Of Power Towers and Trees

Two of Loudoun’s more loquacious activists and commentators have entered into a bit of a debate at Leesburg Today. Leesburg’s own Ann Robinson wrote a thoughtful letter about power lines, trees, development and piorities, framed in the context of a long drive she recently took.

Looking out my balcony windows this morning, I see a steely high voltage tower where just over a year ago, huge evergreens graced the view, shielding my community from both noise and pollution. The air is dirtier, the atmosphere filled with the sight and sound of nonstop traffic, with the very ugly reality of high tension wires cutting a scar across the town. Was this degradation absolutely necessary to bring electric power to those who need it? No. The wires could have been run underground-but someone convinced the powers that be that the cost would be too high.

Too high for whom? I would have paid more for electricity in order to maintain the pollution shield of large old-growth trees. Their contribution to the health and well-being of my family and me is immeasurable. Who knows how our lives are now shortened by the combination of dirty air, tension and high voltage electrical wires constantly overhead. Surely, if we the consumers could have paid a little more and the electric company’s investors accepted a little less in ROI, then we could have saved our quality of life. – Ann Robinson

I, for one, happen to agree with Ann on this one, and have been a proponent of full undergrounding of major power lines for a few years now. Ann’s letter illustrates the unrecouped cost of decisions to act, or not act, made by our elected leaders years ago. Dominion earns billions in profit, even while sometimes failing to do their essential job. I think we can and should insist that companies like Dominion repay us, the public, for the unfunded costs to our land and community that they impose as part of their business. It doesn’t matter whether those costs are lost old-growth trees, or more traffic, or the need for more schools. If your business decisions directly incur a cost on the public, you should be responsible for offsetting that cost in some manner. We should get our fair share, and you should pay your fair share. That is my choice, and my priority.

A familiar commenter here and elsewhere, Barbara Munsey (Hi Barbara!), has engaged with Ann in the comments on her letter. The fundamental issue being debated, or avoided depending on your reading, is one of priorities. We, here in Loudoun, can choose to make our quality of life, be it in pollution, landscapes, land use, schools, or any number of other factors, an issue in our public decisionmaking, or we can choose not to make it a priority, by doing nothing or standing on the sidelines and griping. The issue of quality of life has had many manifestations in the past ten years. Smart growth, managed growth, East vs. West, sprawl, all of these are short hand for the fundamental question of what we, as a community, think is important.

I think trees and clean streams are important, for example. I also think jobs are important. And I know that those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. And I know that people who say that they are are selling you an ideology, not an answer to our problems.

The candidates I support, Democrats all, agree with and understand the priority choices we face. And they understand we make a decision and a choice when we fail to act, or say we cannot act, another falsehood widely repeated by our opponents on the right. I may not always agree with all the decisions my Democratic candidates and representatives make, but I know we share priorities that inform those choices, and it is out of respect for that that I will always support them. Because in doing so, I believe – I know – we put our community’s quality of life first.

4 thoughts on “Of Power Towers and Trees

  1. Dave Butler

    We should definitely underground the lines. Or at least find out how much power costs would rise if we did. In the 1800′s maybe power lines, dirty smokestacks, and rail cars full of coal said “civilization” to some people, but today it just says “olden-days destruction”. We can do better.

  2. Liz Miller

    Just a reminder that undergrounding also has an environmental cost in lost trees and disturbed growth, though perhaps not the same cost as over ground, and certainly not the same visual cost.

    I’m actually surprised that Dominion VA Power is not more in favor of undergrounding in general, it’s to their benefit to make people think that electricity comes to them like magic and to reduce reminders of the grid involved in the delivery of electricity.

  3. Paradox13 Post author

    Good points, both, and well said. It’s fascinating to me the aversion to technological progress in terms of generation and transmission both, that Dominion and other energy companies seem to have. While the initial outlay may be higher for things like undergrounding, the long-term cost/benefit is far, far better. Or at least, I think so.

  4. Ann

    I appreciate all your comments, and I especially like Evan’s point in his essay that environmental quality of life (trees, clean water, breatheable air) and jobs are not mutually exclusive. This I think is the “crux of the matter.” As soon as we make it a priority to have both, we can focus on sorting out the best policies and methods.

    In particular I believe that Dave Butler has that kind of commitment and embodies the better future for our region.

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