Renewable energy sparks a probe of a modern-day land rush

New technology, same uninhibited ambition

You had better watch this, now and from now on.  The land grabbers are on the loose again and they can be stopped only as they were before, by the effective marshaling of public opinion.  Your property is in danger of being alienated, your interests and those of your children are being threatened[…]

Bernard DeVoto
Two-Gun Desmond is Back
~ 1951

They say history repeats itself.  At nearly every point in the history of western colonization there was an industry that was all the uproar among the well-intentioned.  Europeans moved West and trapped away the beaver, mined, laid claim to the land with homestead, sheep and cattle – don’t forget the logging.  That was no problem, the resource was infinite back then.  We did the impossible in harnessing rivers with dams and harvesting its inertia as our own, bringing power to cities and agricultural production to a western arid landscape that would not support such dense human habitation otherwise.  Hydroelectric dams were supposed to be the next perfect, “clean” source of power – remember ?

At each point in this history, calls for restraint, even timid caution against the unforeseeable consequences of the next great, faultless enterprise were brushed aside – dismissed as ‘nay-saying’ and the personalities behind the calls were labeled enemies of progress by even the most forward thinking and well-intentioned voices leading the charge.  The allure of human ambition has always enjoyed more volume than the practice of restraint.  ‘The land is infinite’ ~  ‘we’ve found the perfect technology, the perfect innovation’ ~ ‘we just need to make sure there’s good housekeeping’ ~ ‘you can’t stop progess’.

But, unfortunately – it seems to me, depending on how one looks at it, “progress” keeps happening over and over again in the same way as before.

Renewable energy sparks a probe of a modern-day land rushThe Los Angeles Times

A rush to stake claims for renewable energy projects in the California desert has triggered a federal investigation and prompted calls for reforms to prevent public lands from being exposed to private profiteering and environmental degradation.



  1. otto Avatar

    The first step in a new progressive energy system is the Smart Grid, or communicating the demand of individual users to the gird-wide energy supply in a realtime, interactive manner. The ability to adjust nonessential demand–air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, office lighting, and some food processing–can eliminate the need for new generation sources and utilize existing sources most efficiently. In short, by turning the air conditioning up a few degrees and painting our roofs white we can avoid huge expenses along with more landscape destruction and habitat fragmentation.

    Demand response technology allows the smartgrid to adjust load to reflect the realtime level of generation. Instead of having to fire up the gas plant, the gird can turn the air conditioning up by a couple of degrees in downtown offices when new demand arises. The ability to adjust load in realtime along with rate structures set according to the realtime cost of generation will reduce peak demands for energy on hot summer afternoons and cold winter evenings and avoids the need for new plants and their related infrastructure. The least cost is the one that is avoided.

    After years of foot dragging Idaho Power, in March, finally dipped a toe into this proven and cost effective technology by signing for a 65MW program in Southern Idaho. Because the utility gets paid for each kilowatt sold, the public must apply consistent and focused pressure on the public utility commission to require demand response (a watt not sold) instead of new generation(more watts to sell).

    The smartgrid starts with a smart meter instead of the mechanical model afixed to the side of your house. Idaho Power is slowly rolling out these meters even though the ability to read meters electronically alone justifies the costs. More footdragging because these meters allow individuals to sell energy back into the grid from their home generation sources. Because utilities only collect for kilowatts consumed but must pay for those pumped into their systems only through public pressure on the PUC to mandate the ability of ratepayers to sell power from rooftop solar back to the utility. The public should also accept time of use rate structures as a key incentive to adjust customer demand by charging the true and full cost of peak demand to those demanding it.

    The smartgird infrastructure and alternative energy sectors are one of the few healthy and growing in today’s economy. Companies worldwide are creating thousands of jobs in design, engineering, marketing, and operations. This sector is flourishing due to public demanded investment in a smarter grid and responsive government regulations to correct a failed marketplace.

    Due to the entrenched monopoly of Idaho utilities, built upon their overwhelming access to resources and regulators, this state is missing out on the new economy and the PUC is failing to ensure rates are “fair, just, and reasonable.” Public demand for leadership from the PUC, applied to the utilities who operate only for the “public convenience and necessity,” is the best way to invest in Idaho’s energy, economic and environmental future.

  2. Brian Ertz Avatar

    It seems to me, doing more with less is always a good idea.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Brian Ertz