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Renewable energy relies on exporting power September 2, 2008

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in Energy policy.
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One of our opponents’ main approaches has been to criticize the likelihood that the Idaho Energy Complex will ship its power to neighboring states. They argue that we should instead put all our eggs in the renewables basket and, presumably, that power would stay in Idaho.

Our opponents are undercutting their own arguments and I think they know it. According to an Aug. 30 story in the Idaho Statesman, renewable energy can only become a significant contributor to our national power supply if we export it between states. The story, sent by the New York Times News Service, talks about the $320 million Maple Ridge Wind farm in upstate New York, which has to shut down even when winds are blowing because there aren’t enough transmission lines to send the power to buyers.

“The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not,” according to the story. Also, making renewables significant contributors “would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s desert that would pose the same transmission problems.”

Our current national power system has about 200,000 miles of lines divided among 500 owners – it is more like a cobbled-together collection of streets, alleys and roads. The Energy Department has a plan for a 2,100-mile high-voltage backbone to whisk energy between states that sell it and states and buy it. But expanding the grid is painfully slow, with state governments, landowners and environmental groups fighting expansion every step of the way. According to the story, power generation is growing four times faster than transmission ability.

Even if we built the transmission lines, what would people in the Plains states feel about millions of acres covered with 400-foot turbines, exporting all that power to the East Coast? What would people in Arizona think about hundreds of thousands of acres covered solar panels, with all that power going to the Intermountain West?

At some point, our common interests as Americans will need to prevail – for our prosperity, even our national survival. Regardless of where we live, we all want economic growth and clean, affordable, reliable energy. We have no problems selling our food, timber, computer chips and minerals out of state. When we can view energy in the same way, we will have taken a big step toward securing our economy and our future survival.

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Comments»

1. Out_there - September 3, 2008

The whole idea of not allowing energy to be sent across state lines is crazy, but that’s one of the arguments against the Idaho nuke plant. What if Texas and Alaska and Louisiana decided they didn’t want to send their oil out of state? Provincialism doesn’t make a nation strong.

2. Rai Lamai - September 3, 2008

Interesting piece. I think there are a few good points in here, but I think the basic premise is a little misguided (that or I am, which is always possible).

My understanding of the SRA’s argument is that the population of Idaho should not be fooled into thinking that with this nuclear plant will come an abundance of power and lower rates for Idahoans. I think we can all accept (for which, in fact, you make a very good case) this is not going to be the case. Much if not most of the power will eventually be shipped out of the state. Fundamentally, that is fine, but… it is important for people in Idaho to be informed of and understand that fact before deciding on whether they want a nuke plant in their backyard.

The risks associated with nuclear power might be worth taking, to some, in exchange for inexpensive power. However, if they are not receiving that reward, safer renewable options might very well be more attractive (in my opinion they would have to be… but that is just one persons opinion).

The purpose of the SRA, to my understanding, is to cut through any propaganda while informing the public of the potential dangers of nuclear energy while provide constructive, safe, and implementable alternative solutions. In this case, their stance is actively advancing the first element of this calling. In other words, they are simply dispelling the mistaken popular notion an endorsement for nuclear energy will lead directly to a significant decrease in energy costs.

This is a public service, not an attack or let alone one that undercuts their own argument. Honestly, I believe the blog doth protest too much…

The infrastructure argument is moot, it needs to be built in any scenario, whether the exported energy is nuclear or renewable. it’s a lovely case, but, unfortunately a non-starter.

-rl

3. Out_there - September 4, 2008

Rai, those are some good observations. But keep in mind that Gillispie has always been up-front that the energy would be offered first to Idaho buyers, then out of state (I suppose you could say the same is true of potatoes, computer chips and beef). It’s the SRA and Peter Rickards who announce, wide-eyed and breathless, that OMYGOD CAN YOU BELIEVE THEY’RE GOING TO GENERATE POWER IN IDAHO AND SELL IT OUT OF STATE!!!! Yeah, so what?

Gillispie has been open about selling out of state from the outset, much as any other Idaho commodity producer. What the SRA and Rickards are being squirrelly about is their much-loved renewables are already being sold out of state and that, in fact, that must occur for renewables to succeed. The SRA’s position appears to be: “If nuclear power is sold out of state, that’s bad, but if renewables are sold out of state, well, let’s just ignore that fact shall we?” They’re talking out of both sides of their mouth on this and it undercuts their sincereity.

4. river guard - September 4, 2008

Nuclear power produces radioactive waste. Radioactive waste being produced and stored in Idaho, when the power is exported out is a fundamentally more precise argument than the simplified version you are espousing here as “don’t export power produced in Idaho.”

5. Rai Lamai - September 4, 2008

Perhaps you can point me toward some of this perceived duplicity, as I have not been able to find any of it anywhere. What I have found is repeated statements that nuclear energy is, from an environmental standpoint, worse than renewable’s.

The point I believe the SRA is making is that as far as energy cost reduction (or surplus energy generation), a nuclear solution does not hold significant benefits to residents of the state of Idaho over a renewable solution (long term, of course, the argument could be made that the nuclear cost is, in fact, higher). As such, that talking point should be off the table when comparisons are being made.

This seems a touch more like “common sense” than “talking our both sides of their mouthes.” Surely you are able to see this? But, again, perhaps you have sources you can share that will illustrate your point?

As an aside, my position here is not to accuse Gillispie of anything (so you do not need to defend him from an attack that does not exist), but rather to correct an error I think you are making in accusing the SRA of hypocrisy. In complex matters such as these, a little focus is a good thing. 🙂

6. Out_there - September 24, 2008

Rai, here is the focus you asked for for this complex matter. Mr. Gillispie can speak for himself, but his point is that the SRA and other critics take him to task for planning to sell power out of state, when these critics have no problem with renewables selling power out of state. To me, this is talking out of both sides of your mouth. We can debate the energy cost reduction, environmental costs, etc., if you like, but the point here is that critics are being hypocritical when they criticize one kind of power for selling out-of-state, but say nothing when it happens with their favored kind of power. At least that’s what one of the things I got from Gillispie’s blog entry. In addition, renewables MUST be exported across state lines if they are to grow as an industry, something that the SRA already knows, or should know.

From recent SRA handouts:

“The IEC will sell its power out-of-state. The IEC is in business to make money like any other business. If California, Nevada or any other state will buy the IEC power at a higher rate, they are gong to sell it to them, not Idaho, where energy costs are well below what IEC will charge. That’s just basic business sense.”

“Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. (AEHI), a West Virginian company (sic), wants to build this nuclear plant that would export its power out-of-state …”

From the SRA Web site: “…there is no reason to believe the nuclear reactor will provide a kilowatt of power to Idaho.”

Rickards’ site has plenty more about the evils of exporting power out of state.


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