Obama admin faces power grid vs. public lands conundrum

Our own KT quoted in New York Times!

Obama admin faces power grid vs. public lands conundrum. By Scott Streater. New York Times.



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  1. DB Avatar

    Good article in NYT. It will be interesting to see how BLM’s progromatic EIS on wind and solar and FWS’s advisory commitee to regulate such projects shake out. Should we supposse that such developments will be on hold until studies are completed?

    1. DB Avatar

      …including those on private or state which may require transmission across federal lands.

  2. JimT Avatar

    Good article. I think the notion of home grown energy is a better model than the old giant tower concept. I also think it is time for engineers to think outside the box on the actual construction of the lines. Why does it have to be huge towers. Is there another way? Could the lines be contained in pipe-like structures 20 or 30 feet off the ground to allow free passage of wildlife, minimize habitat destruction, and species displacement? As Einstein famously said, you can’t solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them….

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar


      one of the major issues with transmission lines that will play out in the West is that it impacts plant and wildlife communities that are not accustomed to habitats that include tall, vertical structures — i.e. The Sagebrush Sea.

      Imperilled species like the sage grouse, pygmy rabbit, and others do not fare well with these vertical structures, normally not present, that allow perching places for predators who gain vantage perspectives that throw the predator/prey predation rates disproportionally in favor of predators – depressing pygmy rabbit, sage grouse, etc. numbers.

      Whether the disturbance is ripping up soils to gouge trenches for lines fragmenting habitat (2 dimensional disruption), or the introduction of vertical structures (a “habitat” condition that introduces literally a whole new dimension normally not even thought about !) – that’s habitat destruction/fragmentation.

      1. JimT Avatar

        I agree Brian, oil derrick or wind turbine, it is all the same thing to the sage grouse, for example..disruption. Tom Barron of Western Resource Advocates here in Boulder…formerly of the Wyoming Outdoor Council…is doing the transmission line impacts work for the group, and has a few reports on disruption on the website for the group; I think I have posted the links in the past so won’t bother now.

        That is why I am thinking the “movement” towards smaller, more numerous, locally sited turbine and solar farms may be a good compromise. If I read the political winds accurately, there WILL be transmission lines built. The question is can we get the Feds and the states to consider the critical question of habitat and species in siting decisions, or is a decision going to be made by Obama and his agencies and departments that energy wins, no matter the damage, and full speed ahead. If Obama did something like waive the environmental protection rules for reasons of national security-interest, I would be screaming as loudly as I was when Chertoff pulled that nonsense for the border security wall debacle..another Bush legacy..

        What is your approach on transmission lines. HUGE mega energy farms and radiating transmission lines in all directions like a spider web, or more interest in siting localized renewable energy sources and building a smaller new transmission grid? There will be tradeoffs, no doubt. But I am curious to hear from you who has spent alot of time on this issue.

      2. Brian Ertz Avatar

        What is your approach on transmission lines.

        first, i haven’t spent a lot of time on the issue.

        but, my short answer is : NIMBY. From what I understand of sage-steppe, how little is left and how imperiled both the landscape and so many of the species dependent on it are, find a way around the viable habitat – landscapes already so ecologically impoverished as to be beyond hope – i.e. the many wastelands that Ag has decimated (though they ironically be considered “open space”) & urban landscapes, rooftops, parking-lots, malls. yes to redeveloping already developed grids — which is sort of funny, advocates of new transmission lines cite the inability of the existing grid to handle source-point production as justification to tear into new habitats for new lines — but wait, there’s no grid for the new centralized “renewables” either ? if you’re going to invest the billions in grid infrastructure, i say do it where the damage is already done and let’s put the power-plants on our roofs.

        a more detailed jaunt down the rabbit-hole reveals :

        Preface: They’ve found a way to sidestep the whole issue, commercialize what it means to be “green”, and entrance us with their Pied Piper Promises that the problem will be so easy to solve with “technology” or re-arranging the deck-chairs (transmission lines) on the titanic . It’s as if people honestly believe that it is appropriate to keep our economy rolling via the same model – on condition of endless (energy) consumption & growth – that’s what this “renewable” direction as masterfully marketed promises to maintain. even after being smacked across the face by among the largest economic calamities (see: current meltdown) and the most significant ecological calamities (See: Climate Change) – both coming to peak public awareness in the same decade. A couple of years ago I was meeting new people at a WWP board meeting when I had a conversation with a man who was privileged to partake of an earlier generation than myself. He said to me, “Son, your generation needs to burn down all that we’ve built and start over.” I thought about that. There’s a truth there that hits deeper than the most technically literate response to where to site a power-plant or transmission line ever hopes to answer.


        1. Site localization has the potential to progress our communities and nation in so many ways – it’s really a shame that the same tired speculation-driven utility-scale investment model has co-opted the conversation to such a degree as it has.

        a. Localization enfranchises individuals & communities — when people generate their own energy they take control of their lives, their economic security (less beholden to any production or price volatility whether it be corrupt-market-induced like Enron in CA, or terrorist, or natural resource scarcity, etc.etc.), and ultimately that is a diffusive concept that ends up engendering political sovereignty/autonomy as localities and individuals are less beholden to powerful entities whether they be political or economic – giant energy companies. Idaho Power – as an example – has the Idaho state government by the ‘short & curlies’ – that inevitably has a detrimental effect on the citizens of Idaho, their interests, their political sovereignty.

        b. Localization encourages conservation — it’s a simple idea, the closer a person is to the source of production, the more likely they are to be aware of it and the consequences of wasteful use. When you’re aware of the photovoltaic or solar water-heater and what it produces and costs on your roof, you’re more likely to be mindful of its use and less likely to waste.

