The Great Texas Wind Swindle: Environment, Step Aside (Part II)
Editor Note: Part I yesterday examined the property-right and economics problems with Texas wind development.
“The government is using corporations as its arm. They’re not just destroying my land; they’re destroying my heritage. I was taught for as long as I can remember to be a good steward of the land. Now the government has given this company the right to take what they want and do whatever they want with it. Believe me, what they want will damage my land forever. It makes me feel helpless.”
- Mark Cadra, a Wheeler County rancher along CREZ route
As discussed yesterday, Texas landowners are fighting against eminent domain associated with a $4.9 billion (and counting) transmission line project to get the state’s wind generation from nowhere to somewhere. This project is hardly essential and is a case of throwing good money after bad. And government intervention begets more government intervention in the case of securing access to private land.
While projects such as the The Competitive Renewable Energy Zone (CREZ) line are legally obligated to do environmental impact studies, Cross Texas Transmission (CTT) may have opted to instead pay mitigation to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If so, these monies will likely be used to transfer more land from private ownership into the vast domain now ceded to the federal government. Private land owners generally see this as a system of payoffs that exempts favored companies or political backers from the requirements of the law.
“While no one knows the exact amount, it is reported that Texas remains nearly 97 percent privately owned and that’s a fact the federal government would like to change,” Dan Byfield, CEO of American Stewards of Liberty stated. “When companies like Cross Texas come along, federal land agencies see opportunities to charge fees or collect mitigation that brings huge sums of money into their agency to either regulate private landowners or buy up privately held land.”
Unlike Texas, the national statistics are grim. Federal ownership of land has now reached the 40 percent mark with the latest land grab device being conservation easements. Still, agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argue that government-owned property is entitled to greater protection under the law.
This may, in fact, already be the case since private landowners can seldom afford the legal expenses required to see that existing laws are enforced. The demand under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is, quite simply, that an environmental impact study be completed before work begins on the CREZ line. For that to take place, however, some very expensive legal wrangling will be required since Cross Texas has vowed that the law does not apply to them.
“If you or I were proposing such a project, you can rest assured we would have to fulfill the requirements of the law and do a rigorous EIS,” said Jeff Haley. “I see no reason Cross Texas shouldn’t have to live under the same laws as the rest of us.”
Despoiling in the Name of ‘Green’
While pro-wind energy groups maintain that less than one percent of land is removed from actual production by turbines and transmission lines, many experts argue otherwise. First, the towers create large dry spots at their base that, in a semi-arid environment like the Texas Panhandle, simply won’t support a vegetative cover. The resulting “blow spots” grow with each wind storm and can, in short order, consume many acres.
Further, roads must be built to service turbines and transmission towers. In sandy areas like most of the Gray to Tesla line, the surfaces must be paved or coated to prevent blowing. These roads prevent normal moisture absorption and interfere with animal migration, and the damage to wildlife by the existence of tall structures is far greater than that from technologies dependent on fossil fuels. Tall grasses and wildlife are also damaged by the turbines’ prodigious oil leaks, plus, in an area already plagued by major grass fires often started by downed power lines, lines of the magnitude proposed are not welcome.
Heavy equipment used to install and service these lines and turbines compacts the turf and churns the surface destroying vegetation. Then, during the frequent winter and spring winds, the barren spots grow larger. Once productive sandy loam becomes what Panhandle ranchers call “blow sand,” soil leached of organic material by the wind, unable to sustain a vegetative cover.
Both the turbines and the lines interfere with bird migration as well. The tall structures inhibit the breeding of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, and their presence will put the fate of the Whooping Crane very much into question. Further fragmentation of the LPC nesting grounds will almost certainly put it on the Endangered Species list and subject land owners to close federal scrutiny creating even more unwanted intrusion.
EIS for CREZ?
Richard Peet, Gray County Judge, wrote in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Moreno and Tom Clark of the Natural Resources Division on December 9, 2010, that prior to allowing Cross Texas Transmission to circumvent the law that requires an environmental impact study, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents themselves pointed out that the currently proposed positioning of the Gray to Tesla line would “most assuredly” put the LPC on the endangered species list.
At the very least, it was expected that the Fish and Wildlife Service would step in and insist that the route be studied for impact to wildlife. But the Service said there was no federal action that triggered a proper Environmental Impact Statement and that no permit would be required of CTT. A field coordinator for the Service told one landowner, if a permit is required, more than likely they will just pay mitigation and all resistance would end.
The Problems of Political Capitalism
“Wind power is an open trough of government subsidies, tax credits and state mandates. Taken together, it’s a massive corporate welfare effort that means big money for the wind power developers and big costs for the rest of us.”
- Loren Steffy, “Wind Might Have Impact on Our Wallets, Houston Chronicle, July 19, 2008.
In a free market, goods and services are offered for gain. Transactions occur when it is mutually advantageous to buyer and seller. When products fail to meet requirements, the buyer finds better, cheaper or more desirable products elsewhere. When the producer fails to make a profit, he generally seeks another market–or another product.
The role of government in such a system is limited. If the producer fails to deliver promised goods or delivers something other than what was promised, or if the buyer refuses to pay the agreed-upon price, the government steps in through the criminal courts system, demands remediation and applies appropriate penalties.
But what happens when the government itself exerts influence in the decision-making process or even dictates the outcome of the transaction? In that case, competitively priced goods or services cease to be the primary concern of the producer. Courting government agencies and influencing laws becomes the chief goal. Government-backed or government-created corporations become an extension of political might, and a symbiotic relationship develops between lawmakers and corporations facilitated by laws that, in many instances, they helped write.
Intermittent sources of power, especially those that require backup from coal or gas, cannot compete in the open marketplace. Equipping corporate welfare recipients with one of the most easily abused powers of the state in an attempt to force the populace to accept an unreliable source of energy at a tremendously inflated price is both unwise and dangerous. Such policies come at great cost, and landowners may only be the first to be asked to pay.
“The government is using corporations as its arm. They’re not just destroying my land; they’re destroying my heritage,” said Mark Cadra, a Wheeler County rancher whose land lies along the route selected by the Texas PUC. “I was taught for as long as I can remember to be a good steward of the land. Now the government has given this company the right to take what they want and do whatever they want with it. Believe me, what they want will damage my land forever. It makes me feel helpless.”