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“Environmental Racism” as Second-class Energy (E&E News article)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- June 9, 2021

“Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV said it’s not up to others to say that solar is more important than how a Black community feels about its property value. ‘You can’t … turn a deaf ear and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t environmental racism’.”

“Many Archer residents … want nothing to do with a 50-megawatt solar and 12-MW battery storage project proposed by Origis Energy and Gainesville Regional Utilities….”

Renewable energy for electrical generation has not one but two Achilles Heels. One is intermittency with a product that cannot be economically stored to provide continuous power for times that the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. Second is the outsized land requirement that comes with an industrial wind ‘farm’ or a solar ‘park.’

In terms of the relatively less well off, both characteristics are anti-poor and ‘racist’ in terms of those of color. (On the transportation side, lower-income drivers are not in the market for electric vehicles, another matter.)

Abundant, affordable, reliable energy defines energy sustainability, despite the best efforts of the Green Energy Elite (GEE) to deprecate mineral energies in favor of expensive, unreliable alternatives. And regarding energy costs, it is important to not price carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions relating to natural gas, oil, and coal.

“Environmental justice” is a term that free market energy proponents can invoke to argue against the Green Agenda. And “environmental racism” comes into play in terms of cheap siting for industrial wind/solar installations. Ditto to the nuisances and annoyances of large scale mirror installations and whirling wind turbines.

Enter Krisiti Swartz, author of “Fla. Solar Plans Stoke Fight over ‘Environmental Racism’” (E&E News: June 3, 2021).

The article follows with a few interspersed comments:

A fight over a proposed solar farm in north Florida [Sand Bluff] is centered on environmental justice concerns.

A northern Florida town is at the center of a clash between renewable energy developers and residents of a historically Black community — one that highlights an emerging rift between President Biden’s environmental justice and clean energy goals.

Many Archer residents are descendants of slaves and some of the nation’s earliest Black landowners. And they want nothing to do with a 50-megawatt solar and 12-MW battery storage project proposed by Origis Energy and Gainesville Regional Utilities, or GRU. The project would span roughly 600 acres, and developers said the panels would be tucked behind a buffer of trees. Yet in residents’ eyes, a utility-scale solar array is no different from a coal-fired power plant: a blemish on a community whose roots date back to before the Civil War.

Comment: A state-of-the-art natural-gas combined-cycle (NGCC) plant would be a much better analogy given new generation. The residents might welcome such a facility with neighboring benefits and miniscule emissions.

The stakes are high. Electric companies need to meet carbon-reduction goals as the Biden administration doubles down on clean energy, and the low cost of solar can make utility-scale projects attractive. But renewable energy developers are bumping up against opposition similar to what has occurred with many fossil-fuel-powered plants.

Comment: Low cost of solar? It is high cost and mere symbolism as an environmental project. Again, a NGCC plant is the missing opportunity cost that the author neglects.

“Recognize the need for utility-scale solar facilities to move to a clean energy future, and recognize that those facilities still exert their own environmental and social impacts,” said Kim Ross, executive director of the pro-renewables group ReThink Energy Florida, testifying before a Florida Senate committee in April. “There are times where solar in a particular location is not appropriate.”

Comment: Renewable Baptists (as in Baptists and Bootleggers) acquiese to the obvious. Wind turbines too are on the land-use firing line.

People who live in rural areas often do not want their land to be disturbed by what they consider to be industrial infrastructure. Some simply do not want to look at the shiny panels or are worried about property values….. Graves at the Bethlehem Methodist Episcopal Cemetery date to the 1830s, and residents don’t want that land to be in the shadow of solar panels….

Biden has made environmental justice a key part of his $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan. The administration has proposed to tackle historic racial inequities while cleaning up roads, land, air and water.

For Archer residents, this could mean they finally get a four-lane road like every other town in the county. And County Road 241 will be repaved. “That road is so bad. It is terrible,” Jenkins said. “If you don’t believe me, drive it.”

Comment: Asphalt? No electric vehicles on the roads? It is hard being green.

Clean energy advocates and racial justice groups are pushing for that money to target rooftop and community solar in disadvantaged areas (Energywire, April 21).

Comment: Rooftop solar for the poor? An energy welfare program? Leave the innocent residents alone…..

For its part, the city of Gainesville committed to a 100% renewable energy goal in 2018, and its main utility said it would “look forward to continued progress” on the Sand Bluff project.

“GRU is committed to bringing renewable energy to its customers and to making this a successful project for all parties, including Gainesville and its surrounding communities,” the utility said in a statement to E&E News….

Comment: Bootleggers want their profit at the expense of taxpayers and, in this case, the poor.

Sand Bluff is the second solar project the Archer community has fought in as many years. First Solar Inc. wanted to build a significantly larger system — the now-defunct Archer Solar project — that would have added 74.9 MW of generation 2 miles north of the town….

