Distributed renewable energy makes economic & ecological sense

No need for much Renewable Energy development on Our Public Lands

Imperiled Desert Tortoise © Dr. Michael J. Connor, WWP
Imperiled Desert Tortoise © Dr. Michael J. Connor, WWP

In early April, we discussed planned massive solar development projects on public lands underway in Southern California with Basin & Range Watch‘s splendid native plant & wildflower photo essay Last Spring at Ivanpah.  The essay bloomed across environmental listserves everywhere and, combined with many other factors, prompted internal debate among local and national environmental groups concerning the wisdom of the modern day land rush to develop massive renewable energy projects on our public lands.

More recently, the Protect our Communities Foundation weighed in, pointing out in a letter to Congress that the least cost, both in economic & ecological terms, production solution (conservation’s still at the top – ex: paint your roof white) may be distributed renewable energy solutions – solar panels on roof-tops, parking lots, i.e. already developed places that are close to points of use.  Producing energy closer to where it’s used minimizes astonishing transmission costs and preserves our remote public land wild places & wildlife which, ironically, are the very members of our communities in most need of protection given global climate change.

The Protect Our Communities Foundation Comment Letter on May 11, 2009 Field Hearing on “Solar Energy Development on Federal Lands: The Road to Consensus”  – courtesy Basin & Range Watch

The least-cost solar resource in 2009 is in California’s developed urban and suburban areas, and this resource is vast. All urban solar deployments would be compatible dual-use of existing rooftops and parking lots, avoiding the dilemma you noted in your opening remarks at the hearing – “Solar power is very land-intensive, and siting a solar plant means that most if not all of the other uses of that land are precluded.” 

It is true as you noted that “some of the largest (solar) resources are to be found on our public lands.” However, these large solar resources are only useful to the extent they are cost-effective in their own right and can be delivered efficiently to California or Southwestern population centers. As we are discovering through individual transmission line proposals and the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI) process, the cost of delivery via new transmission may be astonishingly high, without even addressing the environmental compromises necessary to construct the transmission lines. 

The RETI process also revealed that the least-cost solar solution to reaching our target of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020 would consist predominantly of distributed PV. Why? Because state-of-the-art PV is more cost-effective than solar thermal, and tens of thousands of megawatts of PV could be added at the distribution level with little or no upgrading to the existing transmission system required.






  1. kt Avatar

    Thanks for this Post, Brian. It is becoming Oh so clear that giant wind farms and solar plants on public lands – all strung together by tens of thousands of miles of huge new transmission lines – are a complete environmental and financial disaster. These destructive projects are all about Big Energy wanting to keep a chokehold on the public so that sky high energy costs can reap profits for a few. So the public can be gouged, and so there is no personal or local energy self-sufficiency. People can be more readily manipulated that way – and even outcomes of elections influenced by energy creating crises.

    I’m wondering: Is there an way to find out WHO in Congress has investments in these destructive “renewables”? Or WHO in Congress has investments in speculation on them – since more and more it seems that speculation and Ponzi schemes – and keeping those who put money into speculation drives Congressional action.

  2. mikarooni Avatar

    Good luck with this line of thinking; you are, of course, on exactly the right track in terms of what is good for the environment, the public, the economy, our national security and resiliency in response to any sort of threat or natural disaster. A decentralized system or, as you put it, a distributed system is preferable in pretty much every way, except that it does not centralize control in the hands of the corporate vampires. If you give each household or local neighborhood the ability to generate a significant portion of their own energy and, by doing so, encourage them to realize that, with a little bit of conservation, they could even start to live within that envelope, then how are the vampires going to be able to squeeze the public every time they need another vacation home in the Yellowstone Club or another beach house in Aruba or another airplane or yacht. Why civilization as we know might come to an end and the last things the vampires want is for us to get a glimpse of what kind of civilization we could build without them. At the root cause level, it isn’t about the environment or about one kind of energy versus another as far as the vampires are concerned; they don’t care about such things. The Wall Street bankers never cared about the toxic mortgages they were bundling into even more toxic derivatives. For them, it’s all about concentrating power (no pun intended) in fewer hands and the money that results from gaining people dependent on that kind of monopolistic hold. You might get them to go to renewable energy forms, but decentralized anything? Good luck.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Brian Ertz