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Transmission Lines:
Unfounded Fear or Global Opportunity

Peter Meisen, President
Global Energy Network Institute (GENI)

Fear is a prime motivator of mankind, whether the fear is real or unfounded. Since 1979, electromagnetic fields (EMF) have been vilified by some environmentalists as a cause of childhood leukemia. Power transmission lines were suspected as the carriers of this unseen danger, and utility opponents blocked projects and advocated the re-routing or burial of lines -- at tremendous additional expense to the power companies and ultimately to the consumer.

Now, after 500 independent studies and millions spent to examine the impacts of EMFs, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reports that no direct link can be found between cancer and exposure to these fields. Their research will continue, as they deem other factors of human congestion in our cities may cause the statistical increase in leukemia cases.

If transmission lines had been found guilty, our modern society would be turned inside-out, as everything with an electric cord has an electromagnetic field that surrounds it. The closer we stand to a home appliance or wire -- the stronger the field. By doubling your distance from the source, you decrease the EMF strength by a factor of 4. Given this equation, "prudent avoidance" became the industry watchword.

We put some balance back into the debate by examining the benefits of power transmission to our quality of life. Simply stated, almost everything we do requires electrical energy -- lighting and air conditioning, pumping water and treating sewage, communications by telephone, TV, radio and the internet, the pumping of gasoline and air traffic control systems, construction of buildings, banking and stock markets, even the printing of this newspaper. Just how fundamental electricity is becomes clear when we lose it during a system failure or weather-related outage.

For virtually all people who live in our developed world, transmission lines provide the freeway of electrons that deliver this energy for our daily use. Whether power is generated by coal, gas, nuclear, wind or hydro -- the only way to move this power is by these interconnected power networks.

In stark comparison, 2 billion people today in the developing world have no electricity. One-third of humanity has never switched on a light bulb! In a typical family, the women and children walk miles every day to collect firewood for cooking and water which is not even potable.

Nothing improves the quality of life faster in a village than the introduction of electricity -- for a water pump, a refrigerator for medicine and food, and a light bulb for the health clinic and schoolhouse. Research shows that when a developing society reaches 2000 kilowatt-hours/person/year, a threshold is reached that bolsters the society out of the developing status. (The average American uses 12,000 kwh/year -- in Europe and Japan: 6,000 kwh/year).

Twenty years ago, design scientist Dr. Buckminster Fuller, known for the geodesic dome,Spaceship Earth and Buckyballs studied global solutions for peace, population stabilization and sustainable development. His premier global strategy was the electrical interconnection of power networks around the world -- in today's vernacular, a World Wide Web of Electricity.

Electrical interconnections have many proven benefits: lower bills for customers as utilities buy cheaper power from neighboring companies and pass some of the savings onto the consumer, improved system reliability offers better power quality -- protecting the circuitry of electronic equipment, the deferral of additional generation capacity enhances stockholder returns, plus the ability to tap the abundant renewable energy resources this planet has to offer.

Power transmission is essential if we are going to utilize some of the world's bountiful renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, biomass) at the scale required to meet the growing demand in India, China, Southeast Asia and other developing regions. By their nature, renewables are site specific, often in remote regions and neighboring countries. Long distance power transmission now enables us to tap this clean energy and move it wherever we want to work or live.

In some cases, this has become the cheaper option for utilities and fulfils the environmentalists desire for cleaner energy. And recently, electrical linkages closely follow the trend for peace between age-old enemies. East and West Germany linked systems after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Israel and Jordan after the Washington Declaration, and now Iran and Turkey are planning to connect power grids for the stated mutual benefits. Electrical interties are a physical connection between countries that can enhance international cooperation, trade and peace.

Numerous experts at the United Nations, World Bank and engineering institutions have since corroborated Fuller's vision -- the linking of electrical systems as a compelling global strategy for peace and sustainable development. Even Al Gore, as Senator, stated that a global energy network makes enormous sense if we are to meet global energy needs with a minimal impact on the world's environment.

The reasoned study from the National Academy on EMFs enables the beneficial effects of electricity to be promoted without the fear-mongering of the past. The 2 billion people without electrical power deserve a chance for a better life. The first world can use transmission lines to shift to cleaner energy resources. Dr. Fuller's comprehensive design strategy is a vision that benefits everyone. Electric power transmission offers opportunities unforseen just a few years ago, and can be the cure for some of the world's most pressing problems.

Mr. Peter Meisen
President, Global Energy Network Institute (GENI)

Mr. Meisen is a graduate (1976) of the University of California, San Diego with an Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences Degree. In 1986, he founded Global Energy Network Institute (GENI), a non-profit organization conducting research and education on the interconnection of electric power networks between countries and continents with an emphasis on tapping remote renewable energy resources. He is an internationally recognized speaker and author on the global issues of renewable energy, transmission and distribution of electricity, quality of life and its relationship to electricity, the environment and sustainable development. In 1983, Meisen co-founded SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange), North America's largest private food distribution program, currently serving over one million people each month in the US, Mexico and Guatemala.

Contact information:

Peter Meisen
Global Energy Network Institute - GENI
P O Box 81565
San Diego, CA 92138 USA

TEL: 619-595-0139

FAX: 619-595-0403

EMAIL: info@geni.org

WEB: http://www.geni.org/