“A reason to vote ‘no’ is based on environmental justice,” Connie Lee, a retired teacher and executive board member of the local branch of the NAACP, said at a special meeting before Alachua County’s Board of Commissioners last October on the Archer Solar project. “In this case, the energy industry will simply replace building fossil fuel plants with renewable power plants or newer technology and continue exploitation in the name of economic development.”

The meeting lasted for seven hours before commissioners, in a split vote, denied a special exemption permit to First Solar.

The debate among the commissioners illustrated what is likely to be a recurring tug of war in communities nationwide….

Commissioner Charles “Chuck” Chestnut IV said it’s not up to others to say that solar is more important than how a Black community feels about its property value.

“You can’t have a community that calls environmental racism, and then we turn a deaf ear and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t environmental racism.'”

Having to shelve plans for the Archer-area project will not set back Duke Energy Florida’s solar plans or those of its parent company, Duke Energy spokesperson Ana Gibbs said in an email to E&E News. The North Carolina-based utility company has a 2050 net-zero carbon goal.

Duke Energy will be able to get those solar electrons from the Sandy Creek solar plant in Bay County, home of Panama City, Gibbs said. Duke Energy Florida has more than 900 MW of solar being built or already operating.

Paul Patterson, a utility analyst with Glenrock Associates LLC, said that when it comes to large-scale electricity projects, solar is one of the least controversial.

“I’m surprised that [solar] would be drawing that much of an issue,” he said. “I don’t mean to speak against anybody, but name one major infrastructure project that’s not going to be disruptive to local communities.”

Among the arguments from Archer residents is that they would not get the solar electricity from either project. Archer is powered by the Clay Electric Cooperative, which gets its electricity from the larger Seminole Electric Cooperative Inc., based in Tampa.

Seminole relies heavily on fossil fuels, including coal. It operates a 2.2-MW solar plant as well.

Jason Thomas, Origis Energy’s project development director, said during the virtual open house that the company wants to work with Clay Electric and asked for ideas from the community.

No home would be within 1,000 feet of the Sand Bluff solar panels, he said. Origis also plans to double the size of a required buffer to make it 50 yards — “that’s from the center of the Gator to the end zone,” Thomas said, referring to the University of Florida Gators’ logo in the center of their football field.

Thomas also outlined what he called “goodwill gestures” by Origis, including an on-site educational center for solar. He pointed out the Origis Energy Foundation is donating money to the newly started 100 Black Men of Greater Florida Gainesville, a longtime civic and service organization that mentors Black teenagers, among other local causes.

In Archer, Origis is donating money to the Real Rosewood Foundation Inc., founded by Jenkins, to build a cultural and historical museum.

“I just wanted to say that this project has been designed by experts to be a good neighbor,” Thomas said. “You won’t see it, you’re not going to hear it, it doesn’t require any water for operations or maintenance, and it sits low to the ground.”

What’s more, it will contribute $1 million in revenue total to Alachua County over the next 10 years, he said.

The Alachua County Board of Commissioners has scheduled a special meeting to vote on Origis’ zoning request on July 6….

These fights against utility-scale solar on agricultural and other prime land are taking place across the country. Wisconsin residents opposed a 1,400-acre solar farm, the Grant County Solar Energy Center, that renewable giant NextEra Energy Resources wants to build…. State utility regulators approved the project over residents’ concerns, which included decreased property values and harming wildlife.

In Virginia, Susan Ralston is trying to preserve Civil War-era history of a different kind. Culpeper — specifically the Cedar Mountain Battlefield and Raccoon Ford — represents the most marched-on, camped-on and fought-on land during the Civil War, she said.

The pace of people contacting her has reached a fever pitch. “That’s the unwritten, the untold story: the plight of the rural community,” she said.

Virginia’s clean energy law has a 2050 net-zero carbon target, something that has led to what Ralston calls “open season” for solar. She’s continuing to fight projects in her county, but there are similar battles going on in other parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and elsewhere….

One Comment for ““Environmental Racism” as Second-class Energy (E&E News article)”

  1. Richard Greene  

    Some of these articles are so hard to believe that they seem to be satire.

    It’s hard to believe a nation that sent men to the moon in 1969 could have regressed to the point of arguments over the siting of completely unnecessary unreliables.

    There are some green energy dreams that sound good, for a moment, in a speech, if money was no object.

    But the concept of replacing reliable sources of electricity, powered by fossil fuels, AT GREAT EXPENSE, with unreliable sources of electricity, powered by the wind and sun, never even sounded good in a speech.

    That seems like a plan developed by Communist China to deliberately hinder the US manufacturing sector, to their advantage.

    Meanwhile, the so called environmentalists completely ignore real air pollution in China.

    They ignore one billion people who have no electricity at all.

    And they ignore another two billion people who do not have reliable electricity.

    I suppose the green dreamers are compassionate — in just a few decades the US, Europe and Australia could have unreliable electricity too — just like those two billion others — and then they won’t feel so bad.


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