News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Want To Learn More About California Energy? Try This Great Map Resource

Yellow: solar; gray: wind; green: biomass; blue: hydro. | Screen capture of EIA map

Ever find yourself wanting to know where solar, wind, or other renewable energy facilities are in California? Or where the state's nukes, natural gas pipelines, and oil refineries might be? Your task just got a lot easier, thanks to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA is working on an online tool, now available in a beta version, that allows you to explore interactive maps of the energy infrastructure in all 50 states. In addition to marking the locations of renewable energy generating facilities from solar to hydro to biomass, the tool also allows you to chart the routes of transmission lines, spot Liquefied Natural Gas terminals in your county, or find the coal mine closest to your hometown. (Spoiler: California doesn't have any active coal mines.)

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Click on any of the generating facilities shown on the map, and a modal box will pop up describing the facility (or facilities, if several of them share the same location.) Each facility is described by its capacity, its power source, corporate ownership, and street address. Though the implementation is a little sketchy in this beta version, each electrical generating facility will also be linked to a graph of historic power output, like this (still incomplete) one for the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

If maps are more your thing than graphs, the mapping tool offers a range of map layers for you to find your way around, including topographic, street maps, and satellite views. Here's the satellite close-up of the above-mentioned San Onofre plant:

Birds's-eye view of the San Onofre nuclear power plant | Screen capture of EIA map

You can also use the map to chart potential for energy generation from geothermal, solar, and onshore and offshore wind turbines. Drill down from the main map to any of the states and a sidebar will display that state's rank in power consumption per capita (California is 48 of 50), production of power, fossil fuels and carbon emissions, and energy prices.

Even in less-tested and bug-prone beta status, the EIA's map tool is an invaluable resource for energy wonks, or anyone wanting to become one. But you don't need to be an aspiring wonk to find this tool invaluable. All you need is a desire to see what's going on in your neighborhood, to learn more about the fossil fuel power plants upwind from you, or what small renewable facilities you might pass every day, on vacant lots and large rooftops. (Did you know there's a 10 megawatt hydroelectric plant next door to the L.A. Weekly building on Sepulveda?)

This tool can only get better as they work out the bugs. Well done, EIA.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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