Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Highway and a Power Line:

The Difference is in Your Perspective

Dan Yurman, the publisher of the excellent nuclear blog, Idaho Samizdat, recently posted a message to a Social Media group mentioning how 1970s environmental groups in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, led the fight to stop the development of major new highways and road improvements. His point was that the environmentalists did so in an effort to stop suburban growth, loss of farmland and wildlife habitat, etc., but that the actual outcome was that the growth occurred anyway and that the main outcome was Washington's well-known impossible traffic jams.

His mention of the story, however, reminded me of another point, one based on a personal memory. I had recently moved to the Washington area then (and for those of you who are doing the math, I must have been 5 years old at the time!), and was living in Northern Virginia. My husband, who is an IEEE member, received a notice about an IEEE local section event featuring an executive from the local utility company as a speaker. Hoping to hear about their nuclear program, I joined him at the meeting.

For reasons that are unclear to me, the MC for the event, in addition to providing the usual information about the speaker's distinguished background and career, also wanted to share with us what a good, civic-minded citizen the speaker was. What he told us was that the speaker was leading a fight against a highway that had been proposed for the area, and that we all had him to thank for the fact that the highway was not going to come through our backyards.

Now, I would not have thought very much about this at all, as I really had no opinion at all about the highway. Indeed, I would long since have forgotten the whole evening except for the fact that, when the speaker took the podium, his main message was the need for more high-power transmission lines. In fact, he spent a fair amount of time bemoaning all the misguided citizens who were fighting his company because they didn't want one of those in their backyards. For some reason, he was totally oblivious to the irony of all this, but for my husband and me, it turns out to be the only thing we remember from that evening.

The message to me is clear. We need transmission lines, we need highways, we need green space. Everything has got to go in someone's backyard. Obviously, it's not easy to strike a balance, but it does seem to me that those of us in the business of energy supply should not turn a blind eye to the needs of transportation or other essential sectors. If anything, we should be taking a lead in helping to look at the picture in the broadest possible way. I was very interested to see that this was just the conclusion that Dan came to in recounting the results of the failure to build that highway.


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