A while back, I discussed the links of wind-energy firms to Enron and other BushCo loyalists. My post ended with this bit of idle speculation about wind-farm siting:
There's also an unsettling potential for shady land-lease deals; currently, landowners are paid $2,000 - $3,000 per turbine by the lessee. On some sites in Texas, this brings in almost $400,000 per year for lessors; that's a lot of money in anyone's English, and the temptation to relax siting restrictions will be accordingly great (particularly if the landowner just happens to be someone with political connections).Right on cue, here comes California State Rep. Richard Pombo:
Pombo (R-Tracy), heads the House committee that oversees the Interior Department. His parents own a 300-acre ranch in the Altamont Pass and have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties from wind-power turbines on their land over the last 17 years — much more than the family gets from cattle on that land.Now, certain environmental guidelines apply to the siting and operation of wind farms, primarily in order to protect endangered and migrating birds, many of whom tend to be killed by the turbine blades. The Pombo's Altamont Pass farm has been a particularly bad site for bird deaths; hundreds of birds are killed there yearly, including the federally protected golden eagle. These deaths brought the Altamont site a bit of scrutiny from the Fish and Wildlife Service, which apparently outraged Pombo's strong sense of filial devotion:
Last October, Pombo's aides wrote to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton asking her to suspend the guidelines. A few days later on Oct. 8, staff members of the House Resources Committee, which Pombo heads, confronted Fish and Wildlife Service officials about the guidelines and regulatory actions taken by the agency's Sacramento field office at Altamont. In both cases, they did not mention the Pombo family holdings.All of this confirms my view that while switching to renewable energy sources, we're frequently going to be dealing with the same corruption, callousness, and irrationality that made fossil fuels such a disaster. And unlike nuclear power, wind power's wholesome public image will make it very easy for Bush-allied energy companies to stifle dissent while grabbing and exploiting public lands, and siting unnecessary, low-productivity farms on privately owned lands for the benefit of the politically connected.
Pombo told The Times he was unaware of the letter to Norton when it went out under his signature.
Unless wind-farm deals are carefully scrutinized and regulated, I'm afraid we're going to end up with a new round of public subsidies for private profiteering.
UPDATE: If you're wondering where you heard the name "Pombo" before, Effect Measure has more on this enigmatic figure's remarkable intellectual and scientific attainments.