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Week of 8.7.09

Power Struggle

Find out why the green energy dream may not happen.

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Will the green energy dream come to fruition? This week NOW explores obstacles to the promise of renewables—energy generated from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, and rain.

The Weekly Q
As America looks to dramatically increase its use of renewable energy, an inconvenient reality stands in the way: the need to upgrade the country's antiquated electricity grid. Part of that overhaul involves the construction of gigantic and expensive long-distance transmission lines to carry clean energy from remote sites to population centers.

NOW travels to California, which has the most ambitious clean energy plan in the nation. But the state's efforts face stiff opposition from property owners and conservationists who prefer renewable energy from "local sources," such as photovoltaic rooftop solar panels.

Complicating the matter are claims that the transmission lines are not actually carrying renewable energy at all, but represent a thinly-disguised strategy to stick to old energy practices.

This show was originally broadcast on January 16, 2009.

Web Feature

Energy Efficiency Incentives
See financial incentives in your state to promote clean energy.
In the News

The LA Times: Solar farm cuts gap with fossil fuel

The LA Times: Debate over Sunrise Powerlink may be near decision

The San Diego Union Tribune: 'Renewables' a magic word to sell public on Powerlink

Scientific American: How does solar power work?

Scientific American: Offshore Wind May Power the Future

Related Links

NOVA: The Big Energy Gamble: Can California's ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gases actually succeed?

San Diego Engineer Bill Powers' "Smart Energy Report," about the potential of generating solar power locally.

San Diego Gas and Electric on the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, including links to maps of the transmission line.

The Desert Protective Council: Sunrise Powerlink: A Battle for California's Energy Future

Cathy Zoi's plan to fight global warming, "We Can Solve It"

Communities United for Sensible Power, a community group opposed to the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission Line.

Balancing Renewable Energy Development and Land Conservation in a Warming World (pdf), joint statement by key envioronmental groups.

Blueprint America Rockefeller Foundation Thirteen/WNET

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Randolph21Bridgett
I think that to get the mortgage loans from banks you should present a good reason. But, once I have got a student loan, because I wanted to buy a bike.

Commenter: Webspin
More goofball ad-hock solutions.

It's real simple folks. Fewer people, efficient sized homes and cars, conservative minded energy use.

Electric cars are almost 200 years old. They don't work. Wind power 500 plus years old, always been a poor solution. Solar energy, 100 plus years old, never has been profitable.

Commenter: Robert Emery
I was involved with development of Solar projects in the Imperial Valley slated to use the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line and had to hold my nose. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) were awarded to companies that are either technically or financially unfeasible e.g. Bethel Energy 1 & 2. The 49 MW ea. PPAs were renegotiated to allow a biomass/solar hybrid and one was abandoned. The financials of some of these companies leave a lot to be desired regarding these projects. Last, another company still hasn't perfected their solar technology.

I also involved with development of fossil fuel projects just across the border in Mexico to wheel power into the US and there was never any question the transmission line would be Sunrise Powerlink. But the greenwash is now a fossil/solar hybrid.

Commenter: Connie
John, I don't know who you are, but I liked what you wrote so much, because I couldn't say it any better myself....that I hope you don't mind that I just copy

Commenter: independant
Sempra's goal is profits, plain and simple. Look at their conduct during the gray davis/enron fiasco.

However, there is the chicken/egg paradox here. They can not commit to building a line when it is unreliable that green energy plants are even going to get built. Though, with no link, there is no incentive to even try to build these facilities. Every single project must go through an EIR and public hearing, extending the time and limiting the ability for many to get built (sometimes thankfully). SDGE is only trying to obtain recompense for a very expensive project from any constantly reliable source (ie Coal

Commenter: Erich Riesenberg
I am surprised at the hackish nature of some of the comments here. If there are inaccuracies with the show people should present them.

It sounds simple, the company is putting on a PR campaign while in private doing the opposite of what it pretends. Not a new story at all, but still a disappointment, people and companies can get away with it, time and again.

