The Other Opponents of Wind Energy

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Yesterday, Ohio’s Governor, John Kasich signed Senate Bill 310, freezing Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for two years. The Ohio State House previously passed SB 310 by a 53-38 vote. This  prompted the usual round of conspiracy theories about ALEC and the Koch brothers. It is really time to look at the other opponents of wind energy.

This subject needs to be examined in a wider context, using broad strokes rather than focusing on individuals, and starting with the  usual suspects.

ALEC

An article in EcoWatch claims that 53% of the legislators who have spoken to the press in support of SB 310 have a connection to ALEC. This means they are either members or have at least attended a function.  I have no problem accepting this statistic, though there is a marked difference between going to an event and joining an organization. Googling Ohio and ALEC, I found a long list of Ohio politicians whose names have been assembled using this criteria.

ALEC spends millions of dollars on events promoting its beliefs among American legislators. ALEC even draws up model legislation for its followers to introduce to their states. They endorse both fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. It would seem to be a given that ALEC would be funded by the fossil fuel industry (which includes the Kochs).

I don’t buy the idea that everyone in ALEC, or all Republican party for that matter, are “evil.” They are entitled to their opinions and, up to a point, you could replace their name with “Democrat,” “Libertarian” or any other name you wish .

What I do not like is a system where money can be used to influence political decisions, especially when those decisions run counter to my interests.

The danger in emphasizing ALEC is that you can miss the fact there are other voices which also speak against “Big Wind.”

BIG WIND

There is also big money on both sides of the Ohio wind debate.

Two of the biggest opponents of SB 310 were the American Wind Energy Association and the renewable arm of Iberdola. Both have vested interests in the development of wind technology.

Iberdola, for those of you who don’t know, is a fossil fuel giant. One of their recent press releases states:

“At the end of March this year, Iberdola had 3.6 million customers for gas around the world (2.2 million in the UK. 0.8 million in Spain and 0.6 million in the US).” 

In addition to selling natural gas, Iberdola also has combined cycle gas plants with a total capacity of nearly 13,000 megawatts (5,900 MW in Spain, 5,050 MW in Mexico and 2,000 MW in the UK).”

This is of interest because wind technology requires a back-up, which is often natural gas.

Iberdola USA owns a gas plant on the Washington/Oregon border and, on their website, describes its operations in terms of three business units:

I wonder whether “Big Wind” is really that different from “Big Oil” or “Big Natural Gas?” (I will come back to this.)

POPULAR MOVEMENTS

Score card for BC - Roy L Hales

This article is really about people’s movements and the best place to start is British Columbia. That is because it would be ludicrous to accuse us of being affiliated with fossil fuel companies. Those are the people we are fighting! The coal, natural gas and oil industries are all beating on our door, with the tacit encouragement of our provincial and federal governments.

Watch the video below,  in which two BC legislators describe some of the divisions you see outlined in my score card. Note that the Minister of Natural Resources does not deny these divisions exist, instead he says the Federal Government will rely on “science.”

Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 10.12.09 AM

My score card for Southern California is not as clearly defined.

This is where the US environmental movement split: green vs green; or local ecosystem vs Climate Change.  Some local environmentalists are still bitter about the way mainstream organizations, like the Sierra Club, “sold them out.” Click on this link to read what someone from the Desert Protective Council has to say about this.

If you ever get a chance, watch the documentary “Who Are My People?” That will give you an idea why some Native Americans oppose “Big Solar.” There are similar sentiments at Ocotillo, where the windfarm was built on land that is now recognized as a Native American site .

It is difficult to say how many rooftop solar companies are against  “Big Wind,” so I will limit that response to “some.” However, in Southern California rooftop solar is a people’s technology. It is largely endorsed by San Diego’s activist community and ALL of the rural opponents to industrial scale projects I’ve met. They view it as environmentally friendly, whereas Big Wind and Big Solar are largely thought of as environmentally destructive.

Last year I had an opportunity to interview Dianne Jacob, who is now the Chair of San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors, about the impact industrial scale projects are  having on her district (East County):

Question: How do the people of East County feel about the industrial scale wind and solar projects going into their midst? Are we hearing from a vocal minority? Or are they representative of a widely held sentiment? How do you know this?

Dianne Jacob being sworn in as County Supervisor,
Dianne Jacob being sworn in as County Supervisor (Click on Link to expand) – Courtesy Dianne Jacob

Dianne Jacob: “My constituents and I have raised serious concerns for years about the potential impact of industrial-scale energy projects in our backcountry. This isn’t a case of a vocal minority making noise. I hear concerns all across my district, in many communities, that these mammoth projects threaten to destroy natural resources, heighten the risk of wildfire and rob rural communities of their quality of life.”

Question:  Do you believe their concerns are justified?

Dianne Jacob: “Their concerns are justified. That was made clear last year when SDG&E completed Sunrise Powerlink. The giant transmission line destroyed miles and miles of once-pristine landscape and has increased the risk of wildfire in an already fire-prone area. Many of my constituents worry that the line is just a sign of things to come as developers step up their efforts to build large energy projects in the backcountry.”

Question: Do you think some craziness/paranoia has crept into this debate? (ie Does it seem like people – on either side –  are starting to imagine things that have more basis in imagination that fact?)

Dianne Jacob: “No. What I do see are a lot of passionate people who want to safeguard their communities and their quiet, rural way of life. They don’t like outside corporations coming in and turning open land into industrial hubs, with little regard for the area.”

Question: Do you believe that these industrial scale wind and solar projects are being forced upon East County?

Dianne Jacob: “Some developers have tried to take advantage of our sparsely populated communities in the backcountry. Folks in many of these areas usually don’t have the resources and big-city consultants that developers do, so fighting a major project becomes an uphill battle.”

I did not include local politicians in my Southern California score card because I do not know how many Dianne Jacobs – politicians who put the welfare of their people first – there are. We have some in BC. We need more of them.

Screen shot 2014-06-14 at 11.54.34 AM

My last score card pertains to a few observations about the rest of the United States.

There appears to be the same division between US environmentalists emphasizing the dangers of Climate Change and those concerned about the negative impact “green technology” is having on the environment.

However I got the distinct impression that many grassroots anti-wind people do not like ALEC or the Koch brothers. That’s why there is a division in the chart above.

There are also organizations associated with the Kochs who have fingers in the anti-wind pie. (Interesting enough, they did not return my phone calls.)

Some fossil fuel companies have their fingers in the “Big green” pie.

The score card gets a little hard to read, unless you are watching the grassroots movements.

I do not see much difference between the British Columbians  fighting massive fossil fuel projects and Southern Californians fighting industrial scale wind and solar projects.

The anti-wind movement in Ontario and the Mid to Eastern US seems to be the similar.

To simply write them off as “ALEC,” or the “Koch brothers,” or “Climate Change deniers” is a mistruth. In some cases, it may be a deliberate lie meant to divert people from what is really taking place.

It is time to listen to the “other” opponents of wind energy, who are often the people whose lives this technology is directly effecting.

(Image at top of page: Ohio – Robert S Donovan, CC by SA 2.0)

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