Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Environmentalists object to some renewable energy projects

Renewable doesn't automatically mean environmentally friendly. For example:

Three solar power plants have been proposed for the Carrisa Plains in eastern San Luis Obispo County, California. The plants would provide enough electricity to power nearly 100,000 homes.

But in doing so, the plants would cover 16 square miles of the plains with solar panels, reflectors and industrial equipment. Just what the local residents wanted to escape when they moved to the area, long before solar power companies began looking at the unspoiled -- and sunny -- land.

A resident of the plains, Robin Bell, has started the Carrisa Alliance for Responsible Energy. Her goal is to stop the projects in their tracks.

It's not only residents who are concerned by the impact of the plants. Local government officials are, too. They haven't had much experience with evaluating the environmental and biological impact of large solar plants, and they have their own list of issues with the projects.

Besides, I'm sure the law of unintended consequences looms large in their minds.

The controversy at Carrisa Plains portends more tussles in the Golden State. The Bureau of Land Management is reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind projects that threaten to blanket more than 1 million acres of desert land. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, is preparing legislation that would designate hundreds of thousands of acres of California desert a national monument. If passed, the legislation would put the area out of the reach of energy development companies.

Meanwhile, in the UK, objections swirl around a proposed $28-billion, 10-mile dam across the Severn River, the estuary that separates England and Wales. The dam would tap the energy of the river's massive tide, known as the Severn Bore, which in some places rises 3 to 6 feet.

The dam would swamp about 50,000 acres. Environmentalists fear it will damage the area's mudflats and salt marshes, and disturb the river's flow that brings food to migrating birds.

Distributed power, wherefort art thou?

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