By Ryan M. Yonk, PhD
Institute of Political Economy – Utah State University
Institute of Policy Analysis – Southern Utah University
Renewable and carbon-neutral energy have been promoted as the future of energy production in the United States. Non-traditional energy sources show promise as alternatives to fossil fuels and may provide a sustainable source of energy in increasingly uncertain energy markets. However, these new sources of energy face their own set of political, administrative, and legal challenges. Green vs. Green explores how mixed land ownership and existing law and regulation present serious challenges to the development of alternative energy sources in the United States.
We attended the public comment meetings for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed Solar Energy Zones—areas on the public lands in five western states the BLM believes are suitable for solar energy development. Environmental activists speaking at the meetings overwhelmingly supported the idea of solar power and the idea behind the Solar Energy Zones. They did not, however, support these particular zones. The proposals appear to go too far, are in the wrong places and need to be modified or, in some cases, were outright rejected. Concerns were raised about the effects on the Sonoran Desert Tortoise, gullies and other riparian areas, animals and insects. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance noted that the Wah Wah Valley (one of three proposed Solar Energy Zones in Utah) is too near lands with Wilderness characteristics. Other groups complained about insufficient water in the Wah Wah Valley to sustain solar production. In written comments, the Sierra Club asked that two of the Solar Energy Zones in California be removed from consideration entirely. All told, there is little ‘uncontroversial’ land available for solar energy production on the BLM’s 258 million acres in the West.
In our new book, Green vs Green, we describe green opposition to green energy development as a green activist versus green energy dilemma. Green activists compare the costs from local green energy development with the local benefits of preservation. The costs are almost all local–hundreds if not thousands of acres must be devoted to solar or wind farms, windmills and solar farms destroy traditional farming, birds and bats are killed. The benefits, however, tend to be exported as the energy is usually sent elsewhere and any benefits from lower carbon production are shared widely. Thus, local costs are much higher than local benefits.
Local concerns vary. A solar farm that generates as much electricity as a natural gas well and power plant takes up thousands more acres and effectively destroys all vegetation under the collectors. Wind farms disturb thousands of acres and significantly affect viewsheds. Wind turbines have also been known to kill bats and some birds, including species that are endangered. Geothermal plants disturb one to eight acres per megawatt. Permits to disturb plant and animal life on public lands have to be granted through a drawn-out permitting process, often five years or more. At the very least, an Environmental Assessment has to be done and often an Environmental Impact Statement. State legislators want to tax green energy development to increase tax revenues, local communities want to charge impact fees to build local infrastructure, and Native American Tribes are concerned with negative impacts on sites they consider sacred. Farmland preservationists worry that windmills or solar farms will destroy traditional farming. It quickly becomes clear that the constraints on alternative energy development are not just physical—long distances from transportation corridors, desert or mountainous terrain, necessary and available water supplies—but political.
Our book details several cases where local preferences trump global preferences by using environmental laws and regulations. The network of interest groups, litigation, and the culture that make up modern environmentalism fights green and traditional energy development alike. As national policymakers continue to tout ‘green’ initiatives, ‘green’ interest groups will oppose them. We should expect lengthy court cases, tedious environmental review processes, and protests to continue.
Environmental concerns and the scarcity of petroleum have, especially over the last forty years, led to an increasing policy focus on alternative fuels. The most common of these petroleum alternatives, ethanol and biodiesel, see widespread and accelerating use world-wide. In the United States, national policies including tax subsidies, import tariffs, and, more recently, mandated use, have led to increased production and use of both biofuels. Increased use of biofuels has, however, come with a variety of consequences and controversies. In particular, the “food versus fuel” debate, fuel efficiency and costs issues, and controversial effects on greenhouse gas emissions have generated a host of arguments both for and against biofuels. This conflict is, as with other alternative energies, fundamentally a green versus green conflict; in this case, however, the conflict is one of green policy versus green outcomes.
