Q. When does destroying a creature’s natural habitat with human power-generation activities not matter?
A. When Jerry Brown is governor of California, the creature is the desert tortoise, and the power-generation activity in question is the installation of a huge solar-power facility in the Mojave Desert.
It’s the, um, selective prioritization that warrants calling out here. The issue of whether the desert tortoise will be fatally inconvenienced by the solar facility is no more clear-cut than it ever is in such cases. Some environmentalists can always be found who will make an impassioned and perhaps (or perhaps not) exaggerated case that Critter X is facing extinction because of Proposed Human Activity Y. In the matter of the desert tortoise, the federal government originally halted the solar facility’s construction because of a study that suggested hundreds of baby tortoises would be killed, and the tortoise population would lose thousands of acres of habitat, if the project went forward. Later, the Fish and Wildlife Service decided the tortoises wouldn’t be harmed – as long as the tortoises were transplanted elsewhere – and the project was allowed to continue.
But the environmentalists have filed suit in federal court, asking for an injunction against continuing construction. So last week, Brown filed a brief requesting that the injunction petition be dismissed. According to the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles, KABC:
At a conference in Los Angeles, Governor Jerry Brown vowed to crush efforts to block renewable energy projects in California, helping them overcome permitting and environmental challenges.
He signed a law earlier this year mandating the state get 33 percent of its energy from alternative sources by 2020, including solar energy.
“The sun in California is like the oil in Texas: It’s fabulous wealth waiting to be developed,” said Brown. “And those who would resist that have to offer a pretty darn good argument for me to give up on solar energy.”
I swear, the things these Democrats get away with saying in public. The sun is wealth, so who cares what happens to the desert tortoise? Or, to put it precisely: when the proposed activity is something Jerry Brown isn’t in favor of, it’s fine for lawsuits to hold it up for years, regardless of the merits of the environmentalist argument. When the proposed activity is something Jerry Brown is in favor of, environmentalist lawsuits will be swept aside quickly, regardless of the merits of the environmentalist argument.
It’s good to have that clarified – and worth making another point. Wherever solar power is making a desert bloom, the umbilical cord to the federal government is not hard to find. The company building the solar facility in the Mojave is BrightSource, an international corporation headquartered in Oakland. Here’s the deal with BrightSource:
Founded in 2004, the company has attracted more than $500 million in private funding and has become a renewables darling, with agreements to supply electricity to California utilities PG&E and Southern California Edison.
That’s the good news. But the company’s SEC filing in April  for a $250 million IPO tells a more, er, interesting story.
The company has posted a string of net losses, totaling $177 million. Much of its $32 million in revenue over the past three years has come not from power generation, but from a contract with Chevron to use its technology to recover . . . not-so-renewable heavy oil. The filing advises investors that BrightSource has “generated substantial net losses and negative operating cash flows since our inception and expect[s] to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”
There’s also trouble at its flagship venture, a 3,600-acre solar project in the Mojave desert… Fortunately for BrightSource, its efforts are sustained by an impressive array of federal, state and local subsidies, including a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, one of the largest solar guarantees on record. The company notes federal provisions providing solar projects with a 30% investment tax credit through 2016, as well as accelerated depreciations of capital costs for solar entities, among other goodies.
In this enterprise, the source of wealth isn’t the sun, it’s (a) the American taxpayer and (b) fossil fuels.
By contrast, since 2004, the oil and gas industry has paid more than $217 billion to the federal government, just in corporate income tax and production fees. That doesn’t include the revenues generated by the income taxes of those employed in the industry (or the sales they generate), or the taxes paid by the industries that exist because of the oil and gas industry. In the same period, the federal government has also collected more than $200 billion in federal fuel taxes.
A reminder of a few things endangered species are more important than:
The principle seems to be that if it turns a profit, attracts voluntary investment, make a net contribution to the public treasury, or protects our national borders, then the convenience of an endangered species takes precedence over it. But the Jerry Brown codicil is that if it can’t operate without subsidies from the taxpayer, then it takes precedence over endangered species – and those who sue in court on behalf of the endangered species are to be “crushed.” Good to know.