I recently read about two proposed large-scale solar projects in the desert that are being opposed by environmentalists. The arrays would be built on federal land in the Ivanpah Valley near the Nevada-California border, but some environmental groups argue they could negatively affect the already endangered desert tortoise. Another nearby solar plant has its own environmental issues: It has been linked to bird deaths. And we have all heard stories about birds being killed by the large wind turbine blades.
It may seem like a disconnect for an environmental group to oppose renewable energy, since many are so adamantly opposed to coal/natural gas and spend a lot of their time actively pressing utilities to green up their power.
In addition to environmentalists are the NIMBYs (not in my backyard), neighbors who worry about glare, industrial development and property values. From hydro dams to the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, to just about any other renewable energy project, it seems someone is always unhappy.
It doesn’t matter what path a utility takes, which source they use or how diligent they are with regards to environmental planning, community input, permitting and implementation, there will always be a group of people adamantly opposed to what they are doing.
Surprise! Utilities are in a no-win situation. Drag your feet about renewables and activists are not pleased. Make an effort to incorporate renewables, and activists are still not pleased. So what can a utility do?
If the terrible winter weather taught us anything this year, it’s that renewables, while a piece of the puzzle, are a long way away from being the only solution; and that both distributed and large-scale generation are going to be needed to significantly reduce our reliance on coal and natural gas.
Utilities need to concentrate on the messages that resonate best with energy customers: “Renewable energy is good” (and better than the alternatives) and “We need large-scale renewable generation, along with a mix of other sources, to ensure reliability.”
Sorry, environmentalists – like everyone else, you can’t have it all. Sometimes you have to choose what might be considered the lesser of two evils.