Renewable Energy v. Wildlife

Environmental activists and alternative energy enthusiasts continue to discover that there's no such thing as "green" energy -- if by that we mean significant sources of energy free of significant environmental impacts.

Renewable-energy development, which the Obama administration has made a priority, is posing conflicts between economic interests and environmental concerns, not entirely unlike the way offshore oil and gas development pits economics against environment. But because of concerns about climate, many environmentalists and government agencies could find themselves straddling both sides, especially in Western states where the federal government is a major landowner.

As the push for renewable-energy development intensifies across the United States, scientists and activists have begun to voice concern that policymakers have underestimated the environmental impact of projects that are otherwise "green."

rosetta's stones:

"Everybody in New Mexico loves the sandhill cranes," said Ned Farquhar, a former aide to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D). "We also love our renewable energy. So we have to figure this out."

I love sandhill cranes, too. They taste like chicken. Farmers around here can draw permits to take them out when they get too destructive, which they do. An open season might be even better.

One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper that will appear in the journal PLoS One showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant. Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.(emphasis mine, and that's about 51M acres taken out of the potential biofuel planting acreage, which at a cost of, say, $3k per acre will total at least $153B for land acquisition alone, not including development costs)

The impact will be "substantial," said Jimmie Powell, the Nature Conservancy's national energy leader and one of the paper's co-authors. "It's important to know where the footprint is going to be."

Yeah, it's VERY important that my land condemnation lawyer buddies know where that footprint is going to be, so we can both cash in when that "clean" energy starts kicking in. I smell green, and it ain't the environmental kind.
4.16.2009 4:41pm
So while the rest of like, the entire danged planet, goes nuclear, we're going to emulate 16th century Holland, and fill up 80,000 square miles with these unreliable eyesores. And based on estimates like this that almost always understate the costs by orders of magnitude, we'll actually have to use the land mass of several medium sized states before we're done.

As of 2003, there were over 250 MILLION gasoline powered passenger vehicles in the US, and that doesn't include trucks, planes, ships and other devices that use fossil fuels, like construction equipment, generators, lawn mowers, etc. Even if it were possible to get rid of them all in the next 10-20 years in favor of electric vehicles, where will all that additional electricity come from? Wind? Solar? We're already straining the capabilities of the grid as it is. And how many trillions will we spend for infrastructure to deliver this power to where it's needed?

Why don't we have a national policy that uses ALL the potential energy sources while we transition to renewables over the next several decades, even assuming it is actually possible to develop renewable technology that would be abundant enough to fill the needs, like fusion? Instead we ban drilling so we can continue to fund the jihad against us, ban nuclear because of pathological fear of a powerful minority about anything to do with atoms, ban coal because of, excuse me...climate change that doesn't seem to be doing what the doomsayers predicted, ban hydrothermal because some enviro group claims to have seen a furbish lousewort somewhere within a hundred miles, ad nauseum.

If this isn't the path to national suicide, I'm not sure what is. We have simply got to get the radical environmental movement out of the decision making process somehow.
4.16.2009 4:45pm
rosetta's stones:
DISCLAIMER: The opinions on the culinary aspects of sandhill cranes expressed above do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any lawyer who may or may not wish to secure my services. Know all men by these presents.... and so forth.
4.16.2009 4:49pm
John Moore (www):
Modern environmentalism cares nothing about harming man in its pursuit for its sacred cause - returning nature to some imaginary nirvanic state. For radical enviros, they never have to face the consequences of their actions... until it whacks them in their green butt with the inherent contradictions.

Windmills kill birds. Solar power takes a lot of acreage (greenies in Oregon want to pave over the desert I live in - tell THAT to the snakes, scorpions, road-runners, ground-squirrels, raptors, etc). Biofuel takes a lot more acreage - even the most sensible (algae). Electricity requires transmission lines through forests and swamps and other ritual sacred spots. Smaller cars kill more people, which doesn't bother them, but also lead to more driving (its cheaper).

Nuclear is verboten - it is forbidden not "Kosher" in the environmental religion.
4.16.2009 5:30pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Windmills are helpful in some cases, but they have some important drawbacks. IEEE Spectrum did an article on this a few months back pointing out that grid interconnects are not up to what they would need to be if a lot of our energy were to come from wind.

More modern windmills aren't necessarily harmful to birds either.

I think there are possible true green energy sources out there. I heat my home in the winter by burning agricultural waste for example. The same ag waste would be burned if I wasn't heating my home with it, so no net environmental damage. (the ag waste is apple wood). We could take a lot of ag waste and mix it with coal in current coal-fired plants in order to reduce the environmental impact of electricity generation. (the coal isn't green, but the biomass involved is.) There are some pilot projects to burn cocoa shells in this way.

Another microsource which has a POSITIVE environmental value is methane-composting of farm manure. Methane is given off by the manure as it decomposes anyway, and burning this methane (in a gas turbine generator) generates electricity while producing CO2 and water in a closed carbon cycle. This goes from a strong greenhouse gas to a carbon neutral fuel.

