When Dale Borger steps into his backyard, he wants to experience
two things Arizona is famous for: fresh air and blue sky. But like
others in this growing Phoenix suburb, he worries both will
disappear if plans to expand a nearby power plant are successful.
"There are 21 schools within a three-mile radius of this one
plant. The company is willing to put children at risk," he says,
citing pollution concerns, "so they can make money selling
electricity to California."
That company is the Salt River Project, a major power provider to
metropolitan Phoenix. It says the plant will not put residents at
risk and that it will serve Arizona customers, though a spokesman
concedes that surplus power could be sold to California.
This local controversy is emblematic of a regionwide debate.
Across Arizona and Nevada, more than two dozen new power plants are
planned. Critics say they are aimed largely at California consumers
- and will harm the local environment.
This desert drama, as it happens, exemplifies several hotly
debated aspects of President Bush's national energy strategy. That
plan, unveiled last week, calls for stepped-up building of new
power plants: as many as 1,900 in three decades. To pave the way,
it also would streamline site approval for new plants. And it sets
free-market economics, not regulation, as the rule guiding supply
While supporters say such steps are the best way to ease energy
shortfalls like California's, critics say moves like streamlined
permits will benefit big business while leaving nearby residents out
of the loop.
"This is like a new California gold rush," says Steve Brittle,
president of the environmental group Don't Waste Arizona. "This
whole trend is going in absolutely the wrong direction."
In Arizona and Nevada, as in states around the country, utilities
are operating in an increasingly deregulated environment. Now,
California's shortfalls have helped spark a surge in planned
generating facilities in neighboring states. By 2003, the new
generators in Arizona alone could provide enough electricity for 20
million people - even though the state population hovers between 5
million and 6 million.
While state officials say they are scrutinizing each new
facility, critics say utilities will profit from California's
shortage, while polluting the Southwest's air and draining its
Less-cumbersome permitting procedures are one key reason for the
building boom. …