Betting the Farm on a Free-Market Solution

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Courtesy of EcoRI, here’s an interesting take on a Tiverton farm that is apparently soon to become a solar power plant:

The 72-acre farm is filled with history and habitat. Thousands of trees, a pond alive with frogs, an 18th-century farmhouse, and the grave of an American Revolutionary War soldier are among the property’s many treasures, buried or otherwise.

Julie Munafo’s family has owned Wingover Farm since 1970s, but a pending sale could lead to the destruction of more Rhode Island open space — another act in a growing pattern that sacrifices natural resources for energy production.

The state — thanks to generous economic incentives that are energizing shortsighted development — is paying for the rampant expansion of its renewable-energy portfolio, mostly ground-mounted solar panels, with forests and farmland.

The interesting part is that an environmentalist publication is using a notably contra-government tone in favor of preserving the open space.  The only semblance of an answer mentioned in Frank Carini’s article is for people to attend meetings to help figure out better rules for placing solar farms, but that is insufficient on its face.  The problem will remain that (at the behest of environmentalists) the government has created financial incentive for solar farms.  Making it more difficult to site them will only raise the cost, which is just another way to lower the subsidy.

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Eliminating the subsidies altogether would be a better option.  The progressive complaint against free-market solutions is that they give people or groups with money an advantage, but progressive solutions that leverage government give people or groups with power an advantage (and, of course, money is one source of power).  At least in the free market, people with money are competing with other people with money.

Happily, those with more-material intentions will be the most keen to make sure their investments are well placed and efficient, while those with more-altruistic intentions will have an edge in projects that have a moral or aesthetic angle.  A nostalgic family looking to offload a farm, for instance, might sell it for less to developer who plans to sacrifice profit for preservation.



  • BasicCaruso

    Ah, the free market… opinions bought and paid for. #kaching #darkmoney #freedomtopollute

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

    Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund…

    The vast sum is largely due to polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.

  • Mike678

    A solar farm in NK was slowed based on many arguments raised by your article. I have little problem if people want to put the panels on their roofs, but do we really need to destroy the local ecology to “save the world”?

    On a separate note It will interesting to note how the coastal solar farms in the Carolina’s do if Florence does indeed become a Cat 4 Hurricane.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Is solar energy an “efficient” technology? Or, is it an “inefficient” technology, like recycling, which captures the fancy of the public and obtains subsidy?

    • Mike678

      Look to Southern Australia for your answer.

      • Rhett Hardwick

        I took a look, South Australia solar energy seems totally dependent on government subsidy. Maybe that is how things work. We would never have had airlines without “mail contracts”.

        • Mike678

          True, but there weren’t alternatives to fast air travel, were there?

          • Rhett Hardwick

            Solar energy will always be ‘half a loaf” until efficient storage is developed. Forgetting Australia, what good is a bright sunny February afternoon to us, when we need the boiler at midnight. Fusion is probably the answer, but seems a long way off.

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