Your turn: We need lasting energy economy

By Nellis Kennedy - Honor the Earth

Now that the dust has settled and a giant addition to the Big Stone coal power plant known as Big Stone II has been canceled, what next?

Both the Dakotas and the Midwest will be looking to fill their new need for power. As we look forward to replacing the power that would have been produced by the burning of fossil fuels, we must consider our options. In a time where large American profiteers are slapping a recyclable sticker on anything remotely possible of being recycled and paying big money for commercials advertising their Earth-friendliness, who can you trust?

The pressures and craftiness of corporate scams can mislead anyone, even your president. In his State of the Union address, President Obama promoted what he called the clean energy economy and said that to create clean energy jobs means “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country … opening offshore areas for oil and gas development … and clean coal technologies.” It appears someone should tell Obama that the clean energy economy he is describing sounds a lot like the old and dated energy economy reliant on coal, oil and nuclear.

Decades and generations of contaminated waters, ill-stricken people and toxic waste sites all lay in vain while political leaders push forward the same bad idea in a different way. Nuclear power will always be dangerous. Burning coal will always create greenhouse gas emissions. And, digging for oil, even offshore, is still a temporary solution using a finite resource for an infinite problem. Here we sit on some of the windiest lands in the country and the big solution to our current energy crisis is to burn coal at the existing Big Stone power plant? After thinking about it, let’s not.

Here’s a better idea: Let’s rebuild the Midwest and face the problem with a sustainable energy solution that is not reliant on the constant digging up of land in hopes of always finding more coal. Let us harness the wind that is literally passing us by to create the true clean energy economy. There are dozens of colleges and universities spread across North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, and all of them are in dire need of renewable energy curriculum with technical training. We have the capacity. Tribal colleges could be preparing the first generation of highly trained windsmiths in the country.

Beyond green jobs training, the Dakotas should be forward-looking to the infrastructure required to implement this clean energy economy. What does this mean? Transmission lines will be needed, but we shouldn’t have to combust ourselves into an oblivion to get these lines. The smart grid is our solution — a strategy funded by this present administration.

A smart grid intelligently transmits and distributes power from substations to local customers (even rural ones). As it currently stands, if our grid were just 5 percent more efficient, the energy savings would equate to permanently eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars. A smart grid is not only more efficient, but allows for more diverse energy sources.

Now take a moment to consider that the United States accounts for only 4 percent of the world’s population and yet is responsible for 25 percent of its greenhouse gases. And consider that we waste almost two thirds of our power from point of production to final consumption — between inefficient lines, inefficient production and inefficient consumption.

Energy efficiency, renewable production and accessible distribution are national concerns that should be paid for with tax dollars. The United States must act to invest in a clean and efficient smart grid that works for everyone and not just the big coal plants because our children deserve a clean and reliable energy future that is not addicted to fossil fuels.

Finally, the clean energy economy should be local, or as local as we can make it. Millions of dollars are spent every year in purchasing and shipping wind turbines that are made across the Atlantic Ocean when manufacturing facilities could be located here. Tribal reservations are uniquely situated and hold tremendous potential for housing turbine-manufacturing facilities. It sure would be nice to have wind blades on our land rather than a nuclear waste site.

Nellis Kennedy is a law school graduate and the Environmental Justice Coordinator for the national nonprofit organization, Honor the Earth, a Native-led organization established in 1993 to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.

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