Commenter: Bill
All the opponents of this keep screaming is "not in my back yard". Environmentalists have been warning us about global warming for almost twenty years, and now when somebody figures out a way to produce and transmit renewable energy, they cant get it going because of environmentalists? Make up your minds already. Whats worse, global extinction or some power lines in your back yard? Fine, scrap all the plans for renewable energy and the transmission lines. When the electricity fails in Dan Diego or L.A., and people are rioting in the streets, these opponents had better find a good place to hide.

Commenter: Miriam Raftery
East County Magazine has been covering hearings and meetings on Powerlink throughout San Diego County. Check out comprehensive coverage, which includes 7 pages of article listings on this important topic. Keep up on the latest news here:

Commenter: Tony Rex
I wish I could get the money to build the engine that
will us no carbon.

Commenter: John
Dear NOW,

I would really like to support you and your cause but your cause is liberalism and Obomaism. This is not journalism.

The purpose of public TV and journalism is to provide news from a non-bias point of view. Not to become the Government sanctioned news. PBS and NOW are obviously swinging left of center...this is not acceptable as one who is right of center. If I want liberal news I will watch MSNBC and I don't. I expect honest non-bias news, I will make the decision as to what I believe. "Just the facts mam."

Do I need to watch Fox? It seems to me, that they are the only ones who are bold enough to transcend their bias and report both side of an issue. Perhaps that is why they are #1 in news. Like it or not, 50% of your potential viewers and potential supporters are concretive Republicans.

This weeks story was about global warming, Al Gore style. Last I checked, All Gore was a politician and profiteer not a scientist. No scientific proof has manifested that proves that man is the cause of this normal cyclical cycle of global warming and cooling. By the way have you heard of the urbanization effect on local temps? Here in Colorado we are having the coolest wettest summer recorded.

Please explain the earth sediment off the coast of New York. Every 120,000 years the sea sediment changes from sea to land. Go figure. I guess dinosaurs drove SUVs too. Perhaps the last Global warming could have been prevented by Liberal politics and taxes and hugging trees? I guess a tax on the emission of volcano's, was needed but missed?

I am not opposed to renewable energy or low carbon emission, but let us not become a socialist state that mandates it. Freedom ends with Government tyranny. Have any of you attempted to build a house on your own land lately? Personal freedom and use of land is long gone. Laws are need for the lawless. Truth universal is and has always been law. Universal Law is truth. Liberals and conservatives who reject truth must therefore be deceived lawless people seeking domination by government issued laws that define the relative truth that justifies their immorality. Wishing well and doing good are very different things.

Has Obama and his Liberalism become your lame excuse for God? Truth is not relative to your opinion. Journalism is not intended to be a sales pitch for a bias. It is a seeking of the truth. Are you afraid of the truth? If not then broadcast it or go the way of the networks and disappear. If you want support from 100% of viewers then broadcast truth. Idiots, whether liberal or conservative, will worship their own deception.

If you cannot find the truth then at least broadcast all views of the deception. Christ loved all sinners liberal and conservative.

The liberal mantra: Save a tree kill a baby. Grow up already! How is that true or good? Seems to me that the Liberal way is to spend money and sign bills that have not been proven much less even read. Hello wake up America! Wake up PBS.

Regards, a truth seeking human.

Commenter: Daniel Coffey
I both enjoyed and was disappointed by the presentation provided and people interviewed by those making the NOW documentary news piece on the Sunrise Powerlink.

I hold degrees in law and chemical engineering. I have spent a good deal of time researching and writing about renewable energy, global warming, and the Sunrise Powerlink for my weekly opinion column published in the San Diego Daily Transcript newspaper. I have extensively interviewed Bill Powers.

Those who understand the real risks involved and the petty obstructionist approaches which have been used to block a vital piece of renewable energy infrastructure are worried that what is really happening is Green-washing by the objectors, not SDG

Commenter: Richard N
Excellent program. Southern Colorado is having a powerline being proposed (shoved down out throat) right now. A public meeting is planned for 8/17/9 @ 4PM in Ft. Garland, CO, Costilla County, where CO began. Tri-State Energy is our SDG

Commenter: Todd R.
You really missed the point on this one. A transmission line is not 'dirty' or 'clean'. The people fighting those new lines are an example of 'not in my backyard' philosophy that holds back environmental protection. Your piece did demonize 'the man', although it made little sense otherwise. I really need to find something else to do between 'Washington Week' and 'Bill Moyers' Journal'.

