Ecological awareness fluctuates wildly among Lake County’s residents, with periods of coma-like numbness punctuated by occasional eruptions of sometimes emotional and irrational outpourings of environmental concerns. So while the day-to-day low level forms of environmental destruction go mostly unnoticed, when an issue finally makes it onto the local’s radar screens
there’s a tendency for the chronically hysterical to undercut whatever credibility the rest of the group has. With the proposed new geothermal plant planned for the area adjoining the Elem Indian colony on Clearlake’s southeast shore, along with the sizable number of rational concerned citizens taking notice, there has been a predicable outcry from the babbling psycho contingent as well.
The nimbys are wringing their hands over a wide variety of mostly imaginary concerns, from the location of the planned facility to the background of the company promoting it. Five test holes are scheduled to be drilled on or near the long-abandoned Sulfur Bank mine, which is Lake County’s very own EPA superfund site. Somehow, the nimbys have come to the conclusion that in the
process of building the relatively small (25 x 60 foot) facility, there will be a huge influx of mercury-laden materials flushed into Clearlake. Considering that the lake is a quarter mile from even the closest drilling site, the chance of a significant amount of mercury making it’s way into the lake is remote, to say the least. Another nimby concern is that the material coming from the test holes will spread mercury along the roadside as it’s hauled to the central valley for disposal, in spite of the fact that the route that will be used doesn’t go through any heavily populated areas.
Nimbys based in the town of Clearlake Oaks are worried that the plant will ruin their view, it’s lights will be too bright, and it will be too noisy.
While the first two complaints are laughable, the noise issue could be a genuine problem, if the project isn’t subject to some stringent noise mitigation efforts. But surprisingly enough, the people most likely to be affected have been the least vocal. That group would be the long-suffering Elem tribe, who have made only minimal noises about the project, and have even voiced some luke-warm approval so far. The Elem environmental director says the tribe will hold off on their formal decision until the EIR on the project is done, which should be sometime this spring. Then the real battle will begin, since the whole project has to get past the county planning commission and board of supervisors to get to the actual construction phase, assuming that the test holes show the 60 million dollar investment looks like it will pay off.
The plant itself is quite different from the geothermal generators Lake County residents are accustomed to, which use treated waste water from the communities ringing the east side of the lake to create the steam that drives the generator’s turbines. The new plant uses a “”closed loop”” system, which sends a gas in sealed tubes down the 2,500 to 5,000 foot holes, which
comes back to the surface super-heated, where the heat is used to create steam. In this process, the problem of bring hydrogen sulfide gas to the surface where it must be filtered out and vented is eliminated, which is a big improvement over the existing local geothermal plants. Another concern with the old technology geothermal plants that are running on waste water is there has been a marked increase is seismic activity in the area surrounding the plants since they’ve begun daily injecting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into the wells. That situation that could worsen from a huge influx of more waste water when the rest of Lake County hooks up to the plants, as well as the city of Santa Rosa, which is the current plan.
So the overall environmental impact is practically nil, and in fact this new form of geothermal plant may be the best way yet to generate power from an environmental standpoint. But reality hasn’t deterred the nimbys, who have created their own website, citizens group, and who have turned up at several public forms in amazingly large numbers. Not so surprisingly, many of the same people whining about the plant are the same folks who are against nuclear, coal and oil-fired power plants, but still want to be on the grid. So as long as whatever environmental downsides there may be to their own power consumption, as long as it’s all in someone else’s backyard everything is hunky-dory. If Lake County can do something to help America be energy independent but takes a pass because it would upset the same folks who want the county government to investigate the “”chemtrails”” problem, we’re in serious trouble.