I had a column out yesterday in the Diamondback about how development of clean energy should take precedence over conservationist and NIMBY concerns, and legislation should clear a path for this clean energy development. Enjoy!
Clean energy legislation: Cut the red tape
By Matt Dernoga
For environmental advocates such as myself, it’s going to be a tough legislative session to watch with Annapolis facing $2 billion worth of budget cuts. Here’s to hoping legislators resist the urge to drain the Chesapeake Bay in order to stop spending money to save it. Despite the glass being half empty with pennies, I was pleased to see Gov. Martin O’Malley announce plans to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy by adjusting various coastal zoning regulations in its favor.
This has to be the first column I’m writing where the state is trying to build something I like; however, I’m a little concerned some conservationists will attempt to stand in the way of the new zoning regulations of a future offshore wind development. These problems have slowed or stopped many wind and solar projects within the United States.
For a research paper last semester, I compared the policies states had in place to encourage clean energy production and the results. The most interesting comparison was between California and Texas. California is the hotspot for passing ambitious clean energy policies. They have strong renewable energy targets, tax incentives everywhere and legislation mandating steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Texas has a bounty for hippies.
Guess who was hitting their targets for renewable energy production? Not California, whose state utility commission determined in 2009 it would be impossible to reach its 20 percent renewable electricity standard by 2010, which was set in 2002. Texas, on the other hand, is considered to have the most successful standard in the nation. First set in 1999 to achieve 2,000 megawatts (MW) by 2009, the target has been revised upward, to 5,880 MW by 2015 and now 10,000 MW by 2025. At the end of 2008, Texas had 7,117 MW of installed wind capacity, by far the best in the nation.
What happened? It turns out Texas’s scorn for the environment is a boon for major wind and solar developers, who have almost no regulations and permits to go through. In contrast, California has so much red tape in place, it’s nearly impossible for large-scale wind and solar projects to be built in the state. California has still been a leader in solar production, but it has come largely on rooftop installations, which hasn’t been good enough to reach its targets.
Occasionally, the opposition to these projects has a reasonable request, such as moving a wind farm a mile to the left and clear of the migratory path for birds. However, many cases are borderline ridiculous, such as a recent example in California where Sen.Diane Feinstein pushed to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert, right where 13 major wind and solar projects were slated to be built. To Sen. Feinstein, the sensitivity to desert wildlife takes precedence over reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is a great policy for creating more deserts and species extinctions.
A sound prescription for helping the state meet its clean energy and emissions reduction targets would be to adopt more policies such as the one the governor is proposing and cut through the red tape for zoning and permits in instances of clean energy development.
Even the iguanas in the desert will be pleased with less coal burning.
Matt Dernoga is a senior government and politics major. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com