Joe Biden is proposing today to commit another $2 trillion to subsidies for renewable energy in his ongoing effort to secure the votes of the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) segment of the Democratic Party’s voter base. As reported by Bloomberg Green, this new raft of printed money and debt would be spread over Biden’s first four years in office, an acceleration of the $1.7 trillion in new subsidies over 10 years that the presumptive Democrat nominee had proposed during the primary season.
That previous proposal was met with derision from the Sanders/AOC voter base as a bit of a token and completely inadequate when Biden rolled it out in June of last year. Having involved both of those farther-left figures intimately in his campaign planning, it is no surprise that Biden’s own policy proposals now begin to more closely resemble the features of AOC’s “Green New Deal.” The stated goal of the new spending is to help enable the realization of a 100% clean electricity standard by the year 2035.
But are such massive new subsidies really necessary, on top of the raft of tax credits, mandates and other subsidies and incentives for private sector investment in clean technologies that already exist for wind and solar at the federal and state levels of government? How much money can the U.S. sink into such profligate spending before the law of diminishing returns starts to take over? These are not invalid questions, but no one seems to want to ask or answer them, possibly because doing so raises the ire of the Twitter-based cancel culture.
Biden will also apparently call for the creation of a “civilian conservation corps” modeled after the old FDR depression-era make-work programs. Such jobs might have some real utility if properly directed, given all the millions of Americans who have been tossed out of work by the government’s reaction to COVID-19 pandemic. The candidate will also apparently adopt a proposal by Chuck Schumer to print trillions more dollars to subsidize a rapid changeover from gasoline-powered cars to EVs and hybrid cars.
All of this obviously sounds great on paper to Democratic voters and checks all the boxes consistent with those touchy-feely “going green” promos on television. But they’re also going to raise the fundamental issue of how to get all that new wind and solar-generated power to market. As those of us living in Texas have witnessed over the last 15 years, answering that question from a policy and investment standpoint is not at all easy and is fraught with legal peril and opposition by anti-development NGOs.
The issue starts with the fact that the best places to site massive wind farms and solar arrays tend not to be real close to where all the people live and work and use electricity. For wind in particular, the most prime land in the country is in the sparsely-populated areas in the Great Plains of the nation’s mid-section.
The Texas legislature had the wisdom to create a state renewable standard specific to wind during its 2007 session, helping to fuel a massive buildout of new wind power in the state, which initially focused on the great, largely-empty plains of West Texas. Texas has since become far and away the leader in the production of wind power.
The problem that then arose was that the real demand for electricity in Texas wasn’t where all the giant windmills were, but hundreds of miles away in areas like Austin and Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth and the Gulf Coast. That reality necessitated further legislation implementing what the state calls “Competitive Renewable Energy Zones” (CREZ) to plan and fund the building of thousands of miles of massive new transmission lines over the following decade to get all that wind power to market.
Guess what happened next? Massive opposition and rafts of lawsuits that helped to cause the envisioned $1 billion cost of the CREZ lines to rise dramatically.
Ironically, many of the same Texas Hill Country residents who are today working to kill Kinder Morgan KMI +2.5%’s Permian Highway natural gas pipeline project also raised opposition to the CREZ lines, which they feared would destroy their view sheds. Which, by the way, they did. These transmission lines aren’t strung up on the wooden poles you might see in your neighborhood: They are massive metal structures, well over 100 feet tall, requiring the condemnation of a right-of-way that must be at least 50 yards wide.
Also ironically, opponents to new transmission projects that cross state lines – say, from the plains of Kansas or Nebraska to demand markets in Illinois and Missouri – are able to leverage the very same federal environmental laws being used today to oppose the building of interstate pipelines in order to impede progress, create time delays and raise costs. Biden and fellow proponents of lofty, Green New Deal-style climate goals will thus inevitably find themselves set upon by activists who to this point they have considered to be their allies. They will also discover that getting authorizing legislation for all of these lofty goals through a congress that can’t even agree on what color the sky is on any given day to be a daunting – and possibly insoluble – roadblock.
But these are inconvenient realities, and thus, hardly related to the goals of a modern presidential campaign. Biden’s goals with today’s rollout are to attempt to unify his party’s voter base and avoid the ire of the “Bernie Bros” and AOC fans who make up a big part of the perpetual outrage mob on Twitter. It may or may not work out for him, but you can’t blame a guy for trying.
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