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Build the ... energy corridor? Plan would bring jobs, border security, scientists say

So-called energy park would span 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Twenty-eight engineers and scientists assembled this month to put together a pretty “audacious” plan, as the team called it: Namely, an energy corridor, instead of a border wall, that the group contends would bring jobs and security to the region, among other benefits.

This corridor would be an energy park, really, and it would span the entire 1,954 miles of the border between the United States and Mexico. The project would bring energy and water to the area, as well.

So, how would all of this pan out?

The scientists, who are from across the U.S., are proposing that the two nations work together on this enormous infrastructure project. It would be a pretty massive effort, involving a complex trail of solar energy panels, wind turbines, natural gas pipelines and desalination facilities. Once the whole system is up and running, the idea is, it would create an industrial park along the border unlike anything you could find anywhere else in the world, according to a write-up on the plan from Purdue University.

If you’re scratching your head right now, thinking the proposal sounds too far-fetched, you’re likely not alone. Some of the scientists on the team even admitted that it might sound crazy. But it’s not, the engineers argued.

“At first blush, the idea seems too big (and) too aggressive, but consider the Roman aqueducts or the transcontinental railroads — enormous undertakings that gave enormous benefits,” said Ronald Adrian, a regents’ professor at Arizona State University. “The cost of providing basic, essential infrastructure to the border lands is tiny compared to the opportunities it creates. I view this project as a means of creating wealth by turning unused land of little value along the border into valuable land that has power, water access and ultimately agriculture, industry, jobs, workers and communities. With only a wall, you still have unused land of little value.”

Adrian said the proposal, although a huge undertaking, is worth some serious consideration.

Photo: Purdue University/Jorge Castillo Quiñones

 

Where does border security factor into all of this?

The energy parks would provide ample security, said Luciano Castillo, an expert from Purdue University who led the consortium.

"All utility plants, pipelines and other energy production facilities have security — as any infrastructure will have under any conditions,” he said. “In addition to physical security features, such as multiple levels of fencing, these pipelines and facilities would also have electronic sensors and drone surveillance. This would allow areas for wildlife to continue to migrate while alerting officials to anyone crossing the border illegally."

Additionally, the news release from Purdue points out that the idea of combining a border wall with solar energy panels isn't exactly new — in fact, President Donald Trump has even spoken about this as a real possibility.

The overall plan solves several challenges at once, scientists said, and it does so by bringing people together.

"It will bring energy, water and education to create more opportunities for the USA and Mexico on both sides,” Castillo is quoted as saying.

As for the water issues, keep in mind that this region is particularly drought-prone. And when a state is in a severe drought, you have to start thinking about groundwater resources. The situation can get political, expensive and messy.

Under this energy corridor proposal, scientists believe we could increase water resources in two ways: “First, in the United States, nearly half of the water is used by fossil fuel and nuclear power plants used for cooling -- and increasing the amount of wind and solar production of electricity would allow billions of gallons of water available for other resources.

Second, the proposed plan includes wind-powered desalination plants at each coast, which would then pump fresh water into the interior region.”

Finally, the vision of the “park” would be to attract many businesses on both sides of the border "in a broad and lucrative economic zone," Castillo said.

Check out the proposal in full. It's definitely worth your 20 minutes.

If you’re still feeling skeptical, or maybe you still need this broken down a bit more (hey, it’s tough stuff!) read how ScientificAmerican.com explained it.

“Instead of an endless, inert wall along the U.S.–Mexico border, line the boundary with 2,000 miles of natural gas, solar and wind power plants," the site said. "Use some of the energy to desalinate water from the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean and ship it through pipelines to thirsty towns, businesses and new farms along the entire border zone. Hire hundreds of thousands of people from both countries to build and run it all. Companies would make money and provide security to safeguard their assets. A contentious, costly no-man’s-land would be transformed into a corridor of opportunity. Crazy? Maybe — or maybe not. History is full of ideas that initially sounded wacky yet ended up changing society.”

So far, the team has delivered the proposal to three U.S. representatives and one senator, according to published reports.


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