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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Biden’s Clean Energy Expansion Is Facing Local Resistance

  • The Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act includes almost $370 billion in incentives designed to jumpstart an energy transition in the country.
  • Recently, clean energy projects across the country have run into opposition from local communities that don’t want the projects built near them.
  • Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has warned that the surge in clean energy and drop in coal and gas power may make the energy grid less reliable.
Biden

Last December, French utility giant EDF abandoned plans to build a 400-MW solar farm near Williamsport, Ohio. The reason was strong local opposition against the project.

In Ocean City, New Jersey, a project to connect an offshore wind farm to the land via a cable has been delayed for years because of local opposition. Per one local resident, “We don’t want this here in any way, shape or form.”

In West Texas, people are getting agitated about new wind power developments that opponents say would be a blight on nature and are fighting against its approval.

In Kansas, more than 20 counties have enacted bans on new wind and solar projects to protect ecosystems. Opposition to low-carbon energy appears to be spreading like wildfire. And it’s jeopardizing billions in investment.

The Biden administration last year succeeded in passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes stipulations for almost $370 billion in incentives for wind, solar, EVs, and carbon capture in a bid to jumpstart an energy transition that has been slow to materialize under previous administrations.

Europe cried foul, complaining that its businesses would now move to the United States to get in line for a piece of the subsidy pie. Local businesses rejoiced that they would get an opportunity to fund expensive projects with government money. And everyone apparently forgot about the regular people—ratepayers, taxpayers, and landowners.

A recent poll by Pew Research Center suggested that Americans are concerned about climate change. More than two-thirds support the expansion of non-hydrocarbon sources of energy such as wind and solar. A majority also supports wind and solar subsidies. But climate change is not the top priority for most Americans. They have bigger concerns, such as the state of the economy.

Another poll, conducted in Europe but likely representative of general human dispositions, suggested that people may be concerned about the climate and the effects of consistent changes in it, but they are not particularly open to doing anything about it if it would affect their lifestyles.

In the United States, people are becoming increasingly concerned about something else: the size of wind and solar installations. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Kansas, which saw a fast buildout in wind power capacity over the past 20 years, is now hitting the brakes as people worry about wind—and solar—farms getting too big and taking up too much space.

The energy density/land use problem is one of the biggest drawbacks of both wind and solar, and it was arguably only a matter of time before people began wondering if they are worth the loss of land.

Some call it NIMBY—not in my backyard—and counter with YIMBY—yes in my backyard—telling us that we should retrain our eyes to see beauty in a wind turbine.

Others are citing environmental concerns around new wind and solar projects—the increased whale deaths off the Atlantic coast over the past few months have ignited a heated debate around offshore wind.

And then there are those who just don’t seem to like wind and solar close to their homes, and no amount of retraining their eyes would do.

This is already becoming a problem for the Biden administration’s great green ambitions. Those $370 billion in subsidies that will likely end up costing Americans more like $1.2 trillion, according to Goldman Sachs, should bring in almost triple that in private investments.

Separate states are already scrambling to offer their own subsidy systems to lure businesses in, which is ironic when their own communities are delaying and canceling projects that stand to benefit from these subsidies.

The transition is turning out to be trickier than policymakers may have expected initially. The acres taken up by solar panels and the blinking red lights of the wind turbines were bound to become a problem sooner or later.

It might just be as well that this is happening sooner. Because the FERC is warning that the U.S. grid is already finding it hard to cope with existing wind and solar capacity amid sped—up coal and gas power plant retirements.

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“The United States is heading for a very catastrophic situation in terms of reliability,” FERC Commissioner Mark Christie said during a recent hearing at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Another commissioner directly blamed subsidies for wind and solar for the situation, saying it is the subsidy regime that has made a lot of coal and gas power generation capacity uneconomical, forcing its shutdown and consequent increased reliance on intermittent wind and solar. Upgrading the grid to adjust it to these would take years and tens of billions in investments.

In this context, the growing popular opposition to new wind and solar projects might end up being a blessing in disguise. Those investors with the $3 trillion might have to look for other things to put their money in.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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