Federal Lands Puzzle Pieces: Wind and Solar Buildout, 30 x 30, and Tribes’ Views

On federal Tribal and/or private land- wind and solar buildout? From Wyoming News Now video


It seems like we have a bit of a puzzle with moving parts with federal lands issues these days.

1. 30 x 30, what exactly does that mean in terms of management of federal lands?
2. Massive build out of renewable energy/transmission currently prioritized by USG and States, but pushback on private lands (and some on federal). How will that play out on federal lands?
3. Tribes, what do they think about renewable buildout on their lands, how much say should they have over federal lands, and for federal decisions, what if different Tribes disagree?

This article talks about the pushback on private lands for wind and solar. Needless to say, I don’t particularly like the tone of the article (and the Sierra Club is not the only group that recommends extensive solar and wind buildout in rural America).  As I’ve been following the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre project in Wyoming , the first permit was applied for in 2006, and there are no turbines yet .. and no litigation (half on federal). And yet, other large facilities are being built out, much more quickly, on private land in central and eastern Colorado, also helping family ranches economically. Here’s an example. Anyway, back to the pushback in some places.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a prominent employee of the Sierra Club who declared something to the effect of “we have to quit using coal, oil, and natural gas.” That, of course, is the official dogma of America’s “largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.” The group says it is “committed to eliminating the use of fossil fuels, including coal, natural gas, and oil, as soon as possible. We must replace all fossil fuels with clean renewable energy, efficiency, and conservation.”

This same Sierra Clubber also expressed dismay about the difficulty of siting big renewable-energy projects and how they are being hindered by “NIMBYism.” Upon hearing this, I quickly interjected that I loathe that term, which, of course, is short for “not in my backyard.” I explained that everyone, everywhere, cares about what happens in their neighborhood, even out there in “flyover country” – that is, the places that are far away from the comfy confines of places like San Francisco, Princeton, Stanford, and other locales where fantasies about an all-renewable economy seem to proliferate.

I went on to introduce myself and explained that I have been tracking the issue of land use and renewables for many years. I explained that rural residents are objecting to wind projects because they don’t want to see the red-blinking lights atop those 50- or 60-story-high wind turbines, all night, every night, for the rest of their lives. They are also concerned — and rightly so — about the deleterious health effects of noise from the turbines, sleep disturbance, and potential decrease in their property values. I followed up by emailing this person — at their Sierra Club email address — a link to my April report for the Center of the American Experiment, “Not In Our Backyard,” which documents the widespread opposition to Big Wind and Big Solar in rural America. I included a link to the Renewable Energy Rejection Database. That database, which I have been maintaining myself, now lists 317 local communities or government entities from Maine to Hawaii, that have rejected or restricted wind projects in the US since 2015.

Then there are aspects of power and privilege, but also, say for rural Coloradans who want to lease their land (and are far from neighbors who might be impacted) why not? Will those working lands be countable as “conserved” under 30 x 30?  “Cows yes, turbines no” or “cows no turbines no” or…?

The Sierra Club doesn’t want you to know about the rejection of the Fountain Wind project in Shasta County because that project provides another example of one of Big Wind’s favorite tactics: put the turbines where rich people ain’t.

Wind projects are never going to be built in places like Marin, Malibu, or Montauk. Folks in those places can afford to hire powerful lawyers and lobbyists. Instead, Big Wind always aims their projects at low-income counties where the opponents don’t have as much money to fight back. That’s true of Shasta County. Of the 58 counties in California, Shasta County ranks 46th in median household income. According to the Census Bureau, the median household income in Shasta County is about $54,700. That’s far less than the California average of about $75,200.

I think it might well be  a good subject for social science research, why the people in, say, Limon Colorado (or Rush or …) might feel differently than the people in Shasta County. Who benefits and who loses, and how does that differ?  Maybe we don’t need to build them everywhere.. maybe the poorer parts of the Great Plains have enough and can spare other parts of the country. My point being low income counties should have agency to accept or reject them. Just because a county is low income doesn’t mean we should overrule them in pursuit of higher moral goals (climate change) or say “they don’t really want it, they only need the money and if they were richer they’d reject, it too.” Of course if some people want it in the county and others don’t.. well that’s the tough work of local government.

