As a professional engineer that has worked in the electric power industry for 50 years, I have a unique perspective on the proposed Grand Junction solar project. Over the years, I have been occasionally involved with design, siting and approval of electric transmission lines and power plants. It is a long and deliberative process because of its impact on people and their land, and it starts with the legislative and administrative process for writing the rules. Once all the stakeholders have given their input and the rules are finalized, we then rely on the good judgement of our elected officials and volunteer board members to follow the rules in the process of approving or denying permits.
My wife and I own a couple of wind turbines here in Greene County. Although only a few people have told me they don’t like our wind turbines, I know there are many more that don’t like to see them on the horizon or see the red blinking lights at night. However, we followed all the rules to get them permitted and approved for installation. We receive income from them, (most of the time), the landowners make more money from them than they can farming the same amount of land, and they improve the environment by reducing fossil fuel pollution and carbon emissions in Iowa. It is a tradeoff. The good outweighs the bad.
There is one CAFO 1-1/4 mile from my home south of Cooper. I can smell hog manure about 15 days per year. I would rather not smell hog manure. But it was permitted and properly approved by our county. The owner benefits from the income and hog manure fertilizer. He is a good neighbor and person, and he takes good care of his facility. It is a tradeoff. The good outweighs the bad.
And now National Grid Renewables wants to install a solar farm in our county. As an electric power engineer, I have been in every type of electric power plant there is: combined cycle plants, combustion turbines, diesel engine generators, hydroelectric plants, dozens of wind farms, a solar farm with battery energy storage, solar power tower plants, solar hyperbolic rough plants, and nuclear plants. I have even worked in a coal-fired power plant here in Iowa. All forms of electric generation have some form of negative impact on society. I am confident that someday we will find the perfect way to generate electricity that has little to no negative impact on our world. But until that day comes, a solar farm is the least intrusive and most benign way to generate electricity by far. In my opinion, nothing else comes close. Again, the good outweighs the bad.
I understand how difficult it is to be a board member and make decisions that some people don’t like. However, we must follow the rules and procedures. We don’t want to get to a point where we “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone” simply because someone objects. We need to continue to invest in our infrastructure; whether it be roads, gas and oil pipelines, electric transmission lines or electric power plants like the proposed Grand Junction solar project. If we start saying no because someone objects, then we will be sacrificing the good that comes from these investments to the detriment of not only ourselves, but more importantly to our children and grandchildren, who are biggest beneficiaries of these infrastructure investments.