(This treatise was written by J.P. Michaud who is a Kansas research scientist, currently serving as an assistant professor of entomology researching new ways to protect agriculture from insect pests. He reviews manuscripts for scientific publications and sits on the editorial boards of two international journals. Although this opinion was written by the author with Kansas in mind – it surely can be applied to NYS. He is fighting wind projects in Kansas and is a thought provoking writer.)
There is a civil war arising from the land use conflicts inherent in alternative energy generation and it thrives on a certain disconnect between urban and rural elements of our society.
While rural communities possess the required land resources, large urban centers have the hunger for the power and the political influence needed to acquire it, along with little empathy for the pastoral quality of life that defines and motivates rural living.
Politicians of almost every stripe are currently stampeding over each other to masquerade as protectors of the environment by promoting and embracing “renewable energy.”
All demand that vast tracts of land be pressed into service in order to produce relatively slender yields of energy. In the rush to promote these alternative energy sources, federal and state governments have provided generous tax breaks and lucrative capital depreciation incentives to big business to encourage development.
In doing so, they have laid the foundation for a civil war that is currently ravaging dozens of rural communities nationwide.
Forget about grass-roots conservation and “bottom up” local energy reform. Developments must be large scale to qualify for any real government support.
And where to find large acreages of land that can be leased cheaply? The same place residential and commercial developers have looked in the past — farmland.
Farms have always been vulnerable to development because just about any other use will generate more income from the land than agriculture. Now it is renewable energy developers that need land, and lots of it.
Our politicians have loosed upon us a virtual army of scheming, profit-driven developers and allowed them to wrap themselves in the seemingly unimpeachable cloak of “green energy” while they aggressively exploit unsuspecting rural neighborhoods.
Local governments have neither the resources nor the expertise to make informed decisions when it comes to large-scale energy developments and cannot always be relied on to act in the best interests of their community.
They are easily coerced by developers and often end up supporting projects before they have any real grasp of their long-term implications.
Wind energy developments are typically preceded by years of covert scouting, signing of confidential leasing agreements, bribing of local politicians with payments in lieu of taxes, etc.
Developers will tout the economic benefits of their project to the community, invariably exaggerating the number of jobs they will create and the amount of money they will spend. They never talk costs — only benefits.
The impending socio-economic fallout from these conflicts is chilling to consider. Local newspaper headlines are telling: “County wind turbine debate pits neighbors, families against each other.”
People feel outraged and disenfranchised by the undemocratic nature of the development process.
We may be facing a new form of class warfare: true rural conservationists versus phony environmentalists, industrial wolves in sheep’s clothing, and the political posers that license and subsidize them.
Communities are left with broken friendships, mistrust of neighbors, political animosities, and a compromised future.
Such will be the legacy of the civil war over renewable energy, born out of leadership failures and politicians that turned a blind eye to the civil injustice created by their policies.
By J. P. Michaud
20 December 2008