Both biodiesel and ethanol are generally derived from common plants, and in the US these are typically soybeans and corn, respectively. Opponents to biofuels argue that increased demand for staple food crops, both directly consumed by humans and used as feed for livestock, has led to an increase in the cost of food worldwide (Mercer-Blackman, Samiei, & Cheng, 2007; World Bank, 2008; Alexander & Hurt, 2007). While producers typically respond to higher prices by increasing production, this comes at a higher marginal cost for farmers, and additional costs to the public in the form of subsidies. This controversy is central in the “food versus fuel” debate, with many arguing that increased utilization of biofuels will reduce available food supplies and increase the cost of both fuel and food.
Ethanol has been used as an additive in nearly every gallon of gasoline for some time, while biodiesel has gained popular use only recently. As combustion of either of these biofuels generates less energy than an equivalent amount of petroleum based fuel, use of any blend will reduce horsepower and torque, resulting in reduced efficiency of the vehicles’ miles per gallon. Exacerbating their negative impact on fuel efficiency, both ethanol and biodiesel are, at present, more expensive than petroleum based fuel. These efficiency and cost issues indirectly affect nearly every good by increasing transportation costs.
While numerous studies have demonstrated reductions in tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gasses through use of biofuels, these studies frequently fail to incorporate “carbon debt.” Conversion of land to productive farming causes an initial release of carbon dioxide. Carbon debt measures the amount of time that use of biofuels will take to offset that initial release. The carbon debt incurred varies widely, from near zero to more than four hundred years, depending on the type of land converted. This issue complicates the real effects of biofuel use on greenhouse gas emissions, and is rarely accounted for in claims of greenhouse gas reductions, on which most policies are based.
At this point, with federal subsidies, import tariffs, and mandated use, demand for biofuels has been legislatively created and supply has rapidly expanded. The balance of the benefits of biofuel use and the social costs of biofuels is, however, uncertain and extraordinarily difficult to quantify. Significant unresolved issues remain, particularly regarding “food versus fuel” arguments, efficiency issues and social costs driven by both of those issues. In addition, the full greenhouse gas effects of biofuel use are unclear.
The biofuel issue is fundamentally different from the other alternative energy cases as no significant cases of litigation have been brought in opposition to this energy source. This subject does, however, highlight a different issue. In protecting the biofuel industry through tariffs, promotion through tax credits, and mandated use of biofuels, the federal government has, to a great degree, created the market for biofuel. This has imposed a social cost nationally directly through increases in fuel (and transported goods) prices, and may have indirectly imposed social costs through increased food prices and uncertain environmental impacts. While the legislations which have created the biofuel market were enacted with green intent, the uncertain effect and high cost of biofuels make this issue one of green policy versus green outcomes.
- National policy decisions must be based on the true impact of biofuels
- Alternative means of achieving the same carbon reductions at a lower cost should be explored; If an equal reduction can be achieved at a lower social cost, pursuing biofuels is irrational
Alexander, C., & Hurt, C. (2007, September). Biofuels and Their Impact on Food Prices. BioEnergy: Fueling America Through Renewable Resources. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia/ID/ID-346-W.pdf
Fargione, J., Hill, J., Tilman, D., Polasky, S., & Hawthorne, P. (2008, February 29). Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt. Science. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from www.sciencemag.org.dist.lib.usu.edu/content/319/5867/1235. full.pdf?sid=deab8fbd-c294-435c-adc4-e8bb1ebd6f27
Mandil, C., & Shihab-Eldin, A. (2010, February). International Energy Forum. Assessment of Biofuels Potential and Limitations. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from www.ief.org/PDF%20Downloads/Bio-fuels%20Report.pdf
Mercer-Blackman, V., Samiei, H., & Cheng, K. (2007, October 17). IMF Survey: Biofuel Demand Pushes Up Food Prices. IMF — International Monetary Fund Home Page. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from http://www.imf.org/external/ pubs/ft/survey/so/2007/RES1017A.html
World Bank Chief: Biofuels Boosting Food Prices : NPR. (2008, April 11). NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. Retrieved December 19, 2011, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?story Id=89545855
Geothermal energy is an alternative source of energy with great potential: approximately 50,000 times more energy than the total supply of oil and natural gas in the world (How Geothermal Energy Works; Energy Story 2011). Despite its potential geothermal energy currently only accounts for 0.3 percent of the annually produced energy in the United States (Geothermal energy technology and current status, 2002). The low use of geothermal energy is generally due to the complex regulatory environment and opposition from local environmental groups, despite vocal national policy support and material support by national environmental groups and federal agencies. The Telephone Flats and Fourmile Hill area illustrates the obstacles facing increased geothermal energy development. Calpine Corporation, in attempting to develop the leases it obtained at Fourmile Hill and Telephone Flats, encountered stiff resistance, and ultimate defeat, at the hand of the Pitt River Tribe and others, who regarded this area as environmentally, historically, culturally, and spiritually significant. While listing the area with the National Historic Register would provide some protection, and compliance with regulations would require minimizing development impacts, the Pitt River Tribe contended that any development of the area would interfere with their cultural heritage (Pit River v. U.S. Forest Service, 2006).
The Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense, and the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center joined with the Pitt River tribe in opposition to the Calpine Corporation. Meanwhile the Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Bureau of Land Management all favored development. Despite compliance and federal approval of development plans, all development was halted due to litigation on the behalf of the opposition. Due largely to expenses in obtaining eases, performing federally mandated studies, and investments in developing the region, the ensuing legal battle and inability to capitalize on the investments resulted in bankruptcy for Calpine (22 Largest Bankruptcies in World History, n.d.).
Despite compliance with regulations, and obtaining the approval of the requisite agencies, technicalities and agency errors ultimately allowed the Pitt River Tribe and other litigants to block development of the resource. The regulatory and legal costs of compliance that Calpine faced in attempting to develop its leased sites were daunting enough to force the company into bankruptcy. The high costs faced by Calpine are common for any firm attempting to develop geothermal energy and serve as signifi- cant potential obstacles for future expansion of the industry in general. This case illustrates the conflicts between environmental preservation groups and alternative energy projects. While, in general, the expectation is that environmental groups support green energy projects, issues over both actual and perceived conflicts in land use frequently put these groups at odds with green energy. Green groups typically support, at least on paper, alternative energy, but in fact often stand as the greatest opposition to alternative energy projects such as geothermal energy.
- Streamline regulatory compliance process to reduce redundant environmental studies
- Identify and pre-approve areas as geothermal development zones to reduce potential litigation
“22 Largest Bankruptcies in World History.” (n.d.) InstantShift. Retrieved on 29 Feb. 2012, from http://www.instantshift.com/2010/02/03/22-largest-bankrupt cies-in-world-history/
Deichmann, N. (2007). “Seismicity Induced by Water Injection for Geothermal Reser voir Stimulation 5 km Below the City of Basel, Switzerland”. American Geophysi cal Union, Bibcode 2007AGUFM.V53F..08D
‘Energy Story: Geothermal Energy’. (2011). California Energy Commission. http://ww w.energyquest.ca.gov/story/chapter11.html
Geothermal energy technology and current status: an overview. (n.d.) ScienceDirect. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/arti cle/pii/S1364032102000023
How Geothermal Energy Works. (2009). Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technolo gy_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-geothermal-energy-works.html
Pit River Tribe v. U.S. Forest Service. 469 F.3d 768 (9th Cir. 2006). Lewis and Clark Law School’s Environmental Law Online. http://www.elawreview.org/summaries/natural_resources/nation- al_forest_management_act/pit_river_tribe_v_us_forest_se.html#_edn1
In the mid-twentieth century green energy was meeting nearly 40 percent of the United States’ energy needs through hydropower generation; a level that well exceeds most current goals called for by environmental groups for renewable energy production and substantially higher than any time in the recent past. Hydroelectricity has since experienced sharp decline in the United States, it currently producing only 6 percent of the nation’s energy. Hydropower has significant demonstrated ability to produce affordable, green energy.
