Many in Northern New Hampshire breathed a great sigh of relief when state regulators rejected the Northern Pass plan last Thursday. On the opposite side of the aisle wails arose from advocates. Eversource expressed its ‘shock and outrage’ over the sinking of their project. Apparently these people didn’t pay the slightest attention to the concerns of locals over the scope of the project and its likely negative long term impacts on New Hampshire. Their chilly indifference to the complaints they heard suggests they regarded the lot of us up here as backward Luddites trying to stand in the way of progress. They ignored repeated requests to completely bury the lines which would have eliminated a good deal of the resistance to Northern Pass.
Eversource will no doubt appeal the decision but for now at least the project is stymied. It remains to be seen if they will learn from their diplomatic errors and try working with locals instead of looking down their noses at them. Probably not. Corporations have never been known for their humanitarian behavior and we can probably expect more of the same from them except for a little more added sugar coating.
The real underlying problem with Northern Pass (and other projects like it), at least as I see it, is the fact these are projects based on the assumption (often unthinking) that petroleum is plentiful and cheap and will always be so. They tout themselves as a ‘clean’ alternative to oil but pull aside the curtain and you will find the same old, same old. Few people really bother to do this and so don’t realize large scale electrical generation in and of itself is simply unsustainable.
To maintain these huge facilities, you need mass quantities of electronics for balancing current load, you need raw materials for the towers, underground cables, wiring, transformers etc, all of which require their own energy inputs to even be mined and shaped into the required parts. Cheap petroleum up until recently made all of this relatively easy. But now things have changed and not for the better.
Much has been made of Peak Oil but less of something that has been called ‘Peak Everything.’ What this refers to is the unpleasant reality that for many decades, we and other industrialized nations have been engaged in a drunken orgy of mining resources as though there were no tomorrow. Instead of carefully and frugally making use of the finite materials Mother Earth doles out to us, we have squandered our mineral heritage. Now slowly but surely the bills are coming due. An audit of what mineral resources the US has and doesn’t have makes for sober reflection.
The idea behind talking about all this is not to make you despondent for the future but to realize that there is a future, just not necessarily the one we dreamed of and got presented to us in glowing images from Star Trek, 2001 Space Odyssey or even the Jetsons. Instead the future coming at us is much smaller, of necessity resource poor and slower paced. But it is livable. To make it livable we need to face reality, lay aside fantasies of endless cornucopias of high-tech goodies, and brodingnagian projects promising energy too cheap to measure. Let’s start building more practical communities that can withstand economic shocks and supply those who come after us with a life they can maintain for themselves and even take pride in.
How will we do it? Well, there’s this little thing called experimentation. Maybe it’s high time we got started. To start with there are:
It’s surprising what possibilities there are. Yes, downsizing can be painful at times, but it has to be done. Let’s see what solutions we can come up with.