While Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama continues to loudly beat the alternative energy drum, which we appreciate and acknowledge, by staunchly opposing nuclear energy and resisting discussions regarding expanded offshore drilling, his judgment is, once again, is proving to be as flawed as it is shallow. Both nuclear and offshore drilling are essential components in America’s quest for oil independence and clean energy.
While it’s true that America needs to focus on advancing all the alternative energies as rapidly as possible, be it solar, wind, wave or geothermal, it’s equally true that advancing these technologies alone will not be sufficient to replace even natural gas on America’s electrical grid (so it can be used as an alternative for cars, trucks and buses) for many years to come. Surprisingly, the weak link isn’t even the technologies. It’s something far less glamorous, far less politically appealing and far more daunting. It’s America’s antiquated power grid itself that’s the problem.
As solar and wind energy technologies move closer and closer to achieving grid parity (the point where it costs the same to make electricity from a given technology as it does to make it from a coal fired plant) problems are already beginning to crop up as new wind farms begin to tax the grid to the point where it can no longer accommodate the electrical traffic being put into the system. This forces these producers to shut down operations when the grid becomes too congested. Simply put, since solar and wind generators, and even geothermal plants are usually located in sparsely populated areas, the infrastructure necessary to get the electricity from the source to the high population areas of demand, is either insufficient or non-existent.
America needs an energy super-highway, an upgraded infrastructure that will be able to transport this alternatively generated electricity efficiently from the source, be it wind, solar or geothermal. Without it all the windmills and solar arrays will be useless.
For example, Maple Ridge Wind farm invested $320 million building approximately 200 wind turbines in upstate New York. Today, at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.
Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, comments that, by comparison, in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas. “The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.
It will cost about $60 billion to build this energy superhighway but the technology already exists. In fact American Electric Power already operates 2,100 miles of this type of power lines. The problem with making this a reality is that this essential infrastructure is that it involves interstate cooperation as the line is built through state after state. States are loathe to cooperate with each other not because of what it might do for them but what small advantage they might lose in the battle for cheap power and profits.
America must build this energy superhighway and they have to get started now if we are ever going to become energy independent. This is going to take leadership and someone willing to make enemies in order to serve America’s future. Whose up to the task? That remains to be seen but you better make sure the person you vote for will make it happen.
In the interim, America needs to expand its commitment to nuclear power and to expanding our domestic oil production until we can get this basic problem of infrastructure resolved. Nuclear power can be built near the existing energy backbone feeding major metropolitan centers and won’t require this new energy superhighway.
We need to put aside all our differences and work together to get this energy superhighway built so that America can properly utilize the rapidly advancing alternative energy technologies. You’ve taken the time to learn about alternative energies, now spend a little time getting involved with the very center of this technology, the energy superhighway. Just Google “energy superhighway” to get started.