Although the potential of hydropower is great, environmental concerns and the concerted effort of special interest groups continue to hinder development. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have been successful in lobbying the federal government to make it difficult, expensive, and largely impossible to develop this plentiful source of alternative energy. Currently legislation prevents hydropower plant siting on nearly all federal lands. This legislation includes the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the National Wilderness Act, and the Energy Policy Act of 1992, among others. The most cited environmental concerns are that hydro development may disrupt the natural habitat of protected fish species like salmon and cause ecological changes in waterways, leading to under-water plant deforestation.
Until legislation is streamlined and activist groups limit their opposition to this form of green energy generation, the potential of this substantial energy source will go untapped. Further, even those sites currently able to produce hydropower have been severely curtailed due to environmental groups’ lobbying and intervention. The Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell is one such example.
In 1869 John Wesley Powell discovered the beautiful but rugged Glen Canyon region of the Colorado River in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Once home to the prehistoric Anasazi and Fremont people, today the canyon’s walls are submerged beneath 9 trillion gallons of water. What is now Lake Powell originated amidst opposition from environmental groups who sought to protect the region’s cultural and natural characteristics. The history of the Glen Canyon Dam illustrates the difficulties associated with hydropower generation and demonstrates how backlash from environmentalists can create significant barriers to the development and continuing production of alternative energy from sources like hydropower.
Following the Colorado River Compact of 1922, construction for a dam at Glen Canyon was authorized. Over 20 years later, the Bureau of Reclamation identified Glen Canyon as a desirable site with promising hydropower capabilities. This spurred a wave of environmental backlash, particularly from the Sierra Club, and protests slowed construction of many proposed dams. Amid years of heated controversy, Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963. Environmental pressure to remove the dam continued until, in 1989, the Secretary of Interior requested an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS resulted in a reduction of the dam’s energy output, which pleased environmental groups but failed to pacify them. Debates, protests and the occasional threat to sue continue today about whether the dam should be ‘decommissioned,’ removed, or kept running.
The case of the Glen Canyon dam is a classic example of the green vs. green struggle. Although hydroelectric power represents a promising form of clean, renewable energy, environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club struggle relentlessly to the prevent the construction of new dams and increase the decommissioning of dams across the country. Environmental concerns can and should be taken into account when constructing dams or equipping them with hydropower generating facilities. This should not require, however, that projects become so burdensome they are discouraged from ever being undertaken in the first place.
- Streamline legislation to make hydropower siting more economically and politically feasible
- Develop policies that balance environmental concerns with the need to produce inexpensive, green energy
Water Power Program: History of Hydropower. (n.d.). EERE. Retrieved on February 8, 2012, from http://www1.eere.energy.gov/water/hydro_history.html
Why Hydro. (n.d.). National Hydropower Association. Retrieved on February 13, 2012, from http://hydro.org/why-hydro/
FERC: Off-Limits Sites. (n.d.). Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Retrieved Febru ary 27, 2012, from http://www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/gen-info/licens ing/small-low-impact/get-started/sites.asp
People: Cultural History (2013). National Park Service. Retrieved February 5, 2013 from http://www.nps.gov/glca/historyculture/people.htm; Glen Canyon Natural
History Association. (2010). Glen Canyon Dam. Retrieved December 21, 2011 from Glen Canyon Natural History Association: http://www.glencanyonnha.org/glen_ canyon_dam/glencanyondam.php
In 1988 Frederick Larson filed a patent application for 156 oil shale claims found on federal lands in the Uintah Basin. His attempts to secure these patents would eventually culminate in Orion v. Salazar in 2008, which resulted in the establishment of precedent holding private leasers accountable not only for present and future regulations, but also in some instances holding them retroactively accountable for past regulations. Through the story of Frederick Larson, this chapter explores the political and economic context surrounding the development of oil shale as a potential source of alternative energy in the years to come. Although the potential of oil shale is great, the technology remains economically infeasible and politically controversial.
