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The Energy Maps Project

The Energy Maps project helps California residents become more involved in decisions about how energy infrastructure projects are built in their communities.

Directed by Hal Nelson, research associate professor in Claremont Graduate University’s School of Social Science, Policy, and Evaluation, the map depicts proposed projects such as solar and wind power plants, transmission lines, and gas pipelines, providing an early warning system for citizens and municipal governments about what’s being planned for their communities. This will help them to participate in the planning processes at an earlier stage, potentially reducing the legal gridlock and expensive delays that are straining the current system.

“Many of these projects are potentially disruptive to communities, and when they’re developed in isolation it ’s a lot harder for the communities to provide alternative ideas,” Nelson said. “We think the map has the potential to lead to better outcomes and less litigation.”

California’s Energy Infrastructure

The region is experiencing a boom in energy infrastructure construction as California races to meet ambitious renewable energy goals. The queue to connect new electricity generation facilities to transmission and distribution stations currently contains 79 projects in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties alone. Many of these new generation facilities will require new transmission lines to deliver the electricity to urban areas. In addition, if extraction of natural gas in the Monterey Shale increases, there will be a need for new natural gas pipelines, crude–by–rail infrastructures, and gas processing facilities.

These types of projects create social dilemmas: They provide much–needed economic development and reliable oil, gas, and electricity supplies, but come with tradeoffs such as environmental degradation, health and safety risks, and property value declines for communities next to them. Under the current system, communities often do not know about the projects until proponents file plans with state regulators. This “decide, announce, defend” approach can result in disastrous battles between energy suppliers and citizens during the planning process.

For example, a $2.1 billion, 250–mile power line project that will deliver wind energy to the Los Angeles region was delayed for more than two years while residents in Chino Hills, California, fought against a five–mile section near their homes. The city spent more than $3 million in taxpayer revenue on the battle. The local opposition group Hope for the Hills convinced the California Public Utilities Commission to halt construction and eventually ordered the segment placed underground. Construction of the underground segment will take upwards of an additional two years, resulting in a four year delay in getting the power line operational.

“By reaching out to the project sponsors early in the design phase, communities have a better likelihood of having their concerns integrated into the project’s development,” Nelson said.

Understanding Energy Infrastructure Conflict

In a second element of the Energy Maps project, Dr. Nelson is leading research into the questions raised by communities about new energy infrastructure projects. Utilizing traditional data collection methods along side social network data collection and analysis, the project hopes to provide a deeper understanding of the complex factors driving new energy infrastructure conflicts in California.

“We believe that the project provides the foundation necessary to move beyond the gridlock created by contentious siting of infrastructure facilities,” states Dr. Nelson, and one that “can help ensure that California will be able to build the energy infrastructure it requires for the region’s continuing prosperity,” and beyond that to ensure “it will be located and designed in a way that is acceptable to the communities in which it is located.”

Building off previous research by Dr. Nelson on reducing conflict around energy infrastructure construction, the map and related research are funded by a two–year, $127,900 grant from the John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation.

Ivanpah Solar Facility, California.
Ivanpah Solar Facility, California, photo by R.H. Ross

Hal T. Nelson, Ph. D.
Project Director

Hal Nelson is a Research Associate Professor in the Division of Politics & Economics. His research interests include international political economy, climate policy, civic engagement, and decision making.

Jacopo Baggio, Ph.D.
Social Network Analyst

Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Arizona State University, specializing in the analysis and study of social–ecological networks, and cooperation.

John Emiliano–Urata
GIS Analyst & Developer

Doctoral candidate, Center for Information Systems & Technology, Claremont Graduate University, specializing in GIS solutions.

Richard H. Ross, M.A.
Project Management & Web Development

Doctoral student, History Department, Claremont Graduate University, specializing in environmental and digital history.

Kris Wikstrom, M.P.P.A.
Project & Community Analyst

Doctoral candidate, Division of Politics & Economics, Claremont Graduate University, specializing in quantitative and computational analysis of international political economy, development and conflict.

Wind Turbines, Wyoming, photo by R.H. Ross

White Papers

Nelson, H. T. (2013). “Power Struggles: Improving Energy Infrastructure Project Siting Outcomes in the Los Angeles Region.” Claremont Graduate University.

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Nelson, H. T., Abdollahian, M., Yang, Z., & Close, B. (2014). “Social Need versus Local Opposition: Simulating Energy Infrastructure Siting Outcomes Using a Multi–Agent Decision Support System.” Paper under review at Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design.

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High–Voltage Transmission Lines, California, photo by R.H. Ross

Journal Articles

Abdollahian, M., Yang, Z., & Nelson, H. T. (2013). “Techno–Social Energy Infrastructure Siting: Sustainable Energy Modeling Programming (SEMPro).” Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 16 (3), 1–12.

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Cain, N. L., & Nelson, H. T. (2013). “What Drives Opposition to High–Voltage Transmission Lines?” Land Use Policy, 33, 204–213.

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