One of the climate policies proposed by President Obama in his State of the Union Address is a “renewable portfolio standard,” or RPS, which would require 80 percent of our electricity to be generated using renewable sources by 2035. A number of states have already put this in place, including Washington state, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, although with different targets.
The problem arises when energy companies actually try to build clean energy plants to meet the standard. Across the West, environmentalists have opposed virtually all of the allowable forms of energy.
In Washington state, environmentalists are going on the offensive to prevent construction of new energy plants that would use forest scraps left after a timber harvest, including branches and other shrubs. Ironically, biomass was specifically defined as “renewable” in Washington’s RPS law proposed by the environmental community just a few years ago.
Today, however, some are trying to stop biomass plants from actually being built. In the Seattle Times, environmental activist Duff Badgley decided to forgo subtlety, and accuracy, when he wrote “The outrage comes as science documents biomass combustion is ‘dirtier’ than coal, stokes climate change, rains toxic pollutants on regional populations and would decimate our forests.” At least he put “dirtier” in quotes.
None of that is true, as we have pointed out elsewhere. Even if it were true, why did the environmental community specifically include it when they wrote the law? One reason is that solar simply isn’t a viable option in Washington, so wind and biomass are the only real opportunities to generate renewable energy. Without those, there is simply no reasonable way Washington could meet any renewable energy target.
Get rid of biomass and the only thing left in Washington state, really, would be wind.
And, of course, the environmental community doesn’t like that either. One of the best locations for wind turbines in the Northwest is along the Columbia River Gorge that separates Washington and Oregon. Air from the Pacific is steered by the Cascade Mountains through this narrow gap, creating strong, consistent winds that have made it a haven for windsurfers. The Gorge has also been designated a scenic area, putting limits on development inside the boundaries.
Now, Friends of the Columbia Gorge have determined that any development that can be seen from inside the Gorge is also unacceptable. Although the turbines proposed as part of the Whistling Ridge Energy Project would be outside of the Scenic Area, that’s not enough for the Friends. They, like Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle, want to be “ruler of all that I see.” They oppose the wind farm because turbines can be seen from inside the scenic area. One supporter said he supported wind in “Eastern Oregon and Washington” but not near the Gorge. Apparently he doesn’t think much of the scenery in E. Washington.
This is a familiar refrain. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. opposed wind turbines that could be seen from his family’s compound. The Audubon Society in Ellensburg, Washington also opposed a wind farm in that community. In each instance, supporters claim they support wind energy, but just want it somewhere else.
There’s always solar right? Nope. Environmental groups are now suing to stop a major solar project in California. The New York Times reports “At peak output, the five licensed solar thermal projects being challenged would power more than two million homes,” and would help California meets its RPS goals. One of the projects was stopped, however, when regulators expressed concern about “the project’s impact on the Mohave ground squirrel.” The Sierra Club sued another project “claiming the 7.2-square-mile power plant would devastate the imperiled desert tortoise and other wildlife.”
This might be a blessing in disguise. Solar power is extremely inefficient, costing many times more than natural gas, nuclear and even wind power.
Two things come to mind with these stories.
First, environmental activists frequently claim climate change is the most important environmental issue we face. Activist “scientist” James Hansen wrote last year that “The predominant moral issue of the 21st century, almost surely, will be climate change, comparable to Nazism faced by Churchill in the 20th century and slavery faced by Lincoln in the 19th century.” When push comes to shove, however, climate policies take a backseat to other issues including scenery. The consistent opposition of environmental activists to the various forms of renewable energy undermines their stated concern about the seriousness of climate change.
Second, despite consistently professing the need to think globally and act locally, environmental opponents of renewable energy are thinking locally and ignoring the global consequences they say they fear.
Some argue the true agenda of the environmental left is to oppose all energy — energy they believe facilitates environmentally destructive prosperity. That is certainly true for some. But for others, the problem is seeing beyond the end of their nose, even when it means being consistent with their professed values.
If President Obama is serious about creating a renewable portfolio standard, he may find significant opposition from his own friends once he tries to implement it.