The Green New Deal Is Anti-Democratic


The Green New Deal—proposed in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and Sen. Edward Markey (D–Mass.)—would require a vast expansion of coercive government power in order to achieve its goal: "meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources" in only 10 years.

The plan, which has been endorsed as of this writing by at least six Democratic presidential candidates, would not only require a complete reordering of the American economy; it could happen only by trampling over property rights, local and state control, and the autonomy of the American private sector.

Consider the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts. First proposed in 2001, it would have spent $2.6 billion to build 130 wind turbines that could have generated 468 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 200,000 homes. After 16 years and $100 million in private money spent, it was abandoned largely due to delays caused by more than a dozen lawsuits filed by local Native American tribes, fishers, residents, and tourism-related interests.

Implementing the Green New Deal, whose sponsors want to "ensure the use of democratic and participatory processes," would require local, state, and federal approval of some 1,200 projects the size of the now-defunct Cape Wind.

One would be hard pressed to find a utility-scale solar project that has not been stopped or significantly slowed by local opposition and environmentalist lawsuits. A quick review of some major projects shows that it generally takes six to eight years from when a solar farm is proposed until it starts generating electricity.

Since the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine, power would have to be shifted via high-voltage transmission lines quickly from place to place across the whole country to prevent local blackouts. The proposed solution to that problem is the North American Supergrid, consisting of about 50,000 miles of high-voltage power lines. Yet these also tend to provoke considerable landowner and environmental activist opposition. For example, it took the American Electric Power Company 14 years to obtain approval for a 90-mile high-voltage transmission project in West Virginia and Virginia.

To bypass objections to building a national supergrid, the Climate Institute suggests that Congress grant eminent domain authority to regional transmission organizations—i.e., independent bureaucracies that operate power transmission assets and provide wholesale transmission services within a defined geographic region. Handing the right to seize people's property to such entities might be an efficient way to get things done, but they are not elected bodies and their possession of such powers might not be constitutional.

This partial history of doomed energy projects in the U.S. should be enough to disabuse supporters of the idea that the Green New Deal can be done democratically or without running roughshod over inconveniently located homes, businesses, and natural landscapes. But there's also the timeframe to consider.

The only presently operating offshore wind farm is Deepwater Wind near the coast of Rhode Island. It consists of five turbines rated at 30 megawatts total. Proposed in 2008, that project began operating eight years later. A 2016 plan for powering the United States with 100 percent renewable energy, devised by a team of Stanford and Berkeley researchers, would require building 156,200 5-megawatt offshore turbines. (This plan, by the way, is the closest thing we have to a roadmap for 100 percent renewable energy—and even it suggests a timeframe of 30 years, rather than 10, at a cost of $14 trillion.)

The prospects for onshore wind power are somewhat better. There are about 96 gigawatts of such capacity currently installed. Fulfilling the Stanford plan—which calls for 328,000 new 5-megawatt onshore turbines—would require only a 17-fold increase over the next decade.

Solar photovoltaic farms currently installed in the U.S. meanwhile have a total capacity of 60 gigawatts. According to the Stanford plan's calculations, the country would need to build another 2,324 gigawatts—at a rate of 234 gigawatts per year. In a December 2018 report, the Solar Energy Industries Association said it actually expects installations to rise to 14 gigawatts per year by 2023.

Costs aside, the Green New Deal would require the creation of vast new anti-democratic bureaucracies tasked with stealing property from communities and individuals. And after all that, it still wouldn't meet its goals.