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energy these sources provide and relay that energy to consumers on
demand. One solution is to pump water into a reservoir when the elec-
tricity supply is available, then release the water to flow downhill and
generate power when it is needed. 49 These pumped storage facilities—or
beter alternatives, when they become available—will be necessary com-
ponents of the overall system. Moreover, to bring these energy sources
into a system of sustaining power, we need a smart grid, an updated, high-
tech electricity distribution network that can withstand the sudden varia-
tions in power provided by the sun or wind, connect all the points in the
system, and use the energy contributed by households (from small solar
units). In short, we need a lot more than solar panels or wind turbines:
we need a new, sophisticated, national grid.
But that is not all. Installing large solar plants will take up huge
amounts of open land in the nation's sunny places—land now used by
plants, animals, and human beings. Puting in industrial-sized wind tur-
bines on mountaintops, for example, or in promising offshore locations
will directly intrude on relatively unharmed ecosystems or pristine vistas.
Furthermore, as it turns out, large wind turbines are noisy: they cause
a low-level vibration to be heard for a mile or more in the surrounding
vicinity. Despite their ability to harness sun and wind for human pur-
poses, these technologies come at a real cost: if we really want to reduce
our carbon footprint, we will end up greatly expanding our physical foot-
print on the land and sea. The reality is that many people will resist these
intrusions: the opposition to wind farms around the nation, even from
local environmentalists, is substantial. The same will be true once we
begin to install industrial-sized solar power plants.
We could, however, decrease the footprint of immense solar power
plants by making the generation and use of solar energy an ordinary
feature in millions of ordinary households. David Crane and Robert F.
Kennedy, Jr., point out that the cost of solar panels has fallen by 80 per-
cent over the past five years and now competes with the cost of the nor-
mal electricity supply in twenty states. But few people are choosing it over
electricity from the grid because of permiting requirements imposed by
state and local governments; complying with those requirements now
costs more than the solar equipment itself. If our governments changed
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