Green technology faces a number of barriers -- high capital costs, entrenched incumbents, skepticism, bureaucratic and political roadblocks.
But, please, does the environmental community have to continue to be a problem?
The latest example comes in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club to delay an already-falteringsolarplant slated for Calico, California.
The Calico project -- which Tessera Solar sold to K Road Power last month -- was improperly approved, alleges the suit, and could harm plant and animal species in the area. Last month, the Quechan Tribe won an injunction to halt the Imperial project, another Tessera power plant, on the grounds that it could impair the habitat of the flat tailed horned lizard.
In 2010, BrightSource Energy had to scale back the Ivanpah solar thermal plant because of concerns about the habitat of the desert tortoise. And before that, solar and wind developers scotched plans to build in the Mojave after Senator Dianne Feinstein drew up plans to have 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert declared a part of a national monument area.
Look. I’m not against species protection. I think it’s important. But there are larger goals and considerations we must keep in mind. Namely:
1. Circumscribing solar and wind farms leads to only one thing: more natural gas, coal and nuclear plants. Although California has kept energy consumption per capita relatively flat for three decades, total power consumption has increased. And it will continue to increase as computer companies expand datacenters so we can shop at home instead of tooling around in gas-guzzling cars.
Greenhouse gases or pristine desert (which could get irreversibly destroyed as more greenhouse gases get injected into the atmosphere)? The choice is yours.
2. Desert. There’s a lot of it. I grew up in northern Nevada and spent my youth exploring the high desert. You know what’s there? A wealth of natural beauty, but also sagebrush, road signs peppered with shotgun blasts, rusted cars, cattle and guys in dune buggies.
It’s not the Arctic, or even Yosemite. Parts of it are more like an open air prison with a Terrible's gas station thrown in. The lawsuits will have a chilling effect not only on these projects, but also on other ones where the environmental risks might be nil. And again, the alternative is more fossil fuel plants.
Federal and state regulators have signed off on the projects. The risks have been analyzed. At some point, the regulatory system has to be trusted.
3. Jobs. Instead of trying to build California power plants in the state, some want to build them in Arizona and Mexico. Parts of south-central California grapple with high unemployment, low education, few opportunities and drug addiction. Construction jobs remain one of the few hopes.
Will these projects will impair animal habitats? Yes. Could it be fatal to some species? Possible. But are these the kind of trade-offs that we need to make, even with the inherent risks? I think so.
In fact, we’ve already made these sort of compromises. California and most of the West wouldn’t exist as it does without an artificial reservoir system. If you live here and shower, you've already voted. I don't advocate paving the desert or using ancient petroglyphs for skate ramps, but sacrificing small portions of already reviewed land seems necessary if California and the nation want to proceed on a reasonable time line for alternatives.
The renewable energy industry has often lacked cohesiveness. Many have argued that the alphabet soup of organizations have to coordinate their efforts better to get laws passed as well as to expose the subsidies offered to the coal and oil industries.
Some of these lawsuits could go away. The suits filed by the Native American tribes might actually be part of a larger effort to participate in the alternative energy economy. Tribal corporations in Alaska, Colorado and Arizona have already begun to invest in renewables. Hopefully, that will be the case. Many tribes own the land they do because it was once considered worthless. Alternatives will finally give them a chance to profit.
But right now, the people who will really benefit from these lawsuits sit on the boards of fossil fuel companies.