There are two types of lawsuits facing Renewable Energy projects around the country. The first involves the same issue faced by all major developments, siting and location. The second type of lawsuit facing the Renewable Energy sector is over the cost of its energy or what the ratepayer must pay for the price of kilowatt hour of energy from wind or solar.
The siting or location issue has been handled by many states in the same way the cell phone tower debate was handled, the establishment of a state siting board. Most states allow some kind of home rule, allowing a specific town or city to opt out of a Renewable Energy project. Some states do not allow this. Many of the states use the local jurisdiction opt out as way for property owners and abutters to air their grievances against a project at the local town planning board hearings and not through the Court system of the state or Federal government. This is what drove up the kilowatt hour cost of the Cape Wind project.
This leads to the second type of legal challenge against Renewable Energy projects, the price of their power. The main cost driver is lawsuits from abutters and the lengthy regulatory process projects in the Northeast and California must go through before even breaking ground. Removal of frivolous lawsuits by use of state Renewable Energy Facility siting board will lower the cost of a Renewable Energy kilowatt hour by 25 to 50 percent. Regulatory review streamlining offers some modest concessions on cost, but Renewable Energy like Traditional Energy, office parks and shopping malls must go through all of the regulatory permitting to build their projects.
The remaining cost differential in the price of a kilowatt hour relates to the price of Carbon pollution on society. Very few studies have documented the human health and property damage cost to the United States economy from Climate Change. The best estimate is about $1 trillion per year for the next several decades, escalating more rapidly if Carbon concentrations in the upper atmosphere are not reduced.
EPA could easily do a cost benefits study based on the amount of health dollars spent on Carbon pollution and the amount of property damage suffered. They could then translate that into cost of Carbon based on the total United States emissions inventory of Carbon. Once this is done the true price of Carbon would be established. This has not been done yet. My firm Air Quality Trends is qualified to do the assessment.
So far depending on the power market, the increased cost of a cap and trade carbon tax at today’s market rate is 10 cents per kilowatt hour in the Northeast and California and five cents per kilowatt hour in the hinterland.
When location lawsuits are reduced for Renewable Energy facilities and true Carbon pricing is assessed for Traditional Fuels, Renewable energy is five to 10 cents cheaper per kilowatt hour than the volatile coal, petroleum and natural gas commodities markets price of fuel at the meter box. Traditional Energy has fluctuated 400 to 500 percent in the last decade. Fossil fuels are expected to spike very high in 2011 mostly tied to speculation and not demand, plunging the world economy into a worsened recession.
When frivolous lawsuits against Renewable Energy are removed and the full economic cost on the economy assessed on Carbon, wind and solar power are far cheaper, priced more stably and create more long term public health and property protection as well as sustained local economic and job growth than Fossil Fuels.