Oil shale refers to a sedimentary rock formed millions of years ago from organic matter that was then subjected to intense heat and pressure. This process is similar to that which formed other fossil fuels, however, in the case of oil shale it occurred incompletely resulting in a precursor petroleum-like substance. Pockets of oil shale can be found around the world, but the largest known deposit is the Green River deposit, located in eastern Utah, southwestern Wyoming, and western Colorado. Estimates suggest this deposit contains more oil than the entire Saudi Arabian deposit.
When Frederick Larson filed for 156 oil shale claims in 1988, the Mining Law of 1872 (ML) allowed for extraction and mining of minerals on federal lands as long as $100 worth of assessment work was completed annually. A resumption clause allowed claimants to maintain land rights if they resumed assessment work before another claimant staked a competing claim. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (MLA) made regulations under the previous law void, except those that qualified under the savings clause. Although Larson asserted that his patents were valid under the savings clause of the MLA, and the resumption clause of the ML, the U.S. District of Columbia Court of Appeals nullified the claims based on the Hickel Test, established in 1970 in Hickel v. Oil Shale Corporation. In Orion v. Salazar, a more stringent standard was applied retroactively, and the validity of Larson’s claims under existing laws denied. The federal government was eager to regain control of vast oil shale reserves in the Uintah Basin, and selective legal precedent was used for achieving this goal. This case is just one example of how political barriers prevent the development of oil shale as a potential energy source across the U.S. today.
In addition to political barriers, the technology required to extract oil shale remains economically infeasible. Once extracted, oil shale must undergo processing to transform it into useable oil. Oil shale also comes with a laundry list of environmental problems stemming from its extraction, processing, and use. Despite these environmental issues, we classify oil shale as an alternative energy because it serves as a replacement for traditional petrochemicals. Oil shale is currently recognized as an energy source with a promising future, but before that future can be realized numerous technological advances must be made, and political impediments to development must be reduced.
- Continue research focused on ways to make extraction of energy from oil shale economically feasible and environmentally friendly.
- Discontinue application of environmental law retroactively to encourage private development of oil shale and technological innovation.
About Oil Shale. (n.d.). Oil Shale and Tar Sands Information Center. Retrieved January 30, 2012, from http://ostseis.anl.gov/guide/oilshale/
30 USC § 185. (n.d.). vLex. Retrieved January 12, 2012, from us-code.vlex .com/vid/rights-way-pipelines-through-federal-19218695
30 USC § 185. (n.d.). vLex. Retrieved January 12, 2012, from us-code.vlex .com/vid/rights-way-pipelines-through-federal-19218695
Hickel v. Oil Shale Corp., 400 U.S. 48, 91 S. Ct. 196, 27 L. Ed. 2D 193 (1970).
In the 1980’s Arnold Goldman set out to fulfill his dream of constructing the world’s largest solar power generating plant. Two decades later, that dream is becoming a reality in California’s Mojave Desert. Recent growth has been slower than expected, with average annual rates as low as 3 percent between 1990 and 2007. The story of Luz International Ltd. and its Ivanpah plant illuminates key factors that have limited growth in the industry. These include varying levels of political support and public opinion over time, increasingly restrictive regulatory requirements, and conflict between environmental groups themselves.
Luz International Ltd. began construction of the world’s largest solar power plant in the 1980’s. In the wake of the oil crisis of 1973, government support and public opinion both favored alternative energy sources like solar. Tax credits helped make the company’s undertaking economically feasible, however, when these credits expired in the 1980s, Luz International was forced to declare bankruptcy. Two decades later, BrightSource Energy is set to complete the Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating Station (SEGS), in California’s Mojave Desert. The project is “currently the largest solar plant under construction in the world,” and will produce enough power to serve over 140,000 California homes during peak hours. In contrast to earlier attempts, however, Brightsource now faces opposition from organized conservationists. These activist groups seek to halt development of the area, which they view as valuable wilderness and habitat for the desert tortoise, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. For such environmental groups, the fate of the desert tortoise is more important than the production of clean energy that would help meet the country’s growing demand.