On private land, we have the problem of  (some) neighbors not liking industrialized landscapes (further from the turbines) or health effects (closer to the turbines) but the landowners can make some money from the leases.  And they’re good for the climate. But say, if we had nuclear instead, we might not need them for the climate. It’s a larger puzzle of technical innovation and public acceptance moving parts. And then there’s new transmission lines.

Then there’s also this challenge with transmission (this Breakthrough Institute paper is about how permitting should be streamlined, (that would be the same kind of streamlining that in the eyes of some would be “leaving people out” and “not fully considering environmental impacts”:

A proposed 120-mile high-voltage transmission line stretching from Iowa to central Wisconsin — the 345-kilovolt Cardinal-Hickory Creek line — has met opposition from the public because developers cannot guarantee that only clean energy would flow down the line. Opponents contend that under federal law all types of generation have equal access to the line, and it would also likely be used to transmit power from coal and other fossil fuels. The same concern has been voiced for the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect transmission line, which will transmit hydropower from Canada to the Northeast. Environmental groups also strongly oppose the line over concerns about the environmental impact of the line itself, even though 72% of the line will be built along existing transmission routes. E&E News notes that “Opponents say the project would create environmental damage and hurt homegrown solar, wind and biomass projects in Maine.” But such concerns fail to note that more transmission will be required to bring more clean energy online in the first place, and fossil fuel generation won’t be displaced until cheaper sources are developed.

Well, I’m agnostic about the whole “which low carbon energy sources will win out in which timeframe.” And also “how much will ultimately happen on federal compared to private lands.” It should be interesting to watch, though.

5 thoughts on “Federal Lands Puzzle Pieces: Wind and Solar Buildout, 30 x 30, and Tribes’ Views”

  1. Utilities are not your friends.

    The average cost of a household photovoltaic system has dropped below $3/watt even before tax credits are factored in and leaving the grid has never been easier so anyone who can afford to it should do it now.

    Microgrid technologies are destined to encourage self-reliance, enhance tribal sovereignty, free communities from electric monopolies and net-metering only gives control back to utilities enabled by moral hazard. Ice storms routinely knock out electric power on American Indian reservations often resulting in lost lives and the inevitable cyber attacks on the US will take down the grid for days, even months causing food shortages and mayhem.

    Building bat and bird killers on public land is just another subsidy for monopolistic predators like Black Hills Energy.

  2. https://www.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=41b780468606415e8dcee36b39045d79
    (Note that this example is limited to wildlife effects and apparently private land.)

    Turn on the “low impact development potential layer,” and then ask these places if they want it, and go there first. I don’t see the point of worrying much about why they want it (such as they don’t have amenities that would otherwise attract businesses and people that would support their tax base). Communities make choices all the time to encourage or discourage economic investments of whatever type.

    • I looked at the map and thought “but aren’t eagles pretty much everywhere?” so not sure I understand that map. And the BLM, as we’ve discussed has their own mapping. And then there is the access to transmission lines map and where they overlap. But how well is that working? Are companies using those maps.. why are there controversies then? Do the maps include concurrence by governments and Tribes?

      Should some measure of social license be incorporated into the maps?
      It would be interesting to understand how companies decide where they are going to propose a project.

  3. I agree with Larry. In the time it takes to plan and develop these huge systems, we could be covering every house, warehouse, and other rooftop and parking lot with solar panels, which are cheap and feed into the grid locally. This probably isn’t nearly enough, but is cheap and easy. As for the article referenced, when I see the term Sierra Clubber, I know the rest of the views- cries of elitism and reliance on corporate benevolence. Where are prisons, industries, mines, and power plants located now? Also not in the backyards of the rich. There are no oil derricks in Malibu anymore, either. But wouldn’t solar panels in Bakersfield be better than derricks?

    • Roy, I think that’s the challenge is to determine what are our choices… and what timeframe. If we use cars, construction and farming equipment, trucks to deliver food that run off gas (near term) then the choice isn’t really solar panels vs. oil derricks. The choice is oil derricks here versus oil derricks there (Saudi Arabia, Iraq and so on..). And people have different views about that..
      Benefits: working class jobs, international security issues, not needing to transport very far..
      Costs: local extraction pollution.
      Personally having grown up recreating among oil derricks, I’d favor regulations to minimize the local extraction pollution (which inhabitants of the US can control) over the behavior of OPEC (which we can’t). Let alone the uses of petroleum products for chemicals, plastics, etc.


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