Commenter: RA Fritz
The best renewable energy is actually geothermal. Independant studies have stated that for many years. The core of our planet is a huge battery, providing more clean, consistant energy than humans can ever use at relatively low O

Commenter: Ed from Iowa
We (Iowa) have already had push back from local landowers to the large windfarms that have been developed here. Wind Getto is the term being used in the country. However one community (Jefferson Iowa) has embraced their local wind farm (seven turbines) that reside just outside their town. The turbines provide electricity equal to the entire County's annual usage and are owned by local farmers.
People in the country know when they're getting a good or bad deal. If the only thing they get is the view of large transmission lines...then it's a bad deal. Feed-In-Tariffs are a much better option. imo

Commenter: Elaine Cimino
SB35 Senate State bill is using Tobacco taxes maney to bond the transmissions line that the Citizens of the the State would have no say in. I usually watch your show weekly but missed this one on Energy. Thank you so mush because it added to our points on the Dirty Transmission lines the fait accompli of government officials and lobbyist and pay for play schemes in New Mexico. Hopefully we can kill the bill and come back with something else. thank you for your work.
Elaine Cimino
505 265-3500

Commenter: Zhang
Your last Friday's program about solar energy and transmission lines had done more damage to renewable energy and a better/cleaner world than protect/promote them.

Transmission and distribution lines are a critical part of modern and better world. A world without them is unimaginable. Transmission and distribution lines are not pretty. They could have negative impact on the corridors where they pass too. However, comparing the benefit they bring to the world, the loss is justifiable and small. Do these individuals in the NOW show who own the desert land in the Empery Valley use electricity in life? Think about how many other land owners sacrificed their lands, properly far more valuable ones, to allow transmission line pass their properties in order to let people in the Empery Valley enjoy electrical service? Sacrificing the other people's land is OK, not mine! What a logical "Environment Protection"!

Promoting the idea that local PV panels in San Diego would eliminate the need for a transmission line that brings needed power into San Diego is just like people say my home generator covers 100% my needs. What if San Diego has a few days of raining and cloudy days so that the local PV panels cannot produce anything and they do not have backup power? Are we going to shut entire San Diego down?

Another illogical statement made in the program was "Germany uses PV. So should San Diego." It sounded good. However, we are not really comparing with Germany here. If you count and compare how many sunny days per year Empery Valley and San Diego actually have, to put solar power plant in the desert where we can see far more solar energy first is only reasonable choice. Renewable energy needs to be competitive to grow. Otherwise, it is just a dream.

Commenter: Henry Brown
Excellent Power Struggle and green washing definition.

New Mexico has a similar problem with green washing.
Power grid operators are selling reliable wind power while actually selling coal by wire.

Western Wind Farms lack peak load profitability.
I built EMS/SCADA and data archiving software for PNM/FPL wind farm in Eastern NM. Working with power engineers in NM, CO, CA, AZ we balanced load for the SW/US power grid. Wind has many problems.
Transmission is perhaps the most difficult. Southwestern wind farms do not meet peak demand (June - Aug) 4-7PM. Coastal wind farms might.
US power grid upgrades should maximize peak load to urban areas to improve profitability and reduce C02.
Some alternative energies allow T. Boone Pickens to recentralize power.
This expensive wind farm model would require large transmission networks to move wind power from the US midwest. The cost of transmission will be very expensive. Electric transmission can cost millions of dollars per mile due to right-of-way (ROW) issues. The Midwest wind would not meet peak demand. Wind in the US/Midwest blows when you least need it. Strong in spring and fall and not at all in summers when peak load is needed. Coastal wind is a better balance as it blows in off shore and on shore cycles. Build wind farms on the coast and decentralize the grid. Build it in the West and recentralize it. Right of way (ROW) issues in the US will make new transmission lines very expensive. Green washing is allowing power grid operators to rip off "Green" transmission lines for coal by wire profits. CA PUC caves to grid operators. Great PBS power struggle video:

