Rebecca J. Barthelmie, is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who specializes in developing wind as a renewable energy resource. Her colleague Sara C. Pryor is an atmospheric scientist and Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences professor who uses a combination of field measurements and numerical tools to improve understanding of the climate system. Barthelmie and Pryor are part of a consortium of 28 scientists, researchers, and engineers from several American universities proposing an unusual and thought-provoking alternative to building a nondescript wall along the US-Mexico border.
They envision substituting the Trump administration’s currently-proposed border wall with infrastructure that will bring energy, water, jobs, and greater security to both sides of the border. They’re suggesting that the United States and Mexico jointly build an extensive energy- and water-producing industrial corridor and education park, in lieu of a conventional, uninterrupted boundary wall. The first-of-its-kind project would span the entire length of the nearly 2000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Both countries would benefit.
Americans remains extremely divided about whether the boundary wall along the southern border, proposed by President Trump to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking, would in fact control migration and / or make the nation safer. The consortium wants to move past all of the politically-motivated debate and build a ‘wall’ that harnesses clean energy, while producing power and water for the entire region. Their proposal is outlined in the white paper “Future Energy, Water, Industry and Education Park (FEWIEP): A Secure and Permanent US-Mexico Border Solution.”
The paper makes the case for developing an international border industrial complex consisting of solar farms, wind turbines, gas pipelines, desalination plants, and agriculture districts. The energy parks would be an economic driver, both during construction and as a result of future business and industrial development resulting from access to inexpensive, renewable, clean electricity, and bountiful water resources throughout the region.
Combining a border security wall with solar energy development is an idea that President Trump has actually offered as an option. “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy and pays for itself,” he said at a June, 2017 rally in Iowa.” He added, “My idea,” and “It makes sense. Let’s see.”
With only a wall, you still have unused land of little value,” says Ronald Adrian, Regent’s Professor at Arizona State University and member of the National Academy of Engineering. He views the FEWIEP project as “a means of creating wealth, by turning unused land of little value into valuable land that has power, water access, and ultimately agriculture, industry, jobs, workers, and communities.
The white paper states that the initiative “will create massive opportunities for employment and prosperity,” as well as “the potential to mitigate illegal immigration into the U.S., due to the vast infrastructure and employment opportunities that would be created on both sides of the border.” These enterprises would also provide border security (e.g. guards, surveillance drones) because utility facilities and infrastructure need to be well-protected. Transmission, gas, and water lines would be monitored by companies, states, and federal agencies, as many are now. And, since the U.S. and Mexico would be co-investors in FEWIEP, they’d work together to protect and defend it. What’s more, many people are trying to enter the U.S. because there’s no opportunity for them at home. Those migrants could become workers.
There are several examples of allied friendly-neighbor-nations cooperating to build and protect important infrastructure along their border. One is nearby; the Moses-Saunders Power Dam, a hydroelectric plant located on the international border between Massena, N.Y. and Cornwall, Ontario, which supplies water to two adjacent power stations; the United States’ 912mw St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project and Canada’s 1,045mw R.H. Saunders Generating Station.
Building infrastructure is an important Congressional priority. And Luciano Castillo, Purdue University’s Kenninger Professor of Renewable Energy and Power Systems, and the consortium lead, believes the FEWIEP mega-infrastructure project “can create great opportunity for both countries.” He makes clear that, “Just like the transcontinental railroad transformed the United States in the 19th century, or the Interstate system transformed the 20th century, this would be a national infrastructure project for the 21st century. It would do for the Southwest what the Tennessee Valley Authority has done for the Southeast over the last several decades.”
The consortium also recommends establishing learning institutions along the border that could promote and expand innovations in construction, engineering, manufacturing, facilities and business management, agriculture, security, and workforce development.
FEWIEP, wrote the researchers: “has the potential to make the desert bloom.”
You can read the white paper online here.
Illustration of proposed energy-water border along USA-Mexico border courtesy Perdue University.