A Free-Market Energy Blog

Solar Farm Opposition: Rejoinder to Giberson (2)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- July 6, 2023

“If local government stops destructive intervention emanating from above, so be it. Free-market advocates have noted the advantages of local, decentralized government to this end.”

“Are you just interested in private property rights to help Energy Leviathan? Does your standard also oppose mandatory open access, gas-appliance bans, and other violations of liberty in the name of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation?”

Should neighbors and local government work to nix government-enabled projects on private land, particularly a project that harms the locals as taxpayers and ratepayers; and harms the neighbors with lower property values and nuisances. Giberson says: No matter; private property rights shield all. I say: citizens and neighbors and local government have every right to try to stop Energy Leviathan.

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Michael Giberson and I have debated the issue in Round One. He responded, and I now respond to him. His comments are parsed in blue, followed by my comments.

First, while I am identified as “of R Street,” this exchange was via my personal Facebook account and nothing I say there should be taken as anything other than my personal opinion. I do not clear my personal Facebook posts with them, they are not responsible for the content I post via my personal Facebook account. I’m just posting as a guy with a long background in energy policy topics and an interest in small government.

Comment: This is a disingenuous beginning. First, Giberson is a Senior Fellow at R Street Institute, which is funded by left-of-center groups that promote government intervention in regard to renewables and much of the activist climate agenda. Michael says he has “an interest in small government,” which begs the questions:

  • Do you support federal tax credits and preferential takes for on-grid wind and solar power that have created the (artificial, destructive) industries that we see around us today?
  • Do you support the Climate Agenda of the Biden Administration that is driving energy policy?

If so, why? If not, please describe your views as an independent thinker outside of R Street.

Second, is your interest in private property rights consistent with your energy policy views? Do you support mandatory open access where property owners do not have control of their assets? Do you support private property rights to have gas appliances in the home? If so, have you (or anyone at R Street) taken on this issue from a private property perspective? If not, why not?

Kevon’s post suggested that a farm owner’s desire to host a solar project was being opposed by neighbors who were mobilizing local government to stop a private property owner from engaging in entirely legal behavior on his own property. It seemed like a bad idea to encourage the use of government to interfere with a farmer doing what he wanted to do on his own property.

The core issue concerns when neighbors objections can overrule a property-owners private use of their own property. I suggested private property owners should generally be free to use their property how they like.

Comment: This view avoids the counter-argument of Round 1. The solar project is government-enabled and partially funded the very neighbors it otherwise hurts through a variety of negatives. Ratepayers are disadvantaged too.

Rob indicated that substantial tax-breaks given to solar project developers and electric power stability issues gives neighbors reason enough. Later in the thread he mentioned flood control and drainage concerns. The tax breaks mentioned are federal policies. Taxpayers ought to mobilize against wasteful spending and distortionary tax breaks, including vast distortionary energy policies. I doubt any neighbor of the proposed project in Tuscola County, MI has calculated just how much of an added tax burden they’ll experience due to the project. I doubt the tax break is a significant motive, my guess is that many companies operating in Tuscola County take advantage of federal tax incentives and these neighbors do not oppose their use of tax incentives. Anyone concerned about federal tax policy should raise the issue with the U.S. Congress rather than the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners.

Comment: Neighbors-as-taxpayer gives them standing to work civically and through local government to stop the project on grounds of taxpayer burden/deficits, less grid reliability, and Energy Leviathan in general. (Kevon Martis is all about this!) Given this standing, issues of lower property values, noise, visual blight, drainage problems, storm remediation (such as from hail), and disposal are legitimate issues for debate (see Appendix A for a list of ‘NIMBY’ issues).

The “electric power stability issues” are not spelled out, so Rob you can clarify which issues exactly you mean if relevant. I don’t know of any direct impact on neighbors from a large solar array connecting to the bulk transmission grid. Neighbors will be connected to the power system through a local distribution system which will have power quality systems in place that should protect the neighbors from transmission grid power quality issues. There are other kinds of concerns relative to solar power and the bulk power grid, but again, the local county commission is not equipped to address these issues.

Comment: Government-forced and intermittent. We have failing grids in different states and regions that only promise to get worse given government hyper-regulation and central planning. Higher rates, inferior product compared to a government-neutral market.

