Be Open to Tradeoffs
by Editorial Board
If we are to embrace a new energy future for Oregon and the nation, policy makers and consumers will find it impossible to avoid a stubborn truth: Everything we do to create alternative energy sources for households, businesses and transportation will come with large consequences and costs.
Recent events occurring locally and around the Northwest provide a glimpse of the tradeoffs that will be faced as we attempt to power the future from renewable energy sources.Here are just a few examples:
As temperatures spiked recently, wind turbines across the Pacific Northwest were idled as breezes ceased blowing. This failure in turn forced Portland General Electric to rely on power from other states.
Residents of Oregon City and West Linn are complaining about an Oregon Department of Transportation plan to place up to 17,000 solar panels on a south-facing hillside above Interstate 205. The panels, residents say, will degrade their views and require removal of too many trees. Meanwhile, other Oregonians have began to object to proposals to expand wind farms, which they say create visual pollution in rural areas.
And these and other folks also are particularly opposed to plans to build new transmission lines to carry power from these wind farms to more populated areas in the Willamette Valley.
At the same time, Oregonians concerned about safety and the environment also continue to fight plans for the location of a liquefied natural gas receiving terminal along the Columbia River and the construction of a gas line through Washington County and other parts of the state - even though this energy is arguably better for the atmosphere than coal and cheaper for consumers.
And alongside these conflicts, an old, fiercely fought battle is rearing its head. Federal Judge James Redden has given the Obama administration a new deadline to explain its plans to restore Columbia River salmon runs. If the plans are insufficient, Redden warns that the topic of breaching four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River will be on the table again - at a time when power generated and water stored by those dams is most needed to offset use of fossil fuels, provide for efficient river transportation and supply water for agriculture.
Clearly, it will be difficult for the Northwest - or any region - to travel forward into the promised land of renewable energy. When discussed in generalities, just about everybody agrees with the idea of reducing greenhouse gases, encouraging alternative energy and lowering dependence on finite fossil fuels. But when the specifics come forward this generalized support can disintegrate into arguments over aesthetics, money and whether change should be required by government mandate or encouraged by incentives.
An even bigger discussion will involve the choices this state and region must make as it considers its future need for energy. Some environmental groups make optimistic claims that the Northwest can meet its power needs with all-renewable energy sources. But others will ask: At what cost to the consumer and the taxpayer? Those arguments are still in their early stages.
But even now, we can see that the choices are far from easy. If people want to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, they also must be willing to tolerate solar panels or wind mills in their line of view - and they may even have to make difficult choices when it comes to keeping dams that slow global warming or embrace other measures to save a treasured species of fish.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs