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Does a Big Economy Need Big Power Plants?

Excerpts from A Guest Post b y Energy Guru, Amory B. Lovins , The New York Times, Jan. 9, 2009

If I told you, Many people need computing services, so wed better build more mainframe computer centers where you can come run your computing task, youd probably reply, We did that in the 1960s, but now we use networked PCs. Or if I said, Many people make phone calls, so wed better build more big telephone exchanges full of relays and copper wires, youd exclaim, Where have you been? We use distributed packet-switching. Yet if I said, Many people need to run lights and motors, Wiis, and air conditioners, so wed better build more giant power plants, youd probably say, Of course! Thats the only way to power America. Thermal power stations burn fuel or fission atoms [or concentrate solar energy] to boil water to turn turbines that spin generators, making electricity. Over [the past] century, local power plants serving neighborhoods evolved into huge, remote, electricity-only generators serving whole regions. This evolution made sense at first, because power stations were costlier and less reliable than the grid. Buildings use about 70 percent of U.S. electricity, but three-fourths of residential and commercial customers use no more than 1.5 and 12 average kilowatts respectively. Resources better matched to the kilowatt scale of most customers needs, or to an intermediate microgrid scale, actually offer 207 hidden economic advantages over the giant plants. These distributed benefits often boost economic value by about tenfold. Small, fast, modular units are less risky to build than big, slow, lumpy ones, and renewable energy sources avoid the risks of volatile fuel prices. Moreover, a diversified portfolio of many small, distributed units can be more reliable than a few big units. Bigger power plants hoped-for economies of scale were overwhelmed by diseconomies of scale. Central thermal power plants stopped getting more efficient in the 1960s. [By the] 1990s, generators thousands or tens of thousands of times smaller microturbines, solar cells, fuel cells, wind turbines started to become serious competitors. The restructured industry exposed previously sheltered power-plant builders to brutal market discipline. Competition from a swarm of smaller electrical sources created financial risks far beyond capital markets appetite. Moreover, in 2008 [even the] Defense Science Board report advised U.S. military bases to make their own power onsite, preferably from renewables, because the grid is vulnerable to long and vast disruptions. The world is shifting decisively to micropower. The U.S. lags with only about 6 percent micropower: its special rules favor incumbents and gigantism. Yet micropower provides from one-sixth to more than half of all electricity in a dozen other industrial countries. Micropower in 2006 delivered a sixth of the worlds total electricity and a third of the worlds new electricity. Micropower plus negawatts electricity saved by more efficient or timely use now provide upwards of half the worlds new electrical services. The supposedly indispensable central thermal plants cost too much and bear too much financial risk to win much private investment whereas distributed renewables got $91 billion of new private capital in 2007 alone. Collapsed capital markets now make giant projects even more unfinanceable, [except, of course through public stimulus tax subsidies]. In short, competitive market economies have already shifted from large scale [centralized generation] to the smaller scale [distributed generation] model that prevailed in the 1940s. Even more radical decentralization, all the way to customers kilowatt scale [rooftop solar panels] may prove even more beneficial, especially if its control intelligence becomes distributed too. What part of this story does anyone who takes markets seriously not understand? Central thermal stations have become like Victorian steam locomotives: magnificent technological achievements that served us well until something better came along. When todays billion-watt, multi-billion-dollar plants retire, we wont [shouldnt?] replace them with more of the same.


Do we need a new high-voltage transmission line?


San Luis Valley Water Protection Coalition

The SLV Water Protection Coalition is committed to distributing quality information for successful citizen action.
P.O. Box 351 Alamosa, CO 81101 (719) 256-5780 (719) 589-1518

