Trump sides with renewable energy corporations against environmentalists
President Trump and his administration have been at odds with environmental groups since taking office after the tumultuous 2016 presidential election. His favorable stances on coal and oil production and opposition to proposed checks and balances on those industries alarmed those concerned with global warming. The appointment of Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, a man openly set on rolling back protections put in place by the Obama administration, only increased those fears.
Yet Trump has come down on the side of solar and wind companies in California, which on its surface seems to be in line with the goals of environmentalists.
The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan — also sometimes known as DRECP — set aside land to hold solar panel and wind farms. Starting during the Obama administration, it took eight years to complete and covers 10.8 million acres of California desert. Roughly 7% of it was set aside for renewable energy projects while the rest stayed protected wildlife habitat. Although wind power, solar and geothermal companies took part in the creation of DRECP, many of them were not satisfied with the result. They complained to the Department of the Interior that the plan did not set aside enough public lands for development.
President Trump echoed their complaints. His March 2017 executive order promoting “energy dominance” instructed federal agencies to “immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.” He wants the United States to be more energy independent and sees renewable energy as one of the pieces to solving that puzzle. Under the order, the Bureau of Land Management is reexamining DRECP, alarming environmentalists.
Many who oppose the president on his energy policies and environmental stances are generally supportive of renewable energy. Now environmentalists find themselves at odds with their traditional allies. They worry adding more solar and wind projects would industrialize the desert, add lots of road construction and power lines, and generally degrade wildlife habitats. They point to examples of birds on the endangered species list getting killed by wind turbines and solar panel arrays.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Interior Department opens more of the desert to construction. Regardless, the demand to build in the more delicate areas may be decreasing. Attorney Peter Weiner, who has represented multiple solar developers that do business in California, says the industry has learned “how to site solar projects on land that is not resource sensitive” and are not interested in regressing to the bitter fights of the past.
They may also soon have more alternatives to building in the desert. Offshore wind farms are already functioning in several parts of the world, but not on the West Coast. That’s due to the steep drop of the continental shelf. The water quickly becomes too deep to set the foundation for the wind turbines. However, Trident Winds, a Seattle based company, filed a lease request to build an array of 100 floating wind turbines 33 miles off the central California coast. If their approach succeeds, the open sea could be the next zone for development.
Pressure to build on land would naturally weaken and that is seen as a win-win. But some have already started to question if floating wind farms could adversely impact ocean life in yet to be determined ways.