Statement of the Alliance Energy Group:
The Alliance Energy Group opposes the two new major transmission lines proposed for the mid-Atlantic electricity grid, one of which would go through the Lehigh Valley area. Given environmental concerns, peak oil, global climate instability, and local ecosystem stability, the new transmission lines, like other increases in the grid, are unsustainable.
A. The Unsustainable, For-Profit Approach to Energy: Increase Power Line Capacity
What corporations and governmental agencies are planning is enormous in scope, cost, and consequences: New, larger transmission lines, one cutting a swath through the Lehigh Valley area from PPL’s two existing nuclear reactors at Berwick to the Northeast’s urban centers; also, a new third nuclear reactor at Berwick.
Transmission line proponents claim they are meeting consumer needs: They say demand for electricity in the Northeast will increase, but national data show a 1% decrease in 2006 energy consumption. Unless they pump more energy in, they say, there will be outages and blackouts. To prevent such, they claim we need to increase the transmission of electricity from outlying electricity-generating plants to the Northeast’s growing, power-hungry populations.
But there are major problems with their approach:
1. Their approach wastes energy. Sixty percent of energy from centralized generation and long-distance transmission is lost. The further the generating system is from users, the more energy that has to be produced to provide users with the same amount of energy. We don’t have energy enough as it is, let alone waste.
2. Their approach is subject to disruption. Centralized energy generation and long-distance transmission increase vulnerability to disruptive large-scale black-outs, brown-outs, transmission line disruptions, and other system failures.
3. Their approach makes use of unsustainable and dangerous sources of energy. Traditional methods for generating electricity on the scale required by this proposal are fraught with difficulties and dangers. Coal-fired power plants pollute the environment with mercury and produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. Nuclear fission reactors are dangerous, difficult to deal with, very expensive, inefficient, depend on a very dirty mining process, and, with their long-lasting radioactive wastes, leave a toxic inheritance for future generations.
4. Their approach pays little attention to environmentally sensitive areas. For the planners of these transmission lines, concern for the bottom line is above concern for environmental costs, as is well demonstrated by a proposed Bucks County transmission path where environmental costs were not a consideration in the planning.
5. Their approach runs rough-shod over local communities and regions. The federal government has claimed authority to decide where the transmission lines go, regardless of the wishes of the communities/regions through which the lines would go. Note: The governors of Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey oppose the corridors.
6. Their approach encourages pursuit of unsustainable “on demand” expectations. Governmental and corporate policies are aimed at meeting increasing demand, without regard to improving efficiency or changing wasteful habits or the limitations that sustainability imposes.
7. Their approach is very expensive. New transmission lines will cost billions of dollars, which the consumer will ultimately pay. Using monies this way would take us further down the wrong path.
B. A Regional Approach to Energy: An Alternative Strategy.
1. Define realistic energy needs. We cannot continue to increase non-sustainable energy usage. Indeed, drastic decrease in the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity is in order if we are to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases. We need community involvement in assessing basic energy needs and the parameters of sensible, sustainable use.
2. Do a better job of managing our energy. We need to make better decisions about how to produce energy as well as how to cut back on wasted energy. One of the biggest opportunities is to use energy more efficiently. Local communities who foot the bill have more incentive to seek and implement conservation, efficiency, and alternative sustainable sources.
3. Make communities/regions as energy self-sufficient as possible. We cannot accept continual increases in the grid as the way to operate. We need to work with available, local resources whose use is sustainable in each local region, not only our own, but in each region of the Northeast to which we are linked. We propose the development of regional utility districts, like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a publicly-owned utility known for its innovative and green energy programs. These districts would focus on meeting energy needs by maximizing use of locally available energy sources.
4. Produce our own electricity as much as possible; minimize use of transmission lines. Publicly-owned non-profit utilities could also assist residents, neighborhoods, businesses, communities, in getting off the grid as much as possible through local conservation and energy production technologies. A de-centralized, “community-hands-on” system would foster more realistic assessment of energy considerations and wiser decisions.
5. Given the coming PPL rate hikes, publicly-owned non-profit utilities make economic sense. Rather than just groan and moan but be willing to pay the higher rates, we should be seeking alternatives. Publicly-owned non-profit utilities could be of great value in helping our communities to be energy self-sufficient, energy appropriate, energy wise.
C. Making the Transition to Sustainability: What Needs To Be Done?
1. Oppose the Power Lines. Our region’s communities, political leaders, organizations, institutions, workers, businesses, need to oppose these transmission lines as socially and environmentally unsustainable, and work toward more positive approaches both in our own region as well as in other regions of the Northeast.
2. Raise Awareness. We need to bring into public consciousness, through presentations, our educational institutions, our media, and our work, the reasons for fostering more realistic assessment of energy considerations and the need for wiser decisions.
3. Demonstrate How To Meet Our Needs Sustainably. We need to carry out retrofitting projects (like the E.House project the Alliance is coordinating with Lower Saucon Township) in every municipality of our area, as well as demonstrate how to incorporate green building and sustainable energy approaches in new construction.
4. Create a Sustainable Energy Center. We need to work on developing a Sustainable Energy Center. It would be a highly visible means for focusing societal efforts and attention on the development of alternative forms of energy and their enabling technologies, and on their acceptance.
5. Assess Our Energy Generation Capabilities. We need to inventory and assess present and potential modes of energy generation available in the Lehigh Valley. This could become part of the work of publicly-owned non-profit utility districts.
6. Create Publicly-Owned Non-Profit Utility Districts. County Executives, Councils, Planning Commissions, Boards of Supervisors, and the communities of the Lehigh Valley, need to work toward the formation of publicly-owned, not-for-profit Regional Utility Districts in the Greater Lehigh Valley. Publicly-owned, non-profit utilities here would serve as models for other Northeast regions. Note: there are already a number of boroughs in PA, including Kutztown, Lehighton, and Quakertown in our region, with public power utilities.
7. Generate Legislation To Provide Funding For Decentralized Systems. We need our government to take the funds they would use for new transmission lines or to subsidize new nuclear power plants and instead subsidize decentralized, mini-grid, alternative energy systems. We need our government to take the path to sustainability.
- Note: This paper is an outline of work in progress. Discussion and elaboration of the points raised here will be provided on the website of the Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley, http://www.SustainLV.org. To comment or for more information or to get involved with our efforts, call 610-838-7666 or email us at energy@SustainLV.org.