Needed: power plants in California. But not here.
With the energy crisis, the debate sharpens over where to put undesirable facilities.
Scott Scholz lives on the southern fringe of Silicon Valley, where freeway interchanges and shopping centers give way to small farms and ranches. "I like being on the outskirts of town, at the edge of things," says the soft-spoken computer-software programmer.Skip to next paragraph
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But in terms of California's simmering electricity crisis, Mr. Scholz is smack in the middle of things.
He and his neighbors are fighting the construction of a major new power plant, the kind of facility many experts say California needs - and has built too few of in recent years to ward off the blackouts now hitting the state.
Critics call such opposition the "not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY)" syndrome. Supporters call it responsible civic activism.
Whatever its name, with California's blackouts, community activists like Scholz are seeing a new challenge to their role and legitimacy.
Here, as in communities around the country, the location of industrial facilities and power plants are longstanding targets of neighborhood concern. But in a time of crisis, the stakes rise, and some argue greater good should trump local preference.
Activists worry that view is taking hold here, and that California could be on the verge of a lot of bad decisions, borne in an atmosphere of near-panic.
The power plant, and the larger issue of localism versus broader interests, is now before the California Energy Commission. The commission will rule in the next few months on whether to override local opposition to the proposed new power plant on the southern edge of San Jose.
If they do so, it will be a major local event, but also important symbolically for those who say local rights should be paramount. The commission staff has already recommended an override, citing the "health, safety, and welfare of the people of the state and the state's economy."
Power plants on the drawing boards today cannot solve the current crisis. But critics note that delays in approvals, partly driven by local opposition, have helped put the state in its current bind. The San Jose project was proposed two years ago and still lacks final resolution.
A need for more power
Lack of adequate new power supply is a central issue in California's crisis. From 1996 to 1999, for instance, electricity demand in the state grew by 14 percent, while power supply grew 2 percent.
Now, though, activists fear they are being made the scapegoat for that problem, and the rush is on to approve new facilities that run counter to local interests.
"Seventy percent of power projects have no local opposition," says Elizabeth Cord of the Santa Teresa Citizen Action Group. "So blaming NIMBYism for the crisis is just wrong."
Ms. Cord's group is a lead opponent of the south San Jose facility and worries about the charged political climate around new plant proposals like this one. "There is a statewide panic on this. It's like a hysteria," she says.