New York Daily News
June 12, 2021
The climate activists who are dancing on the grave of the canceled Keystone XL pipeline shouldn’t celebrate too much.
Sure, they killed the pipeline. But rural Americans from Maine to Hawaii are mad, too. And just like the climate activists who kiboshed Keystone XL, rural landowners and elected officials are stopping the renewable-energy projects and high-voltage transmission lines that will be needed if we are going to attempt to replace hydrocarbons with intermittent sources like wind and solar.
Land-use conflicts are the binding constraint on all energy projects: power plants, coal mines, oil wells, substations, pipelines, renewable projects and high-voltage transmission lines. And therein lies the rub. After the Keystone XL cancellation, a spokesman for 350.org, the climate activist group, declared that “polluters and financiers” must “terminate your fossil fuel projects now.”
Contempt for hydrocarbons is common among climate activists. But it ignores the fact that oil, coal and natural gas are critical fuels for our economy and that they are affordable and readily available, which are critical issues for low- and middle-income consumers. It also ignores the staggering number of new transmission lines — which are, in effect, electricity pipelines — that will be needed to convert our economy to renewable electricity. Indeed, if you think putting an oil pipeline five or six feet under the ground is difficult, imagine how hard it will be to build hundreds of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines, supported by thousands of 20-story-tall steel lattice towers.
Those wires and towers will have to be rammed through numerous towns, counties and states, as well as through parks, wildlife refuges, and Native American lands. Getting the permits for big transmission projects can take years or even decades.
Nevertheless, climate activists, academics, and liberal politicians routinely claim we must “electrify everything” to prevent catastrophic climate change. On June 8, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, (D-NM) published an op-ed in the New York Times which claimed we must “electrify our vehicles, homes, and businesses” because it is a “critical part of achieving economywide net-zero emissions by 2050.”
But attempting to electrify everything — and doing so solely with renewables — will require a massive expansion of our electric grid and enough new high-voltage transmission capacity to circle the Earth about 10 times. That’s a problem. As one energy analyst drily noted in the Wall Street Journal, “No one wants high-voltage wires and substations near their home.”
Policymakers have been thinking about bringing hydropower from Quebec to New York since 1982. But bringing Canadian electrons to New York — which the Canadians might not be so keen on after the Keystone XL debacle — will require installing a high-voltage line along the length of the Hudson River. Needless to say, that project still hasn’t been built.
In 2017, Iowa legislators passed a law prohibiting the use of eminent domain for high-voltage transmission lines which doomed the Rock Island Clean Line, a proposed 500-mile, $2 billion line that was to carry electricity from Iowa to Illinois.
In 2018, New Hampshire regulators rejected Northern Pass Transmission, which aimed to carry hydropower from Quebec to Massachusetts. That 192-mile, $1.6 billion project was gunned down on a unanimous vote by New Hampshire’s site evaluation committee.
Furthermore, as I show in a recent report for the Center of the American Experiment, local governments across the country are rejecting large-scale renewable energy projects. Since 2015, some 300 government entities have rejected or restricted wind projects. In New York, so many communities are rejecting Big Wind and Big Solar that Gov. Cuomo’s administration pushed through regulations that will allow Albany poobahs to override local zoning laws and issue permits for renewable projects.
Despite the raging rural backlash against Big Wind and Big Solar, numerous studies have been published by academics at elite schools like Princeton, University of California and Stanford that assume building massive amounts of renewable capacity and transmission can be done quickly, and for a mere few trillion dollars. None of the studies mention rural opposition to renewables or the difficulties of building transmission. For instance, the “Net-Zero America” study published last year by Princeton said the U.S. would have to double or triple its high-voltage transmission capacity in just three decades. That will not happen.
The punchline is obvious: It’s far easier to stop infrastructure projects than it is to build them. Activists who believe we can simply swap out the energy from Keystone XL with power from “clean” renewables are in for a rude awakening. That wake-up call may not happen tomorrow or next week. But eventually, physics, math and sanity will prevail.
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