Many wind advocates have never been in a power grid control room monitoring wind power. Power operators call them rogue generators.
They are constantly going up and down.
The wind power/sun power that will pay for itself will be near the customer and will provide power during peak load of summer months.
Advocates need an understanding of the profits that green energy must make to be viable. It must compete and sell to customers. State utility regulators must restructure pricing in summer so that the Air Conditioning electric costs are set at fair market prices. 1/3 of all power is used for two months (June 15 - Aug 15) to meet AC demands. Miami, Phoenix and LA need to wake up to the fact that they create the most carbon to power AC. The local AC customer must finance the green power to meet their needs. Importing coal by wire is no longer viable.

The US Navy is funding research into building a fusion reactor to replace nuclear reactors in Navy. This small electric generator could one day replace centralized grids with decentralized grids.

Commenter: Kay Pingsterhaus
I am hungry for more information regarding what is being done to save energy. The dirty secret is there will not be a solution until business devises a way to make money out of it! Case in point: the light bulb thing. Incandescent lights are more efficient when use is less than 15 minutes at a time. Try to find one in the store these days.

As individuals we can save energy. Start looking for the parasitic draws. I.e. TV instant on, DVR/VCR, alarm clocks, various chargers for electronic devices, automated sales calls to ones msg device, PCs, printers, fax machines, etc.

Bottom line though is, this is not just an American problem. Is the rest of the world getting the same story? I would like to see a program about that. One final thought. How much human traffic is there at the ice caps? Are the scientist part of the problem? Maybe we should get footprints/ships/snowmobiles/drills off the ice and moniter from space?

Commenter: Kathy Williamson
I keep hearing all the talk about carbon dioxide and the green house effects. We look at cows, cars and disappearing glaciers... nobody discusses "people" Don't humans breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide? Aren't we more that 6 billion people on the planet? Don't PEOPLE create the pollution - and are't we encouraged to keep on buying stuff - Nobody addresses population control anymore. Whatever happened to ZERO POPULATION GROWTH?

Commenter: David
Roof top solar for individual homes costs three times more than geothermal, wind energy and 40% more than concentrated solar and an orders of magnitude more than energy efficiency. We will not solve the energy crisis with residential rooftop solar without wasting vast sums of money. If we are going to reform our economy to deal with climate change we need to get the most kilowatts of renewable for the dollar that we can. Residential PV solar will play a role in this process but a minor role. Whether environmentalists and NIMBY activists choose to accept this is of course to be determined.

Commenter: Stephen T. Skokowski
Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dear NOW:

In your January 16 program there were statements made by organizations against the building of power line tower through their land or within sight of their land because it would destroy the beauty around it. Why didn't the interviewer suggest burying the power lines for whatever distance necessary so power could be carried through the shortest distance?

At least bring up the subject of burying new power lines versus putting up power towers. What is the cost and the necessary distance involved. Instead of spending millions to fight to build the towers and millions to fight against building power line towers, take the millions and bury the power lines and both sides should be happy. The power is needed in either case.

Stephen T. Skokowski
Cheyenne, WY

Commenter: B
I found the episode on green power and the new transmission line being built in Southern California to be a little misleading. I don't work for SDG

Commenter: Umberto Brayj
I find it interesting that built-in consumer demand for electricity is not discussed either in news reports like this, nor by our politicians. Along with solar cells, homes ought to be thoroughly designed to totally reduce or minimize heating and cooling costs. This goes for both hot and cold water and doubly so for heating and cooling rooms.

Our zoning standards prevent designs that minimize these costs.

Further, why not investigate how we can stabilize our economy without growing our consumption of energy and other resources? There are plenty of good answers out there. Reports like this leave your viewers hanging.

Commenter: Dave Baldwin
The discussion in this program about transmission lines was almost entirely devoid of scientific fact and completely political. Renewable energy sources are a necessity but discussions like this harm the cause because of their lack of technical and scientific information.

