Will Progressive Energy Policies "Sting" Democrats in New Biden Administration?

Will Progressive Energy Policies
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Joe Biden won The White House, but are progressives so out of touch with most Americans that they could harm Democrats and undermine Biden’s agenda?

In fact, one reason why Democrats performed poorly down ballot in the 2020 election — retaining the House of Representatives but by the smallest margin since World War II, failing to flip anywhere near the number of Senate seats pundits predicted — is because many middle-of-the-road voters perceived the party as catering to the far left as represented by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

While Biden racked up more than 80 million votes by championing a message highlighting a return to normalcy and a belief in science when it comes to the pandemic and climate change, down-ballot Democrats, even moderates like Max Rose of New York and Donna Shalala of Florida, were dragged down by far-left proposals like the Green New Deal and defunding the police.

The underperformance in the down-ballot races underscores a problem that has plagued the Democratic Party for years. The party allows itself, and often its presidential candidate (though Biden resisted), to be pushed so far to the left, hoping to placate far-left extremists, that it alienates mainstream voters. Additionally, in its pursuit of its utilitarian goals, the far left often loses perspective, arriving at policy positions that appear radical or even nonsensical.

Take the environmental community. For decades now, the green agenda has included replacing oil- and coal-fueled power plants with solar energy. The argument is simple. A principal component of addressing the climate crisis is reducing greenhouse gas emissions, particularly those emitted by cars and power plants. Remarkably, over the last decade or so, there has been a marked increase in the use of the solar power farm, an enormous field of solar panels that can generate substantial quantities of solar power. 

In a growing number of areas across the country, local power companies are buying energy generated from solar panel farms instead of relying on energy produced by a fossil-fueled power plant. “Solar was considered this small, dreamy market,” a Department of Energy scientist said recently, “but around 2007 a lot of people began to see this as a real business.”

With these impressive developments, environmentalists should be thrilled; instead, they have focused on a new worry: bumblebees. When a green energy company builds a solar farm, it can use a sizeable track of land, as much as several hundred acres. (As of 2019, the nation’s largest was 3,200 acres.) A large number of solar panels are required to generate a sufficient amount of solar energy to make the project viable. When the land is cleared so solar panels can be installed, it can affect the area’s vegetation, wildlife, and insect population, particularly butterflies and bees. So, environmentalists are now demanding that solar farm designs must include pollinator-friendly vegetation in order to allow bees and other insects to pollinate.

One solar farm energy company planning document states: “Pollinator-friendly seed mixes and native plants are required around the Solar Energy System at a rate of two (2) square feet of plantings for every one (1) square foot of solar panels.” Maryland passed a 2017 bill requiring its Department of Natural Resources “to adopt a specified Solar Site Pollinator Habitat Planning and Assessment scorecard.” More recently, in Indiana, a green energy company constructing a solar farm was required to coordinate with the Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund “to plant a pollinator seed mix under and around the solar panels instead of traditional ground cover.” And, in Vermont, solar energy companies are encouraged to coordinate with organizations like Bee the Change to replace ordinary ground covering, like hay or turf, with pollinator-friendly growth.

Solar farm companies are encountering problems, however. Pollinator-friendly vegetation is harder to take care of. It poses a fire risk. It is expensive to sustain over the long-term. It can interfere with the panels’ absorption of sunlight. And workmen are reluctant to perform maintenance on a solar farm if it is also home to a large bee population — for obvious reasons. 

So, once again, environmentalists have gone too far on an issue. It is not good enough that historic strides are being made to replace traditional energy with solar energy. As that vital development is unfolding, attention must also be paid to bumblebees. 

Perhaps in a Biden Administration, a return to normalcy will include an embrace of problem-solving through sensible thinking. Now that would be a change.

Paul Alexander often writes about politics. He is the author of books on John McCain, John Kerry, and Karl Rove.

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