Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presumptive nominee for US president, took time out from her busy schedule last week to pledge that if and when she is installed in office, the US would rapidly expand its development of clean power on federal property. The numbers work out to ten times the current amount, over ten years.
So, is it game over for the desert tortoise?
Clean Power On Federal Lands — Offshore Wind To The Rescue
The 10 x 10 pledge appeared in an op-ed in the San Jose Mercury News on June 2, while Clinton was fending off criticism from Democratic runner-up Bernie Sanders and unleashing a torrent of deserved abuse upon presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump — and dancing backwards in high heels, as the saying goes.
More clean power sounds great to CleanTechnica’s ears. On the other hand, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. How would a President Clinton engineer a tenfold increase in clean energy extraction without bumping up against other pressing concerns about federal land use, especially wildlife and habitat conservation?
Actually, federal property is already primed for achieving the former Secretary of State and US Senator’s clean power goals without necessarily undercutting habitat conservation. In the Mercury News op-ed, Secretary Clinton is careful to include offshore energy sites as well as onshore:
While protecting sensitive areas where development poses too great a risk, we can accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy by increasing renewable energy generation on public lands and offshore waters tenfold within a decade.
Did you see what she did there? So far, the US has barely touched its vast offshore wind energy resources, so the potential for growth in that sector is way beyond tenfold. We’re going to call that a safe bet for the Clinton clean power plan.
Along the US Atlantic coast, the relatively shallow waters are ideal for offshore wind energy. Unfortunately, compared to other wind-rich countries, the pace of growth of offshore wind energy development in the US has been slow (as in, practically zero), partly due to political interference linked to the Koch brothers.
However, the barriers are already starting to break down. The company Deepwater Wind has found one way to do it, by zeroing in on a state where the political environment seems to be relatively insulated from the Koch influence. That would be tiny Rhode Island, where the nation’s first full scale offshore wind farm has already reached the “steel in the water” construction phase.
In support of the offshore wind industry, the Obama Administration has also embarked on an aggressive lease program for offshore sites all along the Atlantic coast, laying the groundwork for rapid acceleration in the near future.
Okay, So What About The West Coast?
Barriers of another kind — namely, technology barriers — have held back offshore wind energy development along the Pacific coast, where deep waters preclude the use of conventional anchored foundations.
The solution is to develop floating offshore wind turbines for deep waters, and it is conceivable that the R&D in that sector could pay off commercially within the next ten years.
The key idea here is that the availability of untapped offshore wind resources provides the US with a way to accelerate clean energy development, without an equal and opposite effect on land-based conservation goals.
That’s not even counting wave and tidal energy and the potential for harvesting energy from inland river currents.
Brownfields To The Rescue
Another factor that could enable more clean power without less wildlife is the Obama Administration’s push for establishing solar and wind farms on brownfields and other pre-developed sites.
Obama’s brownfields initiative took off early in his first term under the name RE-Powering Americas Land. With the aftermath of the global financial crash of 2008 still rippling out, the brownfields initiative is partly intended as a jobs and economic development program to revive blighted industrial areas in cities.
The initiative also covers rural brownfields. Shortly after the initiative launched, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Renewable Energy Program released a survey documenting 14 million acres of federal land, including brownfields and Superfund sites, that could be used for renewable energy development.
Among those sites is a plethora of abandoned mines, a stockpile that is sure to grow as the nation’s coal mining industry winds down.
Federal Lands, Above And Beyond Clean Power
The clean power proposal is just one paragraph in a fairly long op-ed detailing what federal land policy would look like under a Hillary Clinton presidency.
Do read the entire piece to get a full picture of her vision, but for those of you on the go, Clinton lays out a comprehensive land management plan that includes conservation, recreation, climate change adaptation and water resources in addition to clean power development.
The piece is a direct pushback against the land grab movement, in which certain Republican legislators — a number of whom are linked to the Koch brothers — have been attempting to engineer the transfer of federal property to state control, paving the way to private control (for the weaponized version of this movement, see Bundy, Cliven).
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Image (screenshot): via Hillary for America.
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