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Thread: Planning for new energy technology

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Planning for new energy technology

    A criticism we often hear is “you call yourselves planners but more often than not you react rather than anticipate things.” There’s some truth to this charge; many communities, for instance, find themselves in the position of adopting cell tower ordinances or computerized electronic message board sign regulations only after someone has a permit application in hand - didn’t see those blips approaching on the radar screen.

    One of the biggest difficulties planners face is that it is nearly impossible to know beforehand what new technological innovations will occur. And not only what technological innovations will be introduced, but perhaps more importantly, which innovations the market will adopt, and if so on what scale they’ll be implemented.

    The looming energy crisis will likely be the single largest issue the planning profession will be confronted with this coming generation and the associated challenges are myriad. Currently, the engines of the world’s economy are driven by fossil fuels. Those resources, however, are finite and it is only a matter of time before they approach depletion. The Big Question is what technological solutions will present themselves in the future and how can planners anticipate and adopt any sort of comprehensive policy to address the inevitable impacts that any prospective technological solution will impose on land use patterns.

    In terms of devising practical planning policies in response to the looming energy crisis, three responses offer themselves:
    1. Do Nothing: Continue to react. Allow market forces to work their magic. Our current de facto response offers the advantage that time and resources will not be expended devising plans to accommodate energy production and consumption technology that may never come to pass or that may never see pragmatic implementation. Anticipate no changes to current land-use patterns, make no specific allowances for alterations to existing highways, rail lines, energy production facilities or other infrastructure.



    2. Plan Based on Existing Technologies: Premise future community designs upon each residence having geothermal heat/windmills/solar panel arrays etc. Either assume heavier reliance on mass transit, or continue current road construction/layouts premised on the assumption that, say, hydrogen fueled cars will become a standard and affordable mode of personal transportation.



    3. Adopt Centralized Planning Model: Elevate the role of municipal and regional-level planning to a federal level, or at least partner the two more closely than is currently the case. A federal Department of Planning (naturally a planner would hold the cabinet position) could coordinate with the Department of Energy and other federal departments in devising a big top-down comprehensive land-use policy based upon whatever technological solutions the federal government chooses to support/develop/implement.

    Last edited by Maister; 25 Aug 2008 at 10:31 AM. Reason: images
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    4. Adopt a Decentralized Planning Model: How about the state/local solution that would allow different areas of the country to utilize different technologies that better fit their situations. This would likely not include transportation, as a "universal" source is highly important as people travel across the country (e.g. a truck driver going from California to Illinois needs to be able to fill up their vehicle along the way). However, it would allow areas with ample wind to use windmills, areas with intense heat to use solar, and so on and so on. I don't think that we need a Federal on size fits all solution. Why not let various areas use the resources they have to take advantage of their competitive advantage?
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

  3. #3
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    ^.^

    The biggest problem with #4 is that at some level, you end up dealing with different governmental entities on various levels on the government ladder, and each has its own ideas, interests, and sources of revenue.

    For instance, take the situation out here in Albany County, Wyoming. The county seat is Laramie, and it's the home of the University of Wyoming. The city of Laramie sits at the intersection of I-80 and US 287, on the western slopes of the Laramie Range, which starts a few miles south of the city, and runs a couple hundred miles north and east to Casper Mountain.

    Albany county has two main communities outside of Laramie. Centennial is situated basically due west of Laramie, at the base of the Snowy Range, while Rock River is located about 30 miles north on US 287.

    When I was campaigning for County Commissioner, I got to go to both of these places, and discovered that they each have a different flavor and different needs.

    Centennial is located close to the national forest, the hiking and fishing up in the mountains, and the ski area. Where Laramie is trying to figure out how to bring stuff in and grow in a slow and steady pace, Centennial people balk at someone putting up a shed. There was a proposal to put up a parking lot, perhaps with some storage units for sleds, but the opposition to that closed that idea down. As one person who lives there put it: "Centennial is happy with being a sleepy bar town / tourist trap." Centennial is also unincorporated, so the government is in the hands of the county.

    Rock River on the other hand sees growth in its future, and the main concern is preparing for it. There is a gas liquefaction plant and a wind farm going in within a few miles of the town, and they expect that some workers will move into Rock River, and when I asked them what the big issue for the town was, they said they need a full-time police presence. Right now, a sheriff's deputy comes through the place every so often, but that won't be enough if the town booms.

    The problem with getting anything done in the County is that you have all of these divergent interests and a limited source of income. Unfortunately, Albany County doesn't have the minerals that most of the rest of the state has. Laramie has its own funding problems, so places like Rock River have to go to the County and have them beg the state for community funding.

    I guess one other part of this would be the energy companies themselves. If a large company were to come in and offer to fund infrastructure projects in return for say, tax breaks or some other incentives...but as long as you have differing community interests and a limited money pool, communities are basically left to themselves to do their own planning.

    John B.
    Laramie, WY

  4. #4
    Cyburbian transguy's avatar
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    From my reading of your response to the "problem with #4" it seems that you are agreeing with me. You make the point that there are two very different communities with different goals and visions of what their town should be. My previous point was simply asking what the federal role is in situations like these. I certainly don't want someone in Washington D.C. making decisions that I perceive to be local issues, such as land use planning (no offense to you folks, I'm sure you wouldn't want me making these decisions on your behalf). I also acknowledge that this is a very generalized statement and there are times when the federal system should be involved (e.g. some sort of plant that will add large levels of pollution into the air, effecting more than the local area). The difficultly with #4 is that we've found that so many of our actions have far reaching impacts.
    Much work remains to be done before we can announce our total failure to make any progress.

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