Infrastructure in the News: Wastewater Agriculture, Rural Broadband, NIMBY Energy

    Wastewater Agriculture

    Urban farming may have just taken a big step toward scaleable reality. According to Hortidaily, researchers from Clemson University and South Korea’s Gyeongsang National University have developed a low-impact method for growing produce in cities.

    The system researchers are developing would use an anaerobic membrane bioreactor to filter harmful contaminants out of wastewater while leaving behind nutrients that fertilize plants. The treated water would be used on crops, such as lettuce, that are growing in an indoor, soil-free hydroponic system that is engineered to efficiently use the water and its nutrients.

    Treating wastewater would produce methane that could be converted to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would enhance plant growth by enriching the air inside a greenhouse or modular container that has been reconfigured for growing crops.

    Rural Broadband

    A bad cell phone signal is one of those periodic frustrations of contemporary life. Now imagine life with zero bars. It’s more common than you might think: Fully 31% of Americans in rural areas lack access to high-speed broadband. That’s compared to 4% in cities. In a recent live-streamed lecture, Pennsylvania State University telecommunications professor Christopher Ali argued that solving the problem will require local control, Broadband Breakfast reports.

    Federal regulations have long favored the interests of incumbent providers over those of communities, Ali argued. Ali posited that this policy bias has led to what he termed the “Politics of Good Enough,” through which many communities have been forced to settle for allegedly subpar internet service from entrenched providers who enjoy government protections. …

    Ali wrote a book called Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity last year, in which he explores the failures of rural broadband policy and leadership over the years in the U.S.

    Ali suggested a comprehensive view of locally controlled broadband that included not only government entities—municipalities and counties—but also cooperatives, local service providers, and anchor institutions such as libraries, faith organizations, and community centers.

    “Broadband is fundamentally local,” Ali said. “At the end of the day, broadband fundamentally ends in our homes, in our classrooms, in our hands with mobile phones…. We’re seeing communities connect themselves in the absence of private market support and the absence of policy support.”

    NIMBY Energy

    A report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory models the likelihood of reaching zero-emissions energy production in the U.S. by 2035, Utility Dive reports. While technical issues such as energy storage are often cited as obstacles, one of the biggest challenges may be the often fierce local resistance to infrastructure development.

    “Local community opposition is real and will likely continue to make siting and permitting a challenge,” but might be addressable, said University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Sustainable Energy Policy Emily Grubert, who has worked with federal agencies on related issues.

    To earn a community’s trust, development proposals “should explain why a project is needed, why the community’s resources are needed, and how the community can benefit,” Grubert said. They should also “assure the community its concerns have been heard and it will be protected,” she added.

    DOE’s formal Community Benefits Agreements, which are used for new infrastructure development and stipulate the benefits a developer will deliver for the community, “could also have a powerful impact on streamlining siting and permitting,” Grubert said.

    “No project should go ahead without a Community Benefit Agreement to assure real benefits for the host community,” agreed [Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Renewable Energy Policy Analyst Nathanael] Greene. But in many places, “political polarization has turned reasonable project development questions into obstructive, misinformation campaigns,” Greene said. “Overcoming that will take a lot of work,” he added.

    “People, especially in smaller communities, can get very passionate, and even exchange death threats, which shows how important and undervalued trust is,” Grubert agreed.