In the next few paragraphs I will logically connect information giant Google with land use issues, environmental sustainability, the70s R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire and M. Night Shyamalan’s summer flick The Last Air Bender.  Ready?

            If you read yesterday’s NY Times article Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise and Backing, you have a head start.

            We all knew that Google was expanding its digital reach into every product and service known to man, but now it’s moving into the energy business through off-shore Atlantic wind farms that stretch from Southern Virginia to Northern New Jersey.  The water-based wind-capturing turbines would transmit electricity to only four connection points on land from where it would be redistributed throughout the grid.

            Google – along with other investors, but I’ll keep it simple by referring to the name we all know – is playing the role of the Shyamalan’s Last Air Bender, uniting and conquering all of the earth’s competing elements to create electricity, modern society’s replacement for fire, only this is a movie in real time and real life.  According to knowledgeable article commentators, engineering and project costs are not the impediment.  The greatest impediment is the one power greater than the earth’s elements themselves – entrenched federal bureaucracies with the power to issue the coveted permits. 

            And there’s quite a mountain of anecdotal evidence that environmental regulators lean more than slightly away from large corporations and towards anti-corporate environmentalists.  If the turbines become an environmental cause célèbre, it could take decades to gain approval.

            However, the article quotes a deputy director of the Sierra Club who “had campaigned against proposed transmission lines that would carry coal-fired energy around the country.” She would favor this proposal.

            Stop.  Let’s dissect that point.  There are several stories behind that one statement.  First, I’m guessing that Google presented itself as the angel-winged alternative to coal, an industry that already wears a devil’s suit in the eyes of the Sierra Club. Sometimes presenting your opponent with a false choice works.  But sometimes the choice is not false.  This actually may be the alternative we’ve all wished for.

            Second, companies like Google are PR savvy.  They don’t just Bogart their way into Congress, the federal agencies, and the nation’s newsrooms.  They hire lobbying and public relations firms to quietly open doors that otherwise would slam shut, and that’s before shotguns are poked out of the windows.  It seems that Google conducted briefings with key environmental groups like the Sierra Club in advance of public disclosures so that their reactions would be private, privately discussed and, if necessary, privately addressed through project modifications.  Local governments and developers call these “neighborhood meetings.”

            The article suggests that governors of affected states also have taken a positive position because they were briefed.  I’m sure that’s just the starting point of a long list of pre-disclosure contacts.

            And third, it is an interesting irony that wind-generated energy poses a cognitive dissonance for environmentalists who love the idea of clean wind energy but have great difficulty getting over the fact that wind only exists in pretty places, such as pristine mountain panoramas and gorgeous coastal seascapes.  Google’s plans place the turbines at enough distance that the earth’s curvature keeps them out of site.

            Finally, with only four strategically selected land-based connection points, Google won’t face the very real possibility that the entire East Coast’s chance for an additional clean energy source (and it’s $5 billion project) won’t be jeopardized by the vote of one local election-conscious county commissioner who is fearful of ten angry neighbors who might campaign against her in November.  Which is too often how the world works.

            So . . . what’s it all about, Alfie?  It’s about Earth. Wind. And Fire.

            And government-issued permits.

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