Drainage and flood control are significant local issues. The solar project should be subject to the same requirements that would apply to any other property owner in Tuscola County. If the solar project causes direct harm to a neighboring property, it should be liable in court for damages in the same way as any other harm. So far as I am aware, there drainage issues are not common with solar power installations, so special restraints are unlikely to be called for.

Comment: Massive solar projects break new ground and raise new issues of potential harm(s) compared to anything the locals have seen before (see the picture above). This is a major issue that has inspired the mass protests for the locals, the neighbors. The problem in my area was after-the-fact (unanticipated).

My general request to Rob is for a consistent set of standards. In the Facebook comment thread Rob objects to a solar power project for reasons of federal subsidies, electric power quality, and potential water runoff issues. The linked story also mentions potential environmental contamination and noise complaints.

Comment: I believe I have answered this: a government-enabled, destructive project where the locals have standing as taxpayers and ratepayers. And local government has standing to stop the same in the name of freedom and free enterprise.

Potential/real nuisances bring into play noise abatement, bonding requirements, distance offsets, arbitration requirements. Are these being properly addressed with the above project? Other projects–there are hundreds of them in citizen trouble.

Oil and gas companies also take advantage of tax policies. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because the company used MACRS depreciation methods or other tax benefits?

Comment: Like Giberson’s ethanol analogy and natural-gas-pipeline analogy (Round One), this falls short. Oil and gas have a fundamental consumer demand that supports them. Their tax benefits come and go and are cancelled out by discriminatory energy policies against them (see here for 150). Solar and wind are just the opposite: created by government and a pillar of Big Brother Energy Policy that routinely violates basic human freedoms.

Oil and gas development, particularly for projects using hydraulic fracturing, have been opposed because of potential local water contamination issues. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of potential local water contamination issues? … noise issues… water runoff concerns…

Comment: Add earthquake concerns to Michael’s list, as well as any other harm (abandoned wells with casing issues). I have never advocated any standard other than best-practice prevention and restitution. But again, oil and gas are free market products–not government-enabled energies that harm taxpayers and consumers. The controlling issue with on-grid solar is government destruction of liberty, property, and the free market that calls for citizen and government pushback.

MasterResource is open to a post regarding any controversial issue with oil and gas drilling (and coal mining). MasterResource has published on ethanol advocacy and has hosted an ethanol debate). This site has also published in opposition to eminent domain rights for any energy, which is my position too.

I am not opposed to oil and gas development, not in the least. I taught energy economics and energy policy in a energy program at a university business school to students most of whom went to work in the oil and gas industry. My goals were for them to understand oil and gas economics and public policy in order for them to do the best job they could in helping produce oil and gas. When I was blogging regularly at The Knowledge Problem I regularly challenged or mocked critics of hydraulic fracturing for their biased or weak arguments.

Comment: Fair enough. But how does this support government-forced energy transformation in part or whole? And if local government stops a destructive energy policy emanating from above, so be it. Free-market advocates have noted the advantages of local, decentralized government to this end.

Are you just interested in private property rights to help Energy Leviathan? Does your standard also oppose mandatory open access, gas-appliance bans, and other violations of liberty in the name of climate alarmism/forced energy transformation? If not, why not?

In the story Martis shared on Facebook about the solar project proposed in Tuscola County, MI, one concerned citizen mentioned the possibility of PFAS contamination of the water supply. It is the sort of junk science concern that would be dismissed out of hand by Rob if it were alleged to result from oil and gas developments. So far as I could tell by a quick google search: there are no documented cases of PFAS contamination associated with solar PV installations, one analysis reported no solar PV makers currently use products made with PFAS, most concerns about PV-related PFAS contamination appear to be raised by local groups opposing a PV project. (Environmental groups oppose oil and gas development because of potential PFAS contamination. Has any Master Resource article opposed oil and gas development because of potential PFAS contamination?)

Comment: See my comment above. Giberson’s whole line of attack here turns out to be erroneous–and is peculiar given that he falls into the Left falsity that I am ‘pro-fossil fuels.” I am pro-free market and anti-government intervention.

