By Nick Loris
Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.
But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.
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Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely. The California agency charged with planning a renewable energy transmission grid has rerouted proposed power lines to avoid the monument.”
Years of subsidies and tax credits haven’t helped wind and solar projects compete with more reliable sources of energy. Solar power supplies less than one percent of the country’s electricity demand; wind does slightly better. That’s not necessarily a red flag to stop building more, but it is indicative of how far we have to go and how costly it would be “transform to a clean energy economy” as President Obama said in his remarks to the delegation at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.
If the private businesses deem it in their interest to pursue renewable energy projects (without federal help), they should be able to do so. But where these projects may be the most economically viable, such as the Mojave Dessert, the government is shutting them down.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm invested in solar, told The New York Times, “This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review.”
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This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, the renewable projects have either been thwarted or put on hold because of self-interested in politicians. Cape Wind spent millions in litigation costs, delays and regulatory hurdles in attempting to build a 130-turbine offshore project in the Nantucket Sound that Senator Ted Kennedy long opposed despite the turbines being barely visible from the horizon.
The Mojave Dessert situation is slightly different because Sen. Feinstein says, “the lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period.” But if an environmental group wants to preserve these lands, they shouldn’t rely on the taxpayer to fund the purchase nor fund the conservation of the land. In fact, many environmental groups do just that. Private property rights make it possible for the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited to protect habitat by purchasing land and establishing wildlife preserves.’
Nantucket and the Mojave Dessert aren’t unique. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Project No Project shows that the “Not in My Back Yard” crowd is everywhere. It’s not just anti-oil and anti-coal, it’s anti-energy and anti-development.
Even with subsidies, tax breaks and mandates, shifting our energy away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy will be a prohibitively costly and difficult task. Senator Feinstein is about to make it that much more difficult.