The Energy Transition and Public Lands, Part I
Do we have to choose between protecting the desert and fighting climate change?
I guess it was more than 20 years ago now that my wife Wendy and I hosted Christmas for my family at our home amid sagebrush and alfalfa fields outside the small settlement of Arboles, Colorado. The house buzzed with the activity of a dozen people or more preparing for a holiday feast: food processors grinding, blenders pureeing, hair dryers drying, music playing, lights blazing.
The remarkable part of this is that the house—a funky affair built with mud and sticks, strawbales and juniper trunks—was off the grid, powered by a set of mismatched photovoltaic panels. And despite the near-solstice day’s brevity, the cloudy skies, and the cold, the six Sam’s Club deep-cycle golf cart batteries we used to store the solar power held up to all of that use.
We sold the house long ago, but the memories of the view down the San Juan River and up the Piedra and of living among curvaceous, mud-plastered walls endure. And now, as we end a year of climatic nuttiness of fires and floods, of desiccation and deluge, of extreme heat and, well, more extreme heat, all of which conspired to wreak havoc on the electricity grid, I find myself yearning for that sense of self sufficiency. I also look back and wonder whether our experience may offer a glimmer of a solution to what I see as one of the biggest dilemmas to come: How do we decarbonize the power grid without wrecking the public lands?