Arizona Dreams Of Becoming Solar Thermal "Power Colony" Of Western North America

solar thermal resource map wga report image

Excerpt from WGA-produced Qualified Resource Area (renewable power) map, of western North America.

Years ago, when I worked in water resources management, a clever wag told me that planning was 'the art of drawing targets around spent arrows.' The Western Governors Association, has figured out there is plenty of sun in Arizona (as pictured), and that, in surrounding areas, there will be a growing demand for generation and sharing of low-carbon footprint electricity. Pivoting at some load-sharing bulls-eye, artful archers are aiming to make Arizona a solar-energy "colony" for 11 other states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California.
The politics of load sharing.
Southwestern solar thermal-electricity must interconnect with northwestern hydro-electricity so there is a baseload/peak load balancing opportunity.

The Arizona Daily Star lays it out in AZ: the solar source: Plan envisions the desert feeding sun's power to rest of the West

Imagine large-scale solar-power plants being built across the Sonoran Desert, along with power lines up to 300 feet high, to export the sun's power to the rest of the West.

That's the ambition of an idea the Western Governors Association and the federal government are studying — to make Arizona a solar-energy "colony" for 11 other states, two Canadian provinces and Baja California.

The governors are also looking at the other states and how much of the West's land could be set aside to build huge plants and other facilities producing sun and wind power and other renewable energy forms — and to build power lines to carry it across the West.

The newspaper termed Arizona a prospective 'solar colony,' but the term on the the WGA site is actually Qualified Resource Area a.k.a. a"renewable energy zone," both of which sound better than a variation on 'retirement colony.'

Per the Arizona Daily Star article, a pragmatic interest in protecting the Sonoran desert has alread surfaced, with people asking to have the vast machinery of concentrated solar thermal generators "contained to lands already damaged ecologically, such as mine tailings and urban areas."

Note: the WGA-set public comment period on the Qualified Resource Area (aka renewable energy) zone designations for the entire North American West, and related planning documents, is still open - until 2 March 2009. Click here for details.

Stay tuned for future posts on War of the Energy Colonies. With this new plan, WGA has thrown green-power and green-development gauntlets at all US states east of, and continuous with, the Mississippi River. And, eastern Canadian Provinces as well. As a former regional planner, I see this setting off multiple, loud political alarm bells that will ring for decades, in a classic challenge and response scenario.

To keep themselves economically competitive in a 'green power' future, Eastern North America needs a corollary plan: one constructed in alliance with hydro-power rich eastern Canadian Provinces. Ace up the old eastern sleeve? Water resources. When the East responds to the challenge of the WGA plan, Great Lakes and the Mississippi basin water resources will become the fulcrum of a political lever that will re-shape Americas political future.

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