In 2010, as a direct result of environmental concerns, NIMBY activism, and a sluggish permit-granting process, there were 351 energy projects that were being delayed, postponed, or outright terminated. This is according to a study published by the Chamber of Commerce entitled Project No Project. Together, these projects were estimated to be worth $1.1 trillion and expected to create 1.9 million jobs. The overriding lesson from the report was that, given America’s byzantine permit system, opponents of any project can find a violation somewhere within the mountains of paperwork a firm is required to submit. This lesson is still relevant today. Here are just five examples:
1. Harry Reid Protects Nevadans from Jobs: Coal is the most hated energy source in America. It’s not surprising that even though the U.S. Bureau of Land Management granted LS Power final approval for a $2.5 billion coal plant in White Plain, Nevada, in 2008, its opponents continued to appeal the decision. In its complaint, the Sierra Club argued that the environmental-impact study for the plant overlooked the plant’s effect on greenhouse-gas emissions, air quality, and several nearby national parks. They were joined in their criticism by scores of environmental groups, as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), who sent a letter condemning the project to then-governor Jim Gibbons (R., Nev.). In 2009, LS Power postponed the plant indefinitely, citing economic conditions and “increasing regulatory uncertainty.”
2. Environmentalists Defeat Pernicious Goals of Environmentalism: Six years ago, Northwest Energy started planning a 32-turbine, 82-megawatt wind farm near Nasselle, Washington. The project, which would have been the first wind farm in the Pacific Northwest, was hailed by some as a great step forward in creating “a clean, renewable energy resource that is ecologically friendly and economically wise.” The Audubon Society, on the other hand, saw the project as a death trap for the Marbelled Murrelet, a local endangered bird species. Studies showed that the turbines would likely kill one Marbelled Murrelet every two years. Northwest Energy spent the next three years and most of $3 million studying the bird. But it was to no avail. As costs escalated, investors backed out. On November 16, 2011, Northwest Energy officially terminated the project.
3. Montana Energy for Montanans: One of the most surprising facts about the current permit process is the difficulty faced by renewable-energy producers. Almost half of the delayed projects in the Chamber of Commerce study involved renewable energy, including the Mountain States Transmission Intertie Line. This 430-mile transmission line would carry energy from wind projects in Montana, and is designed to help the area reach renewable-electricity mandates. It’s estimated that the construction would employ 3,211 people, and add 547 permanent jobs once the facility is operational. Opposition has come from several angles: Local residents cited the potential health and aesthetic impacts of the pipeline; PPL Montana, a coal plant in the area, has accused MSTI of trying to gain a monopoly over energy transmission; and a member of the Public Service Commission has stated that he will kill the project, calling it “nothing more than a way to drain inexpensive Montana-produced power out of the state and into lucrative California markets.” The firm stated in 2010 that because of setbacks caused by this opposition, they didn’t expect the line to be completed for at least five years.