Not Connecting the Dots

grid_0295Two developments this week would seem to validate concerns that things aren’t quite lining up for the vaunted new age of renewable energy.

While the Secretaries of Energy and Interior were offering confident assurances to a Senate panel about the future of renewables, a consortium of environmental groups was suing them over a plan for major new transmission lines for the western electrical grid.

The groups, represented by lawyers at Oakland-based EarthJustice, produced their own maps to show that the proposed routes appear to miss many areas with the most potential for solar, wind and geothermal resources. Instead, environmentalists say the West-wide Energy Transmission Corridors approved under the Bush administration would seem to line up just about perfectly with major existing and proposed coal-fired power plants (note that the maps themselves are PDF downloads).

According to EarthJustice:

“The Bush corridors plan ignores the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) adopted by nine of the eleven western states to increase use of the region’s vast wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy. The approximately 6,000 miles and 3.2 million acres of federal land in eleven western states designated as energy corridors puts imperiled wildlife at risk and slices or brushes against the borders of iconic public lands. Among these are Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Arches National Park, and New Mexico’s Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.”

I asked Katie Renshaw, a Washington-based lawyer for EarthJustice, if Energy and Interior wouldn’t have updated their plans since the Bush-era maps were approved. “As far as we’ve seen, they haven’t,” said Renshaw.  “An analysis was never really completed.”

The lawsuit comes just days after energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens revealed that he’s having to reconsider his plans for a major network of wind turbines through Texas. The reason: no transmission lines.

In California and elsewhere, proposed transmission lines have run afoul of environmental interests, as Rob Schmitz reported in his New Gridlock series for Climate Watch.

Update: Scott Streater has more on the controversy over siting renewables in a New York Times Greenwire post.