions of electric customers. 
The article sure shows how tricky it can be to balance the need for cheap & clean energy with regional needs for local jobs and control of local resources.  A few years back, California learned the hard way that placing control of your energy destiny in far away hands can be a really bad thing.  It looks like folks in the Northeast are hoping to avoid that mistake.  

Out of curiosity, I wondered if NH was part of the effort, and sure enough, it looks like we are.

The article also talks about some of the less altruistic reasons that some may have for opposing the buildout of new transmission lines:

And a weak grid helps some electric companies. Local generators have often been able to charge more by being in the right place at the right time, with no competition because the long-distance lines are already fully loaded, experts say.

“When you have a constrained transmission system and you seek to unconstrain it,” said Mary Ellen Paravalos, the vice president for transmission at National Grid, a New York and New England company, some local parties stand to lose. This is true “even if the wider societal benefit is net positive,” Ms. Paravalos said.

Anyhow, I suppose this is just another case of electricity in NH (and in the US) being anything but simple... 

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