If you’re going to have renewables, you’d better love transmission

The controversy surrounding a proposed high voltage transmission line in El Centro, CA, which would potentially deliver wind, solar, and geothermal energy to San Diego, is instructive on the difficulties that will surround future renewable energy development.

El Centro has 110 degrees plus temperature, high wind, and readily available geothermal resources neat the San Andreas Fault.  All told, there ate 16,000 MW of potential renewable energy in the area. However, some environmentalists want the utility to forego the project and simply develop rooftop solar in San Diego.  Other critics worry about the fact that existing natural gas energy will be transmitted over the same line, and that the renewable energy claims are merely a smokescreen for a government-subsidized investment that will have a large ROI.

Michael W. Howard, president and chief executive of the Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit utility consortium based in Palo Alto, Calif., said that while the potential for exploiting renewable energy remains huge nationally, “you’ve got to get it from somewhere,” he said. “If you’re going to have renewables, you’d better love transmission.”

In the end, rooftop solar deserves development, but so does an area as resource rich as El Centro, especially with its low population.  If we can’t build a transmission line in El Centro, we will certainly be unable to do it in more populated areas.

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