Is This Any Way to Decarbonize Energy?
We know that coal is the worst GHG producer, so we move to natural gas (which has other environmental effects). But we are for biomass (or not?) and for solar and wind (except …). Here’s a story from Reuters about a new lawsuit against a solar plant. Now there may be areas that are better and worse- and our system of independent entrepreneurs may not select the best places. So do we need some system of centralized planning to make the transition?
We now have lawsuits against coal, natural gas and solar. So there’s a great deal of no’s- an entire legal industry- but how do we get to “yes”?
Given our previous discussion on the use of lawsuits as a tactical tool for environmental protection, I think these quotes are interesting.
The legal brawl comes as the U.S. is racing to adopt renewables. In the United States, renewable energy, including solar, makes up just 8 percent or so of electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That figure was expected to jump to 13 percent by 2035 — but that was before the Green vs. Green feud.
Even though Williams and her cohorts support the broad goal of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, they say it comes at too high a cost if it means building on undeveloped land. Helping their case: the proposed plants are often slated for areas with threatened or endangered animals, including kit foxes, kangaroo rats, rare lizards, and others.
Now, the groups have gone from complaining to litigating. That means solar companies must take funds and management time that would have been spent on developing their plants and spend them instead on fighting lawsuits. For some companies, the likely result is that plants won’t be built
Those who didn’t quickly dusted off a well-worn playbook: using environmental laws to fight a development project.
Lawyers say the moment state or local government approves an environmental plan offers the best opportunity to sue to block a plant, using the federal law known as the National Environmental Policy Act or state law such as the California Environmental Quality Act as grounds. Having threatened or endangered species of plants or animals on a site gives the suits far more heft, they say.
Save Panoche Valley, the organization Williams helped create, and its allies filed a lawsuit in November alleging that the county approved subpar environmental and water assessment reports and improperly canceled conservation agreements to keep the land in agricultural use. Threatened or endangered animals such as the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard receive special mention throughout the lawsuit. The county doesn’t comment on allegations in pending lawsuits, said assistant county counsel Barbara Thompson.
Getting the permits rescinded is the ultimate goal, the groups say. But almost as good is simply delaying the process. “A long drawn-out one would be a victory too,” says Garthwaite, who believes Solargen would simply run out of money and time to keep fighting.
Solar Millennium is getting a lesson in going to great lengths with its proposed 250-megawatt Ridgecrest plant, mostly on private land in California’s Kern County. Officials are worried about the effect on the Mohave ground squirrel, so Solar Millennium is considering whether to fund a two-year study to evaluate the squirrel population in the area. Phil Leitner, the independent biologist leading the study, says if the study goes ahead, he plans to trap squirrels, put radio collars on them, and take tissue samples from their ears to determine their genetic makeup.
Back in the Panoche Valley, the environmental reports and the permitting process have eaten up almost two-thirds of the money Solargen has raised. Among the bills: paying for scat-sniffing dogs to run up and down the hills, looking for traces of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox.
Are all these lawsuits evidence that something is awry with our system of larger scale policy development and planning? Our country clearly needs energy, and needs to transition to cleaner energy. Is there a clearer path from here to there?