Gary Hubbell: The Redneck Tree-hugger
Aspen Times Weekly
I wasn’t an Obama fan during his 2008 campaign, and I can predict several aspects of his administration that will kneecap us for our long-term future. However, my faithful readers know that I’ve never been a Bush fan either, and one of the most ignorant aspects of the Bush administration was its slavish pandering to the oil and auto industries.
Natural gas producers punched so many holes in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming that they drove the price of gas down to laughably low levels, but they did it because they knew they had only 8 years of a “free pass” on environmental damages. When Bush instituted a small-business tax credit for people to buy gas-guzzling SUVs, I thought he was out of his mind.
“It’s the American way,” he explained. Well, not anymore.
I’ve long maintained that if we had spent the same amount of money that we wasted in Iraq developing green, sustainable energy sources, our country would look a lot different today. Why, for example, can’t I plug in my electric car to my active solar panels to charge the batteries for a 100-mile trip? Anybody? Anybody?
The people in the Obama administration seem to “get it” on alternative energy, and I applaud them for their foresight.
Recently I attended a class for ranch real estate brokers on wind and solar energy production and its effects on landowners and landscapes. This is the era of the new energy economy, and there will be great effects on our landscapes and way of life. The goal is to create 25 percent of our energy from renewable sources within 25 years, or the “25×25 Plan.” Given that wind provides only 1.7 percent of our electrical power today, we have a whole lot of windmills to build in order to generate that much electricity.
Here are some basic facts about wind power: It costs about $2 million per megawatt of power to install a wind power project. Studies on birds, bats, soils and soil erosion, transmission lines, landowner fees, tower and turbine costs, and wind resources are all factored in. With a production tax credit and the price of power factored at $55 per megawatt hour, there’s money to be made.
The sheer size of the proposed towers, turbines, and transmission lines will forever alter the landscape of our country. The “smart grid” is basically a plan to pop up huge transmission lines all over the windy parts of the country and deliver power to power-gobbling metropolitan areas such as Phoenix and southern California. Personally, I hate the way big power lines mar the landscape, but if you’re a “green power” fan, you’d better get used to it. It costs $1 million per mile to build a 330-kilovolt power line. Have you ever driven through the gap in the mountains near Palm Springs, Calif.? Those are itty-bitty windmills compared to the ones we’ll soon see. We’re talking about 300-foot towers with giant propeller blades slicing the air. A 300-megawatt wind farm will require 31,000 acres of land, with towers spaced every 9/10ths of a mile. Each 1.5-megawatt turbine will require 150 acres of land. These will be sprawling facilities. Landowners who have struggled for years will finally cash a check, as they stand to make about $6,000 per megawatt per year in royalty payments.
Keep in mind that the owners of such lands want to keep using their property as they have been for years ” growing wheat, raising cattle, hunting game and enjoying the peace and quiet. Many of these activities generate significant income. A good hunting lease might bring in five figures a year. There are some interesting questions that will be raised, such as, “If I let you build a wind farm, I want to hunt on my property. What do you say about that?” Trust me, the Obama administration will think no-hunting zones will be just the ticket. If ice builds up on a turbine blade, just like it happens with aircraft, it might sling a massive knife of ice several hundred feet. Imagine how dangerous that could be to people, livestock, and wildlife. In the name of “green energy” we will no doubt lose millions of birds, including many thousands of raptors. If an oil company kills a hundred ducks with a settling pond without a net, it makes the news. Will greenies figure that a couple million birds are worth the price?
Parts of the Midwest experienced incredible soil erosion during the Dust Bowl years, and those lessons haven’t been lost on today’s farmers. If soils are fragile and sandy but winds are strong, there’s a chance that a wind farm can’t be built in a promising area because the necessary roads and power lines will invite the wind to strip the soils away.
The first thing Dick Cheney did after taking office was to invite all the major oil company executives in for a private confab whereby they gave him a wish list of how they wanted free access to public lands and environmental regulations stripped away ” and the Bush administration did it.
Will the Obama administration rush in to develop sustainable energy in the same fashion? Let’s hope they do it with care and diligence.
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