Influence of misinformation, culture wars and local politics threatening to delay transition to renewable energy sources.

In Fort Mohave, Arizona, even Republican voters are fighting gas power plants as utilities try to lock in fossil fuels

Nina Lakhani in The Guardian 23/05/2024

Early one morning in April I set off from Phoenix, Arizona and drove 250 miles north-west, across one of the sunniest desert expanses in the United States, to meet members of the “not in any neighborhood” campaign in Sunrise Hills, a retirement community in Mohave county.

This is a rural, predominantly white county located on the eastern banks of the Colorado River, about 100 miles south of Las Vegas, where 75% of the population voted for Donald Trump in 2020. It is the most Republican-leaning place in the state – and not somewhere you’d expect to find environmental activists. But that was before they discovered that a utility wanted to build a noisy, polluting gas-fired peaker plant less than quarter of a mile from their middle-class neighbourhood.

Peaker plants are designed to fire up to meet spikes in energy demand, and are a very expensive and dirty way to produce electricity that contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gases like methane and CO2.

I listened to the Mohave community’s concerns in Mac and Debbie McKeever’s garage – which was actually around three times the size of my apartment in New York City and included a bar, bathroom, kitchenette, RV, boat and a dune buggy. I remember thinking “these folks are never giving up gasoline” as we sat around a large table to enjoy the lunch of raw vegetables Debbie had very kindly prepared for their first vegetarian visitor. It is fair to say that the climate emergency is not a priority for Sunrise Hill residents.

Their main concerns centre around quality of life issues like noise, light pollution, and water scarcity, as well as fires or explosions at the plant and connecting pipelines, declining property values and air quality – especially given many of the retirees have respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and include some cancer survivors.

Since getting wind of the proposed plant in late 2023, the retirees have dedicated their time, skills and resources to expose misinformation from the utility, which claims that the gas plant is the cheapest, cleanest and most reliable option – and in fact essential to avoid power outages and price hikes. The campaign group took out newspaper adverts and billboards against the project, which the utility countered with more adverts and billboards, claiming the plant was necessary to power fire stations, cooling centres and hospitals. It’s all become pretty tense, and recently the utility said they were also looking at another site four miles away, which is close to schools, less wealthy households and tribal lands. That community is now organising against the project too.

Building a brand new gas plant makes little sense. With almost 300 sunny days each year and little rain, this is an ideal place for solar and wind development. Yet in Arizona, and many other US states, fossil fuel expansion is being aided by local and national campaigns against renewables, an effort which could keep Arizona dependent on fossil fuels for decades to come. This is despite the state facing a multitude of worsening climate impacts from extreme heat to drought, wildfires and water scarcity.

Just weeks before approving the gas plant, the local government passed a temporary moratorium on renewable energy projects amid a swell of rumours the county was being blighted by green energy projects that would benefit neighbouring California and Nevada – and that solar would exacerbate current water shortages.

As I reported this story, it became clear that the Mohave case underscores the influence of misinformation, culture wars and local politics threatening to delay America’s transition to renewable energy sources.

In Arizona alone, proposals for three dozen new gas turbines are now making their way through the state permitting pipeline, Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club told me. “We’re seeing a rush for gas when we should be getting off fossil fuels … This project should not be in anyone’s back yard, it makes no sense on any level.”

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