Community’s Source of Energy
An Examination of Energy Sources in the Willows Community of Gilbert, Arizona
The community of Willows is located in the city of Gilbert, Arizona. It is an HOA community of single family homes, with a number of amenities included. As with any community, it has power usage needs that have to be considered. Before the community was built, the issue of how to get power to the area and how much power might be used by the residents there was considered. Then, the community was built and the houses were sold. That raised the amount of power that was needed in Gilbert, which is a growing city with a strong population base and many things for residents to enjoy. The power needs of any community are important, because residents want to be assured that they have enough of what they need to power their homes (Aitken, 2010). However, there is more to the issue than just what the residents want when it comes to the level of power they have. There are environmental and other energy usage issues that have to be carefully considered.
Without addressing all of the issues that come into play where power sources are concerned, the environment around the community can be badly damaged (Aitken, 2010). Most people do not think much about where their power comes from. They simply expect their lights to come on and their heating and air conditioning systems to work as anticipated. Of course, the power to handle all of those things is a complicated system, and it must all work together to supply residents with what they need. Willows has 586 homes. That may not sound like much, but every one of those homes has at least one person living them, and they all use power. As a family-friendly community, Willows attracts many parents and children, which increases the power consumption for the homes, as well.
Solar energy, hydroelectricity, and wind power are the three types of power sources most commonly used for Willows and the Gilbert area in general (Renewable, 2014). One of the main reasons solar energy is so popular there comes from all of the abundant heat and sunshine that Arizona receives. It is rarely cold in Gilbert, and the days when it rains or is cloudy can be easily counted. There are not very many times when solar energy would not seem to be a good choice there. Even after a few cloudy days in a row — which is a rare occurrence in Gilbert — there is still plenty of solar energy stored up. Some houses have their own solar panels, and SRP (the local power company) gets solar power from the Copper Crossing Solar Ranch, which is located in Florence, Arizona (Renewable, 2014). Glendale also has a solar power generating system that is used by SRP, and there are two systems right in Gilbert, at the Rogers Substation (Renewable, 2014). With all of the options the community has for solar power, it is no wonder that it is one of the most popular ways to power homes and businesses.
Hydroelectricity, or power generated from water, is another great way for Willows and the city of Gilbert to receive power for homes and for businesses. While that may seem odd because of the desert environment, there are lakes, streams, and rivers that can be used to create power. There are also underground springs and other sources, from which water energy can be generated. For SRP, there are two dams. One is on the Salt River, and another on the Verde River (Renewable, 2014). When the two rivers are combined, there are a total of seven different dams used. That creates a tremendous amount of power that can be used by SRP to serve customers. When coupled with low-energy ways to use hydroelectric power through the use of the water’s own natural flow and the changes in elevation, SRP has an excellent source of energy with which to work.
Wind power is another popular way to get electricity to homes and businesses. The wind farm located near Heber, Arizona was purchased by SRP in 2009, and that allowed SRP to have more options for powering homes (Renewable, 2014). Currently, 20,000 homes are powered by the energy that comes from the wind farm (Renewable, 2014). That is an impressive number, considering the source of energy traveling to them is completely sustainable and will not run out. That is the problem with many energy options. The energy source is not renewable, so eventually it is simply gone. With solar, hydroelectric, and wind power, this will never be the case (Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009). Harvesting this energy does not cause any problems at all, because it does not make use of any natural resources that are not replenished. These are safe and effective ways to get energy to SRP’s customers in Willows and other areas of Gilbert and the surrounding towns and cities. However, that energy is not free, because of the equipment required to harness and transport it (Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009). That can raise costs to the customers.
With the right types of power being used for Willows, the community will be able to enjoy enough electricity to meet its needs for a long time to come. That allows it to expand if necessary, and to handle the changing power requirements as families come and go from the area. Because things do not stay the same for very long in a community, companies that provide power to that community have to be ready to grow and adapt to change. By doing this, SRP is showing that it understands the types of power needs its customers have, and that it is ready to take on those needs and handle them accordingly. That helps the people of Willow rely on SRP to provide them with what they need.
Impact on the Environment
The three types of energy used by Willows (wind, water, and solar power) do not have a negative impact on the environment in the area. They are all sustainable, and that means they will not run out no matter how much of them is used. There will always be sun and wind, and the water itself is not being used. The energy that the moving water produces is what is being used to power homes. While water levels could change, the energy that can be harnessed from the water will remain the same. In that sense, SRP is not using up anything that cannot be replaced and replenished. The power sources used by SRP have been very popular during the time period in which they have been used. They have been a part of the community since before Willows was built, since the Arizona desert lends itself to the use of these particular types of power so very easily. When communities use renewable power sources that are convenient for them, they can save money and provide higher levels of service (and more reliable power) to the people they serve (Lovins, 2011). One could argue that changing the way resources are distributed in any way, or building anything in the desert could affect the environment (Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009). After all, it does change that environment in some ways, which causes plants and animals to have to adjust.
However, the harnessing of these types of power is not taking valuable resources away from the creatures in the environment who use them. The community also does not have nuclear waste to dispose of, so it does not need to worry about creating safe and effective ways to do that. It is only concerned with how the power is produced and whether that power is making its way to the people who need it. Using these types of resources over time has been very helpful and beneficial to the community. It has been able to focus on making sure everyone has what they need, and the renewable resources mean that the community and the city will not be running out of something that is vital to survival. Without the power to their homes, Willows would be a much different place to live. While using these types of resources is not perfect, the desert provides abundant wind and sunshine to be harnessed, and there is plenty of water from the Salt and Verde rivers. As such, the use of wind, water, and sunlight for power has had little to no negative impacts on the area, and plenty of positive ones. Air and water quality have not been compromised, as they might have been with other sources of power that would have been available to the community.
