The Energy of Medicine Lake
by Turquoise

Green energy: the Holy Grail of environmentalism, the free lunch, a perpetual motion machine. In other words, impossible. First it was the "peaceful atom" of nuclear power. Then they said hydro was clean (all you had to do was ignore river ecosystems). Wind power kills tens of thousands of birds every year. And geothermal? Take a look at Medicine Lake in northeastern California.

Before it was a lake, it was a volcano. Maybe is still an active volcano; time will tell. This is a special place with a special kind of energy, literally. The clues are all around: lava tubes, obsidian flows and large craters. The skin that separates sky above and fire beneath is thin here--the molten core of Mama Earth is just below the surface.

What should people do with so much energy so near by? The native folk do ceremony. Modoc and Pitt River Tribes know Medicine Lake as their place of origin. Klamath, Shasta, Karuk, Wintu and other people practice and heal here as they have for at least 10,000 years. Despite the prevalent recreational use of the area, large roadless places and rare species remain.

But the Bush administration sees that energy a different way, as something that it can sell. The government has identified up to 134,000 acres of public land in the forests around Mt. Shasta that could be developed for geothermal power. The Telephone Flat Project at Medicine Lake is one of the first projects scheduled. The Bush Administration has just given the go ahead, even though the Modoc National Forest had previously found that the ecological and spiritual impacts of the Telephone Flat Project were too great.

The power plant would encompass over 5,000 acres of national forest that is home to spotted owls, eagles, martens and falcons. The project would include up to 12 well pads, each with a million gallon sump pond, as well as cooling towers, pipelines and the tallest building in all of northeastern California which would be fully lit around the clock. Electricity generated from this remote location will require a four-mile swath for powerlines cut straight through the forest. This will connect to a 21-mile-long clearcut for another geothermal project already approved.

The International Indian Treaty Council passed a resolution that declares the Telephone Flat Project a human rights violation. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation found that the "costs to historic resources of our nation are too high." But in November, the Modoc National Forest reversed its decision and gave approval to begin "development."

Approval was granted to Calpine Corporation, the world's largest producer of geothermal power. In Boca Raton, Florida, it manufactures turbines. In Folsom, California, it is constructing what it boasts is "the largest energy center in the history of the world." And in Houston, Texas, it manages more than one trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves and an energy trading organization.

Does energy trading in Houston ring any bells? Enron and Calpine have a lot in common. Both have a history of rapid corporate growth that is too fast to be believed. Both are being investigated for collusion in illegally manufacturing California's "energy crisis." And both have a history of sizable contributions to Bush and the Republican Party.

So what is Calpine going to do with its new windfall from the public land? It is going to ignore the habitat destruction, toxic air emissions; and the degradation of the aquifer that feeds the largest spring system in California. It has plans to sell this electricity at premium prices with a "green energy" tag to unsuspecting customers in places like Portland and Eugene, Oregon.

All energy production comes with ecological impacts. Only through a massive reduction in electricity generation can we begin to approach something sustainable. Ask yourself: in this era of a dying planet, what use of electricity is justifiable other than to liberate the Earth?

Gather a group of active people and visit Medicine Lake. Wake up early and from the ice crystal beach, watch the smoke on the water rise as the fish jump for insects, and the birds dive for fish. Thank the Water, accept the healing energy and ask how to help. Calpine is big; its assets are widespread. Possibilities for action are manifold.

You can also contact Calpine's Director of Marketing, Brian McDonald, at (503) 223-2300. Let him know that you are developing a campaign to organize against the ecological destruction and indigenous genocide connected with Calpine's Telephone Flat Project. Write to Calpine's corporate headquarters at 50 W San Fernando, San Jose, CA 95113.

For more information, contact (503) 957-5572; regina@kswild.org; Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center. Turquoise is a direct action biocentrist from Cascadia.

© Earth First! Journal March-April 2003