Of course the content of the Master Resource blog is not the issue here. The issue here is whether a private property owner in Michigan can contract with a solar PV developer and have a solar farm installed on his property. Neighbors have objected on a variety of grounds. My position is that the neighbors interests are best limited to those that threaten direct harm to adjacent property owners when those harms are not well addressed by current property law or current regulation.

Comment: The content of MasterResource is free from the bias that you have asserted. The site is happy to entertain a variety of issues with any fossil fuel.

The harm to neighbors from solar subsidies to this one project is indirect and likely miniscule. Is it even plausibly more than $1 total burden for immediate neighbors? Not a respectable reason to interfere with this property owner in Michigan. The water runoff issues are likely already well addressed in local regulations and in property law, and it seems unlikely that solar PV causes worse water problems than other agricultural uses of land in the area.

Comment: Standing. And if you cannot see this project as one of hundreds like it where grass-root citizens are rising up against a variety of harms (minor or major) that are attendant to Energy Leviathan, then there are no trees in the forest.

And so on. None of the issues raised seemed to me to be good enough to warrant attempts to interfere with the private property rights of the owner.

Comment: If this is still believed, can you apply private property rights to energy policy in general? And particularly Biden’s all-of-government climate policy? Can you do so frontally and lead rather than follow R Street, which advertises itself as ‘free market’?

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Appendix: NIMBY vs. Solar

Here is an example of the regular NIMBY issues of grid solar as seen by the residents. It brings up its own issues from residents who state that they “believe in renewable energy and support its continued development when done in a responsible and respectful manner.”

Hartford Township is a quiet rural community, rich in farmlands and natural resources that allow a serene and quiet lifestyle for its many residents. Most houses sit on modest acreage and enjoy the beautiful view of wildlife and natural flora.  We, the residents, believe in renewable energy and support its continued development when done in a responsible and respectful manner. There are areas of the Township that do not encroach on the quiet clusters of neighbors who enjoy their country homes and the investments they have made in their land. 

We ask Harvey Solar to relocate the project that entails installation of industrial-scale solar panels to areas of the county that is not populated by developed rural neighborhoods. The current proposed area of this project will create a sea of black  panels to the front, side and rear of residents. We strongly believe the ill effect on our environment, beyond the eyesore will be irreversible and include:

  • Adverse, long-term consequences to natural resources on and within the surrounding proposed site.
  • Displacement of the area’s thriving native wildlife and birds.
  • Removal of hundreds of acres of prime farmland from agricultural use.
  • Degradation of rural, scenic views the residents of this community chose to build and invest.
  • A decrease in surrounding property values caused by the wrongful siting of this utility-scale operation in a densely-populated rural area.
  • Concerns and costs related to the proper disposal of solar panels and storage batteries and the land being returned to its previous natural conditions at the end of the project.
  • Conflicts of interest regarding Township Trustees owning a major portion of the proposed leased land.

As to the construction of the project, we have researched and personally visited a Solar Farm commissioned by Harvey Solar in Southwest Ohio, located in Brown County. Testimonials of local residents affected by this installation include:

  • Unbearable noise up to 14 hours per day that disrupted their daily life for more than a year.
  • Dust, mud and debris on the roadways, driveways and property.
  • Workers bused into the community who were not local residents and did not account for 80% of promised local employment.
  • Loitering workers identified on security cameras on the property of residents while they were not at home.
  • Theft and vandalism of property.
  • Poor response time and attention to construction related concerns including drainage issues and violation of promised hours of operation.
  • Littering beyond the containment of the project space as well as unsightly industrial size remnants of the project left behind.
  • Landscaping promised to “hide” the unsightly panels from view are sparse, tiny and have not been maintained.

In closing, we the undersigned strongly urge our state & local officials to take immediate action to preserve and protect our community’s high-quality agricultural soils and farm operations, natural resources, native birds and wildlife, scenic viewsheds and home values by denying Harvey Solar permits to build the proposed 2,200 acre project in the identified area. A renewable energy project of this scale and magnitude is best suited for a more remote or industrial site in Licking County. Please join us in protecting the essential beauty and character of our rural community and its many resources from being degraded for decades by this wrongly-sited, wrongly-sized industrial solar facility.

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