More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy's Future 能源的未來之爭：更多電線或太陽能板
文/Ivan Penn And Clifford Kraus
The nation is facing once-in-a-generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.
On one side, large electric utilities and President Joe Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.
Biden has secured $73 billion for thousands of miles of new power lines in an infrastructure proposal he and senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.
Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state's electricity system faltered.
The option supported by Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.
"We need to build the electricity transmission and distribution system for the grid of the future and not that of the past," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a nonprofit based in Chicago. "Solar energy plus storage is as transformative to the electric sector as wireless services were to the telecommunications sector."
In all probability, there will be a mix of solutions that include more transmission lines and rooftop solar panels. What combination emerges will depend on deals made in Congress but also skirmishes playing out across the country.
You Can Live to Fight Climate Change 對抗氣候變遷 從日常生活做起
Climate change can seem like such an enormous problem that individual actions would have little impact. Consider Europe's wide-ranging proposals this week to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, including eliminating sales of new gas- and diesel-powered cars in the next 14 years.
But people can have an impact, experts say, both by how they spend their money and how they spend their time.
Mary Weathers Case, for instance, chose to offset the carbon cost of a cross-country plane trip for her family through the site Gold Standard. Case, a psychiatrist who lives in South Salem, New York, with her husband and two children, said she had been reading and watching more news about climate change during the pandemic and had been motivated to do her part after hearing about the searing temperatures in the West.
What surprised her, though, was that after spending $3,000 on plane tickets to Portland, Oregon, she could offset that carbon for $150.
"I was surprised that it was so cheap," Case said.
Buying carbon offsets for a plane trip is one way to reduce your environmental impact. But people can allocate their money in other ways, both big and small, that reduce their contribution to climate change. Take how you invest.
With certain investments — namely, those that reduce or remove carbon from the atmosphere — there are defined ways to measure their environmental impact. With others, like water conservation, the metrics are not as clear because there is not an agreed-upon unit to measure.
He advocates using what are called impact-weighted accounts, an initiative led by Harvard Business School, to evaluate a company's positive and negative impact on the environment.
Yet he is also open to a less-bad approach. People invested in fossil fuel companies should consider that Exxon Mobil caused $39 billion in environmental damage from its carbon impact, according to Harvard Business School estimates, while BP caused $14 billion in damage. It is like deciding which energy bar is better for you to eat: Those that have less sugar have a better health impact.