I have long argued that even the feel-good trickle of electricity from wind would be unusable without a better, bigger, and smarter grid. But building that particular bit of infrastructure rouses strong feelings and lots of work for lawyers.
The news is filled with these conflicts between landowners and those who are building the new transmission lines. Two hundred people in Livermore, California, turned out last month to protest a 600-mile transmission line that would run through the farms and vineyards of Alameda County. Similar protests have cropped up elsewhere in California and in New York.
The oldest story in the country is that rural America pays the largest price for producing the power used in the cities. But the massive investment in transmission lines now underway is immensely complicated. The construction of new lines and the lease payments they bring will benefit some rural residents, while others see it as unmitigated destruction.
Landowner is pitted again landowner, environmentalist against environmentalist and region against region:
• Millions of dollars in wind energy projects are being held up because there isn’t the transmission capacity to move the electricity into the cities. Ledyard King and Larry Bivins report in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that up to 300,000 megawatts of wind projects are on hold because of insufficient transmission capacity. "It's a huge problem for future development," said Steve Wegman, executive director of the South Dakota Wind Energy Association. "It's like sitting on 1 million bushels of corn and having no way to move it out of there other than a five-gallon bucket." Transmission capacity is the “glass ceiling for renewable energy development right now,” said one wind energy advocate.
• The argument for spending billions of dollars for new transmission lines comes from environmentalists who want to replace coal-fired power plants with wind power. They describe new electric lines as “green power superhighways.” Other environmentalists say this is a “green oxymoron,” that there is nothing more environmentally destructive than clear-cuts and power lines overlording plains, pastures and wilderness.
• Finally, there is regional disagreement over the need to build new transmission lines. Western states see a clear need for new lines. Eastern states aren’t so sure. [More]
I think we have lost any sense of even modest sacrifices for a "common good". In fact, even using that term will likely trigger "socialist-alerts" on search engines.
But the roads and powerlines have to be somewhere. So if you are happy with them messing up your neighbors field, and he's OK with them causing you headaches, I say we have old-fashioned gun fights to settle these things.