Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Trading food for fuel, in a world where high food prices already affect the poor, has always seemed like a bad idea to me. If I have a choice between growing corn to fuel SUVs versus growing corn to make tortillas, to me that’s a no-brainer. I’ve known too many people for whom expensive tortillas are unobtainable tortillas to vote any other way.
Figure 1. The preferable kind of corn-field-based fuel, brought to you by a corn field in Michigan. SOURCE
As a result, I’m a long-time opponent of turning corn into fuel. I think it is a crime against the poor, made the worse by the unthinking nature of the ethanol proponents as they advocate taking food out of poor kids’ mouths.
But that’s not the only way that our monomaniacal insistence on renewable energy is taking food from the plates of the poor. For example, tropical forest has been cleared for oil-palm plantations for fuel. But even that is not what this post is about. This post is about trading food for energy in California, the breadbasket for the nation. Here’s the headline:
Fresno County judge rules in favor of I-5 solar project
Jan 03 – The Fresno Bee, Calif.
A Fresno County judge has ruled that a solar energy project along Interstate 5 can move forward despite arguments from the state farm bureau that it will eat up valuable California farmland.
The decision, which comes as good news to the state’s burgeoning solar industry, is the first handed down in the ongoing land war between solar developers seeking real estate for renewable energy and Central Valley farmers trying to protect their tillage.
While the ruling pertains only to the Fresno County project, the decision sends a message across the Valley that agriculture doesn’t necessarily reign supreme.
“I do think it gives a boost to the solar development community,” said Kristen Castanos, a partner at the law firm Stoel Rives in Sacramento who has represented energy ventures and tracked solar efforts on farmland. “This gives counties and developers a little more confidence in moving forward.” SOURCE
This is unbelievably short-sighted. The only good news is that compared to say buildings, it’s much easier to remove a solar installation and return the land to actually producing food. Not easy in either case, but easier for solar. But the good news stops there.
The bad news is, the power thus produced will be much more expensive than power from either fossil fuels or hydropower. But both fossil fuels and hydro are verboten under Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown’s plan to get 30% of all electricity from renewable sources, with “renewable” meaning “renewables other than hydro”. Thirty percent! This madness has already given us some of the highest electrical rates in the country, and we’re not even near to 30% renewable yet.
The worse news is what the dispute was about. California has a strong farmland act, called the Williamson Act. If you put your farmland under the Williamson Act, you can’t develop it, it has to stay farmland. In exchange you get various tax advantages. The important thing to note is that it is a legal contract between the State of California and the owners of the land. This is to prevent the landowner from taking the benefits and then developing the land.
In this case, the article cited above goes on to say (emphasis mine):
Superior Court Judge Donald Black found last month that Fresno County officials acted appropriately two years ago when they canceled a farm-conservation contract that allowed a solar development to proceed on ag land near Coalinga.
The California Farm Bureau Federation sued the county, alleging that the Board of Supervisors did not have the right to cancel the contract put in place under the state’s farm-friendly Williamson Act.
Black said county supervisors met Williamson Act requirements for canceling the contract.
“All parties concede the development of renewable energy is an important public interest both in the state of California and in Fresno County,” Black wrote.
I’m sorry, but there is no public interest in wildly expensive solar power. Nor should County officials be able to break a legal contract at their whim, based on some fanciful claim of a public benefit. The only people being benefitted here, above the table at least, are the owners of the project. The owners will be paid a highly inflated price for their power, which I and other ratepayers will be forced to subsidize. Expensive subsidized energy is not in the public interest in any sense.
In any case, breaking a Williamson Act contract to put in a solar installation definitely reveals the profound hypocrisy of the people behind the project and the useful idiots that support it. They’re approving massive, hideous development on prime farmland in order, they claim, to save the environment. Yeah, pave it to save it, that’s the ticket …
It also sets an extremely bad judicial precedent for future breaking of Williamson Act contracts. Since Kelo vs. New London the expansion of the “taking” powers of governments under the infinitely flexible rubric of “public interest” has ballooned unbelievably. Now we are to the point where they can even take away Williamson Act protections.
The Williamson Act is there to protect the totally irreplaceable, amazingly productive farmlands of California. The Fresno County officials are breaking the intent and spirit of the Williamson Act so that private developers can make a fortune picking the ratepayers’ pockets … and that’s supposed to be in the public interest? Spare me. For me, a kid who grew up on the good rich California earth, that’s a very sad day.
So yes. The idea that you shouldn’t allow the development of solar installations on some of the world’s finest farmland, not just any farmland but farmland legally protected under the Williamson Act, appears to be history in Californica. Infinitely stupid.
Y’know, I love the land here—the fold and break of the coastal hills dropping into the ocean; the wide valleys full of farms; the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where I grew up, towering over the Central Valley; the crazy, blazing deserts; the forests and groves full of deer and fox and mountain lion; and my own little corner where I live in the middle of a redwood forest, with a tiny triangle of the sea visible through the coastal hills. What’s not to like?
But I am roundly fed up with the government, and with the ‘lets power the world on moonbeams, we can all ride high-speed unicorns for transportation and just eat veggie-burgers’ crowd of folks that thinks losing irreplaceable farmland is a good thing in a hungry world, and thinks that hydropower is not renewable energy …
Regards to all,