TriState Generation and Transmission Association is proposing construction of an 80 mile doublecircuit 230kilovolt transmission line between Alamosa and Walsenburg, CO. Scheduled forcompletionin2014,thisnewlinewilltriplethetransmissioncapacityinandoutoftheSLV. The SLV is currently served by adjacent 230kV and 115kV lines between the Poncha and SLV Substations with a combined capacity of 200 MW. In its 2008 project study (available at:, TristatemaintainsthattheSLVisatriskofvoltagecollapseduringthesummerirrigationseason andthatmorecapacityisneededtoaccommodategrowth.Howeverthesamestudyconcludes that,thetotalenergyrequirementsintheSanLuisValleyhaveremainedsteadysince1994.The realneedforthenewlineistoenableindustrialscalesolarpowerdevelopmentintheSLV. According to the study (section 14), potential projects SkyFuel and others have identified support acceleration of new transmission capacity from the SLV on the order of 2,000 MW by 2012[forcomparison,theSunEdisonPVplantinMoscais8.2MW].Thisincreaserepresentsan orderofmagnitudegreaterthanthecurrentcapacity.Solarpowercannotbeexportedfromthe SLVwithouttransmissionlinescapableofinjectingpowertourbandemandcenters. Theneedtotransitiontorenewableenergyisurgent.Thistransitionoffersusarareopportunity to create a new energy infrastructure more fitting to renewable energy technologies. Are we lockingtheSLV,Coloradoandratepayersintoacostly,inefficientoldenergymodelbypushing thoughtlessly ahead with remotely sited industrial scale solar energy development? As energy guru Lovins argues, are distributed micropower solutions being shortchanged, by special rules thatfavorincumbentsandgigantism?Isthisthebestuseofourrate/taxpayerdollars? WHATRESIDENTS&LANDOWNERSINTHEPROPOSEDCORRIDORNEEDTOKNOW: 1. Siting of the towers: The study corridors are onemile wide. The actual line will take up approx. 200 ft. wide path within the corridor. The towers will be either single steel pole design with six arms branching off, three on each side, or 4 legged steel trusstype towers. They will stand70to140ft.high,dependingonlocation.ThisisbiggerthananythingcurrentlyintheSLV. 2. Property Values: Studies on the effect on property values for residences and land with transmission lines running through or adjacent to them vary. In some instances there is no discernable monetary value loss, while in others properties essentially becoming unsalable. On average these locations lose 10%15% of their value (see:

3. HealthIssues:Extremelylowfrequencyelectromagneticfields(ELFEMF)thatemanate fromhighvoltagetransmissionlinesandhaveknowneffectsonhumanhealth.Measuredin milliGauss (mG), it is generally accepted that exposure below 2mG is relatively safe. Exposures greater than 2mG double the risk of childhood leukemia and there is evidence thatevenmomentaryexposureto16mGor greatercandramaticallyincreasechanceofa spontaneous abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Typical exposure levels directly below a 500kV line are 86mG and drop below 2mG at distances of 300 ft. The proposed line will be a double circuit 230kV line, which effectively makes it a 460kV line. High voltage lines can also interfere with television and radio reception (see: http://powerlinefacts.comand 4.RatepayersBeware:Transmissionlineswillbepaidforbyratepayers(andtaxpayers),in theformofincreasedelectricitycostsandfederalstimulusfunds.Utilityownedfacilities becomecorporateassetsthatratepayerscontinuetopayforwithnoinvestmentreturn. With solar technologies becoming competitive (and centralized generation increasingly costly), distributed generation is clearly the better economic choose for ratepayer/homeowners who benefit through increased property values and reduced electricityrates.Seesolarmythsat: WHATYOUCANDO: 1.GETINVOLVED:TheNationalEnvironmentalPolicyAct(NEPA)requirespubicreviewand inputoffederallyfinancedprojects.ThisspringTristatewillgatherinputfromcitizensand stakeholders during a 3045 day public scoping comment period. For updates and notifications,goto: 2. GET INFORMED. The transmission line will cost ratepayers $50 MILLION or more. As ratepayersandtaxpayers,wedeservetoknowifbuildingcostlytransmissionlinesisthe most efficient and economical use of our money. Is the line necessary for the reasons statedbyTristate(see: infrastructurebeenupgradedtothemaximumextentpossiblebeforeinvestingincostlynew transmission(learnaboutsmartgridsat: What energy development scenarios do these transmission lines drive for the SLV? (see: Connecting Colorados Renewable Resources to the Markets at: Will stakeholders and citizens in the SLV have a voice in the decisionmaking process? How will the costs and benefits of utilityscale renewable energy development be distributed? Will communities benefit or just corporations? How will our water, wildlife, cultural and agricultural resourcesandlandvaluesbeprotectedfromuncontrolledspeculationandindustrialsolar development? Download Colorados HB 071228 report on distributed generation at: To learn more about locally controlled energy generation go to: For more on ConcentratedSolarPower(CSP)goto: 3. SUPPORT RESPONSIBLE REGULATION. Urge your county commissioners to pass responsible renewable energy regulations and a renewable energy plan that ensures a sustainablefuturefortheSanLuisValley.EncourageStateandFederalrepresentativesto fund incentives for distributed generation, including feedin tariffs (