Renewable energy can have adverse environmental effects too

Renewable energy requires massive installations, usually in remote or desert areas, of wind and solar farms. Such projects often spread over thousands of acres and invariably will have at least some adverse environmental impact. Deserts are fragile places. Ecosystems can be easily upset. Species like the desert tortoise are threatened by such developments. Plus, Native Americans often consider such lands important, if not sacred, to them.

Construction of gigantic wind and solar power plants is enormously disruptive to the habitat, as endless convoys of large trucks ferry equipment and supplies into the area. Wind power has additional problems, with some objecting to the constant noise. Plus, the turbines can be hazardous to birds.

California has several huge solar projects planned for deserts. Native American groups are trying to block or change them, saying they weren’t properly consulted and are concerned that geoglyphs could be destroyed. Yet the reaction of many mainstream environmentalists is to brush such criticism aside. Johanna Wald of the National Defense Resource Counsel (NDRC) says “There’s no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs. To get energy, we need to do things that will have impacts.” Yet the NDRC is steadfastly opposed to building new coal, gas, or nuclear plants, often because of the very same environmental impact concerns.

Kenneth Zweibel, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute, agrees with Wald’s decidedly environmentally-unfriendly sentiment saying

“Something you are trying to protect is being changed, but it’s helping so much in terms of climate change, energy self-sufficiency and clean energy; it’s a sacrifice that’s appropriate to take.”

Ah, but he’s not the one making the sacrifice, is he? “We all have the strength to bear the misfortunes of others” especially when, in the parlance of Wall Street, one is talking their own book (praising stocks they own).

“The irony is, in the name of saving the planet; we’re casting aside 30 or 40 years of environmental law. It’s really a type of frenzy” says a solar analyst at an investment bank. This is made even more ironic because mainstream environmental groups are the ones pushing to ignore the environmental laws while an investment bank has become concerned. While the result of big wind and solar is renewable energy, this does not mean that safeguards should be ignored in a mad rush to go to clean energy.

One of the stalwarts of renewable energy for decades has been hydropower. Once constructed, big hydro projects have generally been considered to be environmentally friendly (The actual construction of course has serious environmental impact.) Yet it is becoming clear that big hydro has major adverse impacts after construction, and this is something no one predicted. At both the immense Guri dam in Venezuela and at the even larger Three Gorges dam in China, it is now clear that these dams have changed the weather, creating droughts. This means far less power is created than originally estimated. The dams also cause massive landslides and even earthquakes.

Yes, we need renewable energy and lots of it. But in the rush to install solar and wind on tens of thousands of acres of California desert, no one seems to be thinking about the long-term aggregate effect of such projects. No one thought big hydro would change the weather, but it does.

Will these projects have unforeseen effects in California deserts too?

(crossposted from CAIVN)

  • In this we see perhaps the premier tenet of the jew/christion/muslim cult of male domination – that man holds “dominion” over nature. That we own it, and that we can “fix” it.

    We cannot repair what we have done, we must adapt. Or die.

    • And I doubt a state like California could go full renewable. The resources just aren’t there for the size of the population. Scotland is doing it, but they are blessed with a small country with huge amounts of wind, wave, and hydro power.

  • woody

    I agree to some extent, in that local natives should have a say in how and where things go. It may involve changing the location, or the shape, or the density of an energy farm. But I think in the end there’s a way to make both sides happy.

    Citing hydro is a bad example though, as we *knew* what most of the side effects would be before we even started construction. Anyone who can’t predict that damning water, teaming with life, and straining it through metal fans won’t cause problems needs their head examined. Yes, anything we do has unseen effects that we can not predict. But most of this tech has evolved already to avoid the major issues.

    One key example is the myth that wind towers kill birds. That was true (more for bats than birds) with the generation one wind turbines. There are dozens of new designs now though that not only are safe for birds (and bats), but have smaller foot prints and higher energy output to boot.

    Yes, companies need to do their homework to find these solutions. And yes, the environmental groups should be pushing for that. I’m happy at least that someone is, even if it is banks doing it. 😛

    In the end though, I’d rather have to move a tortoise to another area to put up a solar farm than have the animal die from mercury poisoning because we keep burning coal down the road instead.

  • DJ

    In an economy that requires waste to keep it afloat, when 70-75% of all the energy generated gets wasted, the premise of meeting our current needs with alternative energy is absurd. It’s just more consumerism – an extension of the problem. Conservation MUST be our primary energy policy – but that means a whole new economic outlook, which no politician seeking re-election could stomach.

    With apologies to Ten Bears, the Bible condemns environmental destruction:

    The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. –Leviticus 25:23-24

    I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. –Jeremiah 2:7 (after which, according to the Bible, the Lord destroyed the nation of Judah and sent its inhabitants into exile.)

    The word commonly translated as “rule” – as in “let [mankind] rule over the earth” – inherently includes responsibility, meaning stewardship rather than domination. This was a people that had (in their own understanding) not long before escaped slavery in a foreign land, and they instituted one of the earliest primitive democracies in which the purpose of government was to meet the needs of the people, not to enrich itself. Of course, power corrupted then as now, and after 200 years or so the democracy became a kingship. The Biblical kings raped the land and its inhabitants just like any other central government, while their own prophets condemned them for it.

    So-called Christianity that counsels consumerism is not Christianity at all, any more than Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, or Christianity that permits the killing of innocent civilians are representative of their core teachings. They are all twisted doctrines developed for political and economic convenience and control. They justify fulfillment of our endless needs at others’ expense. That’s not a religious doctrine at all, it’s the politics of imperialism heinously cloaked in a false claim of deity.

    • I’m cool with that. Thank you for clarifying what I so poorly alluded to.

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