        c. Decentralized/localized production of energy better mimics ecology. In this way, there is a greater likelihood for adaptation of technology, conservation, implementation, etc. that facilitates greater efficiency as a reaction to the particular conditions of a localized environment. the ‘web’ example that you mention is a good one.

        d. When it all goes post-apocalyptic (i.e. Beyond Thunderdome), decentralized/localized production of energy will make it easier to rebuild – hopefully we choose a neo-tribal/bio-regional alternative. I will. 😉

        2. What kind of sick “environmental awareness” are our political leaders, and even our national NGO leadership, steering us into where we would respond to our environmental ‘foot-print’ on the climate by advocating so-called solutions (they’re not really solving anything if you look close) that exacerbate our environmental impact onto landscapes and ecology ? How the hell is it that this conversation has nearly completely avoided the question of ECOLOGY – (what i would have hoped would be a central consideration to such an opportunity for introspection) and instead has become an utter reliance on the same exercise of misguided uber-anthropocentric hubris that thrust us head-long into this mess in the first place ?

        Ultimately, I understand that it’s perceived to be necessary to present an alternative to transmission lines that a person or group hopes to prevent, the same is true for a power-plant whether it be “renewable” or not. But professionally, for me, I’d say that’s not the case. I’m not a policy-wonk (though, ironically one of my degrees is in it), and personally, given what I’ve seen of the way “W“ilderness, and other enviro-policy stuff is done – I’m keeping as far away from that disgusting process as I can (as best I can tell, “W“ilderness folk have found a way to take an example of the best of inspirational ideals, and foul it ([pinch-nosed & $$$] PEW !) with the worst of human political “pragmatic” ambition). The way NEPA, ESA, & other of the most inspirational & best legal landscapes the human species has come to accomplish thus far spell it out – in the human realm i’m a bona fide obstructionist, and ironically – it seems to me, in the world of wild that makes me constructive member of my community.

        now practically…. nahh…. just kidding 😉 . there’s only so many people with so much time — and it looks like there’s going to be a tsunami of “Stimulus” that in all likelihood has the potential to move a lot of effort and energy in the wrong direction. We do what we can and we take on what we can effectively take on.

        So in Idaho, I know quite a few very capable people that are willing to force the decision-makers to consider the wild — I know people in California and Arizona and Wyoming and Montana, and elsewhere that each have their commitment – and I know that their standard is principled and unequivocal. I hope that there’s someone where you’re at too.

        If there’s a way to make the bureacrats’ job more of a hell should they decide to rob our world of the wild than when they decide to preserve it – i aim to learn it and exercise it. As Katie alludes to in the article, they need to incorporate the cost of these things to the wild — when that takes place (as a matter of someone with enough integrity utilizing the NEPA, ESA, and other existing legal wrenches reflecting diverse values lost to the “market”) in an honest way, and when each of us in our communities refrain from flinching to the degree that we can – i think decentralized production becomes more “competitive” and the market will provide viable alternatives in line with those considerations/values alluded to above – i hope that’s more of a wed/decentralized – but these centralized crooks aim to sidestep these considerations – the consumer-Capitalist alchemy of churning diverse values into one $ingle value – we should all in our NIMBY ways contribute to preventing that from happening.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    To reiterate a point, centralized energy production, like centralized economy and centralized government is often incompatible with democracy.

    Were conservatives of the small government type many claim to be, they would help fight centralized energy generation of both the traditional and alternative varieties.

  4. Salle Avatar

    I’m glad that someone was listening to folks like Katie and the others mentioned in the article and actually wrote about what they had to say and why it’s an issue.

    As far as JimT’s thoughts, I hope that there will be some other concepts considered on the power grid issue. I agree that there needs to be new thinking on how to power the nation, but I also think people need to get over their electric gluttony.

    Aside from that there’s also the prospect of vulnerability of these long distance powerlines, lest we forget how the entire western grid was shut down in the recent past by a tree falling on a segment in Idaho-at least that’s what we were told; then there was the earthquake in California that shut everything down all the way to Calgary; and the eastern states and parts of Canada were shut down for some significant amount of time by some snafu at a power generator… somehow, the idea of a more widespread long distance transmission system doesn’t make sense.

    I don’t like the idea of tearing up more wild land and wildlife habitat to satisfy unbridled electric consumption… It makes me think that perhaps the concept of consumerism is not about the consumption of goods but the way in which people are consumed with buying and owning and using everything… just a thought but one that has been lingering in my thoughts since it showed up a couple days ago.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Good point. Centralized energy is subject to catastrophic failure.

      The system is not robust; another reason it is not compatible with a free society. It must be guarded.

  5. jdubya Avatar

    This is another article in the Times about the boom and bust cycles that always follow these energy debacles.


    If ANYTHING could come out of the generation of alternative source of energy, simple pricing stability would be a good goal to shoot for.

    1. Salle Avatar

      I would think that this slump in pricing and the credit crunch’s power to lessen the production of unsustainable fuels is an open handed opportunity to do something really, I mean REALLY different in the ways in which we use/consume/produce energy. It could, hopefully, give most folks pause on these considerations.

      We have been careening into a serious danger zone for a long time and, like drug addicts, realize we can’t go on like this anymore and chose to change how we go about making and using everything. It is that serious and the deniers are the ones we have to stop listening to and trusting. I don’t think we will get anywhere as far as making corrections in our poorly planned systems unless a vast majority can get a grip on this point.

      1. Salle Avatar

        I meant: “like drug addicts, we need to realize…”


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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