Anytime a dam is built or a wind farm goes up, there are some environmental impacts to be felt, though (Lovins, 2011). For example, a dam may change the habitat for some fish and other aquatic life, and may stop certain species from traveling or multiplying as easily as they did before. That can be an issue, but it is a small one when compared to other energy sources that require nearly complete destruction of the natural environment in order to be useful (Lovins, 2011; Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009). Additionally, the sources of power that Willows is using will not be used up by their consumption, so there is no concern that the community will run out of power. It will not be possible to run out of sunshine or out of wind, and running out of water from major rivers in the area would be highly unlikely. If SRP did have to switch away from hydroelectric power at a later date, the community could transfer over to solar and wind only, by building more wind farms or adding more solar panels and substations. Alternative options for power could also be considered. There are always choices to be made when it comes to how to power a community, but that does not mean that all choices would be good ones (Lovins, 2011).
Monthly and Yearly Energy Usage
Our house uses an average of 850 kWh of energy per month, which is slightly below the national average of 903. As such, annual usage is 10,200 kWh. There are 586 homes in Willow, so that usage could be extrapolated out to approximately 5,977,200 kWh per year for the entire community. That may seem like a great deal of energy, but it is important to consider that there are many, many more households outside of the community that also need power. What Willow is using is a small portion of the amount that the city of Gilbert would need. When seen that way, the figures really start to add up, and one can quickly determine why renewable energy sources are needed. With the level of power consumption taking place in the United States, not having renewable energy sources could mean that communities like Willow would run out of power. That would leave them subject to periods of no power at all, called blackouts, that would understandably be a problem for their residents. Rather than take these kinds of risks, it is far easier to have renewable resources at one’s disposal.
The amount of energy used throughout the country is staggering, and many places still rely on fossil fuels for their power (Aitken, 2010). When they do this, they find that they are running low on what they need to keep power on to homes and businesses. As the resources they need to provide power dry up, they have to work harder and harder to find more of what they are looking for. That added cost is passed along to the consumer in the form of higher power bills (Aitken, 2010). Willows has less risk of that, because of the renewable resources that are used for power there. With a focus on options that are not going to run out, there is little if any extra cost that ever needs to be passed along. That can make all the difference when it comes to the solvency of a power company like SRP, and it can also make a difference when a person is deciding where to live. The cost of power and the likelihood that cost will rise are both very significant considerations for many people when they are choosing a home, and can affect them for a lifetime.
Recommendations for Renewable Resources
With SRP already using so many renewable options, there are not that many additional choices to consider. However, geothermal energy is well worth considering for a community like Willows and the entire city of Gilbert because of its hot, desert location. Geothermal energy involves using the temperature from the ground to heat and cool a home (Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009). Large pipes are placed down into the ground, almost like digging a well. These are filled with water, and that water transfers heat and cold very well. As such, it can be used to heat and cool a home without a lot of trouble. However, these kinds of heating and cooling options are expensive, and they are done one house at a time. While homes in the area could switch over to geothermal energy, it would not be likely that SRP could switch over completely. Still, SRP could create some geothermal farms that would produce electricity, and could use that power to help its homes keep their lights on. The main problem with geothermal energy is that it is still relatively new, and that means that the costs to use it are still very high (Makower, Pernick, & Wilder, 2009).
Right now, it is really not feasible for SRP to consider geothermal power, because of the costs that do not outweigh the benefits. Fortunately, there are options to use this kind of power as a bigger part of the puzzle in the future. As the costs for geothermal energy come down and new and better ways are found to harness it, SRP may be able to switch over to using more of it. That could provide another great renewable energy resource, but will need to be expanded to cover the Willow community and the rest of Gilbert. Right now, this type of energy is only a very small part of what SRP uses, because it is not cost effective to expand it to anything more. It is more of an experiment than a valuable commodity currently, but that can and will change in the future, as technology for renewable energy sources is always moving forward and will continue to do so throughout the country.
Using geothermal energy as an alternative power source is very realistic, but only for the future. Right now the costs are simply too high to make it work properly. The rates that are charged by SRP for electric to homes and businesses would have to rise too much to accommodate geothermal options at this time, and there would not be enough power generated to go around to everyone who needs it. When this does take place, though, it is likely that the people of Willows will support the change. They are already used to other forms of power that come from renewable and sustainable resources, so using geothermal power will not be anything that new to them.
Since it will not be a huge change, and will not strongly impact their power bill, they would not have logical reasons to reject the change. Many of them may not even notice the change, as long as their power is as reliable as it has ever been. Over time, geothermal options for Willows and other communities will become less cost prohibitive. The option to use this kind of power will also not be that hard on the environment, because it is not destroying areas where animals and plants live. The drilling of the holes to place the pipes will cause some disturbance, but things in the area would soon return to normal, and that would keep the environment from changing too much or becoming damaged.
Aitken, D.W. (2010). Transitioning to a renewable energy future. NY: International Solar Energy Society.
Lovins, A. (2011). Reinventing fire: Bold business solutions for the new energy era. NY: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Makower, J, Pernick, R., & Wilder, C. (2009). Clean Energy Trends. NY: Clean Edge.
Renewable energy. (2014). SRP. Retrieved from http://www.srpnet.com/environment/renewable.aspx
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