These things have their place. They won't replace fossil fuels in the near future, and nuclear makes sense as an additional fuel. However, I think if we can minimize the harmful waste produced across all power generation we are better off.
4.16.2009 8:57pm
Chimaxx (mail):
Yes, we must let the perfect become the enemy of the good, beacause anything else would be too half-assed. Unless we can show that renewable sources are completely "free of significant environmental impacts" we must stipulate that they are just as bad as the energy sources they are meant to replace. There is no improvement short of perfection itself that is acceptable, so we must accept the status quo.
4.16.2009 9:30pm
John Moore (www):

Nonsense on stilts.

Nobody made that sort of absolute statement.

However, given the silly acclaim attached to so many dubious projects, it's appropriate for some serious skepticism.

As an engineer, I watch the innumeracy displayed by the "green power" folks with alarm. If it's green, it must be good. As this thread demonstrates, sometimes the green isn't really green (remember corn ethanol?).

Windmills cannot provide a significant amount of power in a "green" way, because their variability requires either energy storage (a technology that is not even close to capable) or standby generators. Even Denmark, a very windy place, achieves approximately zero net CO2 emissions (at high cost) because of the peaking generators that must be kept online even though they generate no power.

we must stipulate that they are just as bad as the energy sources they are meant to replace.

In most cases they are worse, because they cost money that could be better spent elsewhere, while contributing a negligible amount to the prevention of a highly uncertain threat (AGW).
4.16.2009 9:44pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
John Moore:

Windmills cannot provide a significant amount of power in a "green" way, because their variability requires either energy storage (a technology that is not even close to capable) or standby generators. Even Denmark, a very windy place, achieves approximately zero net CO2 emissions (at high cost) because of the peaking generators that must be kept online even though they generate no power.

Did you see the IEEE Spectrum article on this a while back?

They concluded that the main issue in wind power was that the grid was not designed to be able to shift centers of production in the way in which they would shift if we generated a significant portion of our electricity via wind.

The basic problem is not what you suggest, but rather that the solution to the problem (enough wind generators over a wide area to reduce fluctuations in total output to something statistically less significant) presents problems incompatible with the design our our electrical grid. Our grid currently can't handle shifts of production of the sort required. Our grids are designed right now to know (with reasonable certainty) where the electricity is coming from and the variation here would cause lots of problems.
4.16.2009 11:49pm
John Moore (www):
I think I missed that one. However, if you shift the power over long distances, you have transmission losses and you need higher capacity on the feeders (bigger transmission lines) than we have now. I suspect it would also be harder to maintain system stability.

I have read a number of articles about the need to keep standby power running (presumably, keep the rotors rotating), so I suspect the Spectrum article isn't addressing the whole issue. If you've got a link, I'd be interested in seeing the numbers.
4.17.2009 12:06am
James Gibson (mail):
What bothers me is that all I am reading here are the same issues and problems that were discovered and documented in the late 70s during the Carter administration. God only knows what I did with that book from the DOE that showed the various problems and virtues of different types of power generating systems. I wouldn't be surprised that the problems now being voiced by the activists were the same problems documented thirty years ago.

But I will make one point. Thirty years ago as a young engineering student I calculated the area needed to generate enough electricity to replace all other electrical generating systems in the USA (it wasn't small). Thus, when I saw a TV Commercial which stated that all we need is 95 square miles of california desert to power America I knew the number was wrong. I rechecked my numbers and my results are that to replace all fossil fuel produced electricity we would need 2,370 square miles, or the State of Delaware. And this doesn't include the energy produced by nuclear or hydro-electric plants nationwide or takes into account the potential increased demand for electricity if we all start using electric cars and the trains become electric bullet trains.
4.17.2009 2:31am
Tritium (mail):
It still seems odd to me that you don't hear any politician question all the tree cutting. If you want to reduce CO2, Trees have been fairly effective, as if it was planned that way.

But if people wish to reduce their electric bill, why not hook up an exercise bike to a car altenator that can charge one of the long term batteries (normally charged by Solar Panels) with AC Power Converter to power their homes. Excellent for those pesky power outages, and could help americans get in shape a bit more, and if you have money sitting around, consider opening a Gym and let people pay you to power your home.

Did you know that since they started measuring the magnetic field of the earth in 1856, the field strength has been decreasing year after year? It makes me wonder if all the power lines we have all over the earth, if it could be attributing to the weakness.
4.17.2009 3:54am
Brett A. (mail):
If I remember right, a lot of this has to do with the fact that the federal government can't "eminent domain" any prime land in question for power plants/renewable energy sources, which is set up for what is probably a good reason involving local control.

That means that everything is a local battle with the local NIMBY crowd plus any environmentalist groups. Instead, we get to rely on coal and so forth.
4.17.2009 12:34pm
This IEEE Spectrum article?
Can Wind Energy Continue Double-Digit Growth?
The first draft of that ­analysis, issued in November, found that in some cases for every 100 megawatts of wind power, you need 100 MW of fossil, nuclear, or hydroelectric as a backup. But in general, the analysis argues, reserves can be much lower where there’s ready access to a large electricity grid. Much depends, therefore, on the size of the region studied.

Europe’s grid operators bet they can prevent most of the wind-related overloads by adjusting their control schemes and further limiting power trades, while a pair of new 380-kilovolt transmission lines in northeastern Germany expected on line in 2009 will prevent the rest. Until then, operators say they might be forced to shut down some wind farms when the wind blows strong.
4.17.2009 5:19pm

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