By Jim Bell
Anyone paying attention to SDG&E’s proposal to build a 120-mile electricity transmission line through San Diego County to Arizona has already heard most of arguments against it. It’s an eyesore, a fire danger, an impediment to fire fighting, dangerous to low flying military aircraft on established training flight paths. It will lower the value of people’s property anywhere this “transmission super highway” runs. It will also traumatize a strip of natural habitat at least a half-mile wide and 120 miles long with out regard to topography, wildlife impacts, damage to unique habitats, erosion and water shed health in general.
But what if the power link could be built in a way where all these problems were solved to everyone’s satisfaction and the natural world remained as pristine as today through out the whole process.
If this were possible, is the power link project the most cost-effective way for SDG&E to invest our money to maximize San Diego County’s electricity supply and price security?
In my view, the answer is a resounding NO!
To illustrate my point, here’s a side-by-side comparison of what I call the Renewable Electricity Net-Metered-Out Option and the SDG&E Power Link Option. Each Option will be evaluated in terms of its affect on:
+ Electricity Supply and Price Security
+ Economic Security
+ Public Health
+Jobs and Business Opportunities
+ General Social Good
+ Life-support Sustainability
1. Electricity Supply and Price Security
Becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out* is the only option of the two being considered that will give San Diego County real electricity supply and price security. Solar energy is free and even delivered free. All that is needed is to maximize electricity use efficiency improvements and install sufficient renewable energy collection devices for San Diego County to electricity net-meter-out. San Diego County could net meter out for electricity by covering less than 25 square miles of San Diego County’s roofs and parking areas with solar panels if coupled with a 40% improvement in electricity use efficiency. *Net-metered-out means that San Diego County’s solar installations would push as many kWh into the grid each year as the county uses from the grid each year.
2. Economic Security
Becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out will do the most to increase San Diego County’s economic health and security by:
+ Insulating it from gyrations in national and world energy markets.
+ Keeping the money San Diego County residents and resident businesses now export, (to pay for imported electricity or natural gas to burn locally to produce electricity), in San Diego County’s economy.
Note: At $.10 per kWh, this amounted to a negative cash flow of over $1 billion in 2002, a negative cash flow that I estimate is growing, on average, $40 to $50 million each year even at $.10 per kWh. As the cost of imported energy rises, San Diego County’s negative cash flow will grow at the same pace.
The SDG&E Power Link Option keeps San Diego County dependent on increasingly supply and price vulnerable natural gas, other fossil fuels and nuclear fuels. To give credit where due, the Power Link Option is proposed to link San Diego County to a proposed solar electric plant that may or may not ever get built. While importing renewable energy generated electricity is better than continuing our dependence of non-renewable and polluting fossil and nuclear fuels, it still exports every dollar we pay for electricity from it out of San Diego County’s economy.
3. Public Health
Becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out greatly reduces and will ultimately eliminate all the health and environment damage caused now by how the electricity used in San Diego County is produced.
If all our electricity came through the Power Link, air pollution in the county would also be reduced. The pollution would still be created but someone else would be breathing most of it.
4. Jobs and Business Opportunities
Currently, San Diego County residents and resident business (2006) are exporting $1.1 billion to other parts of the country and to the world to pay for imported electricity. In comparison, if we were renewable electricity net-metered-out today, the $1.1 billion negative cash flow we are currently experiencing would be transformed into a $1.1 billion positive cash flow. Multiplying $1.1 billion by an economic multiplier of 2 equals a countywide increase in yearly economic activity of $2.2 billion.
Multiplying $2.2 billion by 57%, the national percent of GNP that goes to wages and salaries, equals $1.25 billion or over 31,000 jobs per year paying and average of $40,000 per year.
Being electricity net-metered-out has the additional economic bonus of giving the owners of roofs and parking lots a new income stream from properties that are not generating direct income now. It will also have the benefit of providing shaded parking and reduce the wear and tear of roofs and parking lots by protecting them from direct sunlight.
5. General Social Good
Becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out will increase economic activity in San Diego County $2.2 billion each year once completed. It will create over 31,000 jobs paying and average of $40,000 per year. Plenty of well paying jobs and new business opportunities makes for happier families and communities. This intern reduces crime and social problems while increasing tax revenues for dealing with the crime and social problems that increased economic activity don’t solve.
The SDG&E Power Link Option continues and increases San Diego County’s current annual $1.1 billion negative cash flow to pay for imported electricity or natural gas to burn locally to produce it. Negative cash flows reduce business and job opportunities. Fewer ways to make a living makes for unhappy families and communities. This translates into increased crime and social problems and scarce public funds to deal with the problem created.
6. Life-support Sustainability
Although becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out is not yet completely life-support and health benign, it is much less damaging to human and environmental health than building the power link and all that it implies. Additionally, with practice, we will get better at manufacturing and installing electricity use efficiency products and solar (PV) panels so as to make them completely ecological and health benign. This would include designing them to be easily recycled into new products at the end of their useful life.
We live in dangerous times. By becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out, San Diego County can greatly increase its electricity supply and price security and therefore its economic security. As a bonus, it will also eliminate or reduce a number of health and environmental problems.
Additionally, building on the skills developed in the process, San Diego County has the opportunity to take world leadership in the new industry of helping cities, states and countries around the world become renewable energy self-sufficient.
Ultimately, our job, whether we live in San Diego County or not, is to insure that our children and future generations are given the birthright of a healthy, happy, prosperous and completely life-support sustaining world. By becoming renewable electricity net-metered-out, San Diego County will be taking a powerful positive step toward this ultimate goal. It is my hope that SDG&E and its parent SEMPRA will drop the negative cash flow Power Link Project and invest in making their service area customers, you and me, more electricity use efficient and by installing sufficient PV panels on our roofs and parking lots for San Diego County to be electricity net-metered-out. This would take much less capital than the Power Link and it would really make our county electricity supply and price secure.
Jim Bell, Ecological Designer, Lecturer and Author. Jim has also been a candidate for Mayor of San Diego in past elections.