Commenter: Jerry R. Booker
Not that I like it either, but we will just have to get to used to what these new installations look like. After all there is almost nowhere left that we haven't changed in some way, and now a lot of it we are used to seeing and find it acceptable. Consider the eastern part of the mid-west, once prairie grass and flowers, is now corn and beans. Even though they might be bothersome to look at at first, as long as we leave room for wild things to thrive, new power lines and solar collectors won't disturb nature that much, certainly not as much as the alternatives like mountain top and strip mining.

We do have a very serious energy/environment problem. I think President Elect Obama's heart and mind are in the right place with his strong emphasis on developing renewable energy and a new smart grid, and he has chosen some good members for his cabinet to support the goals.

But after seeing this show, it will obviously take a lot of good, well intentioned, very knowledgeable people working in the public interest (and the interest of all life on earth) to keep the shallow-minded profiteers from lobbying away, or just plain stealing, too much of the federal funds intended to make it all happen. We all have to become educated about the problems, and about their tricks and techniques, and be ready to fight them off. Thanks for airing this show.

Commenter: Hans Kindt
An EXCELLENT show. Thank you! I wish that Ms. Gruenich had prevailed. The notion that these guys (SDGE) are STILL only concerned with profit and feel it's okay to obfuscate the truth disgusts me. I know a scam when I hear/see one. If they were only going to send clean energy then WHY NOT SIGN THE AGREEMENT? I'm so tired of this reprehensible and dishonest treatment of consumers and ordinary, hard working people. Talk about anti-American!

Commenter: Bob Bond
Was disappointed that the show never once said the word nuclear (clean, non-carbon energy). Also, aren't underground transmission lines an option? (again, no mention)

Commenter: israel
i saw the video of the debate people of california has, and i thing is a big problem which concerns not just the people of california , and i think will be a good idea to place the solar discs they want to place on the mojave desert on every electric tower in the contry.. that way the save that land for conservation of the planet, ... i know will be very expencive but, think this way!!! for example. if they gone use 500 tousend gallons of diesel for powered the machines to drill , the land and place the discs , they can use half of the fuel only!!! because they will use only fuel to power a big crane to place the discs on the tower, they don't have to use much fuel, they can place solar panels in every traffic ligth of the city for power the signs, use every roof of the homes , buildings to place solar panels that way they save the desert, if we don't do anything to save the enviroment of this beautiful planet we not be avilable to make the next step in space!!!!!!! how we want to colonize the moon or other planet, if we can't save this one.?????//

Commenter: Cameron Johnson
The California Powerlink presentation leaves out a critical economic issue. Solar energy is a highly valuable but diffuse resource. The fanciest collector is still limited by the approximately 1kW per square meter source.
It is not economic to add the cost and power losses of transmission. Solar is ideal for roof top collection in the building where it will be used.
Residences built to use electricity efficiently, well insulated against heat or cold and with very efficient appliances will be able to provide enough electricity to house reasonably conserving occupants.
Rooftop solar when interconnected to local distribution enables provides the best way for all to benefit.

Commenter: Alex
Excellent show. Your in depth reporting is so needed, thank you thank you! Why can't we replace the national evening news with you guys? Our world won't truly improve until that happens. The news media is the only thing we have left, and as our 4th branch of govt, I'm not sure even that will survive given all the media consolidation and for profit news. Keep up the good work, I'm watching and using your information to do good in my community.

Commenter: Klund
Please read on the web comments by Daniel G. Nocera, the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT. He opines that through the discovery of synthetic photosynthesis wherein hydrogen is cheaply produced from solar energy using earth abundent catalysts, homes will be off the grid in ten years by using home hydrogen fuel cells. The home will become the energy center.

Commenter: Gilbert Martinez
If what produces the power is that "engine" in front of the solar beam at a focal point, then can that focal point be moved farther therefore delivering the solar energy closer to were its needed by having the "engine" at that location.

Commenter: Bobo Amerigo
How many rooftops in San Diego could be equipped with solar cells for $2B? Enough to make the transmission line unnecessary? But also making the power company's hold on power more diffuse?

It should be considered.

Thank you.

Power Struggle

In Your State: Energy Efficiency Incentives

Slideshow: Behind the Scenes

Issue Clash: "Clean Coal"

How Green is Your College?

The Top Green Jobs

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