In order to produce solar power from its Ivanpah plant, BrightSource must overcome diverse obstacles including grassroots opposition, and both state and federal regulations. In attempts to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and the federal regulatory process, the company completed mitigation plans including the installation of 50 miles of tortoise fencing at a cost of $50,000 per mile. High costs also resulted from the company moving 38 adult tortoises off site, and made the employment of full-time biologists necessary. As of June 2012, Brightsource estimated it had spent $22 million caring for desert tortoises on or near the site and predicted it will spend an additional $34 million to meet regulatory requirements.
Despite Brightsource’s costly attempts to comply, construction was halted after early estimates of the number of tortoises living on the site were found to be incorrectly low. To prevent negative impacts on the large number of tortoises living in the area, construction plans have been frozen until BrightSource Energy completes a new Environmental Assessment and can find a solution that satisfies green advocacy groups and regulatory requirements. Until that happens, high costs are being incurred on behalf of taxpayers who are funding this project through subsidies, and potential solar power is being lost.
In the Mojave Desert, and across the country where attempts to develop solar power are being made, meeting the nation’s energy demand is being neglected in favor of conservationism. The hurdles faced by Brightsource demonstrate the problem of green vs. green; when environmental goals and groups come into conflict with one another resulting in poor outcomes. Although Brightsource’s Ivanpah plant could produce clean, renewable energy for thousands of homes, some environmental groups believe protection of the desert tortoise should not be sacrificed for any reason. Over the years, such groups have successfully lobbied for restrictive regulatory requirements that make it difficult for companies to develop green energy sites, even on federal lands. As a result, potentially valuable green energy sources like solar power are being left undeveloped while millions of dollars are spent caring for tortoises.
- Limit ability of environmental groups to file frivolous lawsuits to reduce costs
- Streamline compliance process for ESA and other environmental litigation
Ivanpah Solar Project Named CSP Project of the year. (n.d.). BrightSource. Retrieved March 2, 2012, from www.brightsourceenergy.com/images/uploads/press_re leases/Ivanpah_CSP_Project_of_the_Year_A
Moselle, B., Padilla, J., Schmalensee, R. (2010). “Nonhyrdo Renewables in the United States”. Harnessing Renewable Energy in Electric Power Systems: Theory, Practice, Policy (11). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=KH JIC6JdZXIC&lpg=PA209&ots=INmeNiFa_Y&dq=solar%20power%2i %20the%20United%20States&lr&pg=PA209#v=onepage&q=solar%20ow er%20in%20the%20United%20States&f=false
BrightSource Energy. (n.d.).BrightSource Energy. Retrieved February 18, 2013, from http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/ivanpah-solar-project
Species Profile. (2013). U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.ac tion?spcode=C04L
Cart, Julie (2012). Saving desert tortoises is a costly hurdle for solar projects. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from http://articles.la times.com/2012/mar/04/local/la-me-solar-tortoise-20120304
FAQs (2012). BrightSource Energy. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from http://ww w.brightsourceenergy.com/stuff/contentmgr/ files/0/044130f70ec2977f6389387b679dd815/files/ivanpah_tor toise_care___june_2012_final.pdf
Although wind is a plentiful resource, wind power is one of the most unpredictable sources of alternative energy. Despite this, once installation is complete wind turbines have relatively low maintenance costs and long anticipated lives, which can result in comparatively low cost energy (among renewables). Turbines can be located on land, or off-shore, and, according to some analysts, could generate up to 900,000 MW of energy for the US (Seelye, 2010, p. 1; Clarke et al., 2009). Despite technological improvements, significant government subsidies continue to be required for wind power to be economically competitive. Both on- and offshore potential wind farm sites are situated in complex regulatory and political environments, which often render technologically and economically viable sites politically infeasible. Even when otherwise possible, wind, like many other green energy sources, often faces stiff opposition from environmental groups.
