Blight of the Plebs
“On wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit.” – Warren Buffett
In July 2022, the citizens of Madison County, Iowa celebrated the news that MidAmerican Energy would be abandoning its controversial plan to construct 30 additional wind turbines on their farmland. The proposed project had been years in the making but ran into stiff local opposition—part of an underreported trend of backlash against large renewable energy construction projects. While the prospect of limitless green energy from wind sounds wonderful in theory, it turns out that living amongst the turbines isn’t all that great. Locals tell stories of constant noise and light pollution, disruptions to farming, and significant damage to prime real estate.
As a Berkshire Hathaway company, MidAmerican Energy is ultimately controlled by Warren Buffett, a man who totally had nothing to do with killing the Keystone Pipeline and definitely isn’t talking down the health of regional banks these days in the hopes of profiting from their inevitable recapitalization. Mr. Aw-Shucks has long deployed aggressive legal tactics in a relentless pursuit of the state and federal tax loopholes that he had absolutely no role in creating.
Robert Bryce, author of the eponymous Substack and custodian of the Renewable Rejection Database that tracks the hundreds of wind and solar projects successfully opposed by disgruntled locals, shared comments via private correspondence (reproduced here with his permission; emphasis added throughout):
“The context for MidAmerican Energy’s aggressive legal tactics against Madison County is important. In December 2020, the Madison County Board of Supervisors—responding to the anti-wind sentiment of county residents—passed an ordinance that prohibited the installation of wind projects within 1.5 miles of non-participating landowners, limited the height of turbines to less than 500 feet, imposed strict noise limits, and eliminated property-tax breaks. The next month, MidAmerican sued the county to try to force it to accept a wind project the county didn’t want. Why? It stood to lose $81 million in federal tax credits.
MidAmerican’s lawsuit shows yet again, the bare-knuckled legal strategy the wind industry is using against rural Americans as part of its effort to collect billions of dollars in tax credits. For a moment, imagine the media coverage if Exxon, or Chevron, had acted like MidAmerican in Madison County. It would’ve been front-page news in The New York Times. But because the lawsuit involved MidAmerican and the wind industry? Crickets.”
The battle over property rights in Madison County speaks to a broad divide across the US that pits progressive elites from the large cities against their more conservative fellow citizens in the less densely populated expanses of the country. The two sides routinely talk past each other on all manner of issues cultural, financial, and spiritual. For decades, the social contract between these factions was relatively straightforward: in exchange for providing the food and much of the resources needed by urbanites to persist, the residents of “flyover country” would be mostly left alone.
The pursuit of a green energy utopia, in its current incarnation, will aggressively disrupt this delicate detente.
For reasons that can be traced to the fundamentals of physics, the implementation of renewable energy mandates simply cannot occur without significant changes to the rural way of life. The acrimony? Many rural Americans think the risks associated with climate change are vastly overstated, while most urban progressives believe the world is heading for a catastrophe absent substantial intervention. According to a recent study published by the Duke Nicolas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at the University of Rhode Island, “climate change attitudes are polarized across the urban/rural divide. Urban/suburban voters were more supportive of climate action than rural voters, even controlling for partisanship and other demographics.” This sets up a significant impasse, one that threatens to further upend the already strained relationship between these otherwise symbiotic camps. Let’s examine the pitfalls and make the case for why the words “eminent domain” will soon saturate the headlines.