The Cape Wind project illustrates many of the conflicts and potential benefits of wind power. Since 2001, Cape Wind LLC has been attempting to build one hundred and thirty wind turbines off the coast of Cape Cod. This project began with an anticipated capacity of 454 MW, enough to power 160,000 homes, but has met stiff opposition from both local citizen and environmental groups, despite support by national environmental groups. This local opposition was, to a great degree, driven by aesthetic concerns and the regard with which some Native American groups hold the area (Clarke et al., 2009). Coupled with these sources of opposition, compliance with federal legislation resulted in a standstill for the project, despite the support of some national organizations, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
The Cape Wind project site was chosen to minimize the likelihood of conflicts with other uses of the area, aesthetic concerns, and difficulties with federal legislation (such as The Endangered Species Act), while providing a technically feasible location. Despite this, a political and legal firestorm surrounded the project from its inception. By 2011 the project had been reviewed by seventeen different government agencies, and been the subject of seven federal and four state lawsuits (Maroney, 2011). In 2009 a petition by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe ultimately placed the entirety of Nantucket Sound on the National Historic Register. Ultimately, approval for the project came through a decision by the Secretary of the Interior, Kenneth Salazar, to reject recommendations by the National Historic Advisory Council that would have denied the project’s approval. In the case of the Cape Wind project, approval took more than a decade.
The Cape Wind project illustrates several of the obstacles to increased utilization of wind energy. While proponents of wind cite the green and renewable nature of wind power, opponents for aesthetic reasons and complex government land-use regulations and numerous legislations frequently delay, or completely derail, otherwise feasible and economically sound projects. From a financial perspective, these delays and millions of dollars in regulatory compliance and legal battles is often enough to prevent development of this alternative energy source.
Perhaps more significant, however, is the conflict between a green energy project (Cape Wind) and the environmental groups opposed to the project. Opposing groups used environmental legislation and arguments to attempt to stop a green energy project; this is the fundamental stumbling block for many green energy projects: green groups and environmental legislation. Most would expect green groups to support green energy projects, instead those groups use environmental and other regulation against the projects. The Cape Wind project is one example which highlights this conflict between green energy and green groups.
- Streamline regulatory compliance procedures and align state and federal policies to reduce development timeframe
- Align local and national environmental interests and green energy projects through cooperative siting of pre-approved areas as “wind development zones” to reduce time and legal battles regarding land use
Clarke, S., Courtney, F., Dykes, K., Jodziewicz, L., Watson, G., (2009, October). U.S. Offshore Wind Energy: A Path Forward: A Working Paper of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative. Retrieved March 5, 2012, from http://ww w.usowc.org/pdfs/PathForwardfinal.pdf
Kennedy, Robert F. An Ill Wind Off Cape Cod. The New York Times, 16 Dec 2005. Web (22 Mar 2011): http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/opinion/16kennedy.html
Maroney, E. (2011, April 22). Fair seas for Cape Wind. Barn Stable Patriot. Retrieved February 8, 2012, from http://www.barnstablepatriot.com/home2/index .php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24512&Itemid=30
Seelye, Katharine Q. (2010, April 28). “Regulators Approve First Offshore Wind Farm in U.S.” The New York Times. Retrieved on 22 Mar 2011, from http://www.ny times.com/2010/04/29/us/29wind.html?_r=3&src=mv&ref=general
Analytically examining and comparing five green energy sectors; wind, solar, geothermal, biofuel and hydro power, Ryan M. Yonk, Randy T. Simmons, and Brian C. Steed argue that discussing alternative energy without understanding these pitfalls creates unrealistic expectations regarding the ability to substitute “green” energy for traditional sources. The micro-goals of protecting individual areas, species, small-scale ecosystems, and other local environmental aims often limits ability to achieve macro-goals like preventing global climate change or transitioning to large-scale green energy production. Statutes and regulations designed to protect environmental and cultural integrity from degradation directly conflict with other stated environmental ends. Although there is substantial interest in adding clean energy to the grid, it appears that localized environmental interests interfere with broader environmental policy goals and the application of existing environmental laws and regulations may push us closer to gridlock.
Green vs. Green provides a fascinating look into how existing environmental law created or will create substantial regulatory hurdles for future energy generations.