In a recent article in Bloomberg Business, Naureen Malik described how wind power helped make up for lost electricity production in New York state when a nuclear power plant was partially shut down.
A nuclear reactor that supplies Manhattan unexpectedly went offline Monday night, though you wouldn’t know it to look at power prices.
The article implies that clean wind energy generation substituted for dirty fossil fuel and nuclear energy production, and, as an extra added attraction, turned out to be cheaper. This conclusion is tempered a bit by the admission toward the end of the article that natural gas power plants were also brought on line to take up the slack.
Promises of a solar and wind energy future with energy consumption just like today cast a deceptive glow on the horizon, as renewable energy sources require fossil fuel subsidies, since they are produced (mined, transported, forged, manufactured, assembled, transported, installed, maintained, dismantled and recycled) using fossil fuels. We can’t produce renewable energy technology using only renewable energy sources. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own renewable bootstraps.
Nevertheless, energy companies are erecting thousands of acres of wind farms on ridge tops around the world, papering desert floors with solar panel arrays, and constructing huge centralized solar mirror arrays in attempts to concentrate solar and wind energy so it can be distributed and sold in the existing electricity grid. This is being touted as the solution to Global Warming, claiming that this will produce fewer CO2 emissions than oil, coal, and natural gas.
While it remains to be seen if solar and wind can replace all fossil fuels, it is abundantly clear that wind and solar technologies also bring with them their own unique environmental consequences.
Wind turbines are hell on birds and bats, especially raptors that have floated serenely for centuries in the same windy places now sought out by wind turbine installers, and for the same reason: abundant, reliable energy from the wind.
Wind turbines are shockingly noisy, as my wife and I discovered while hiking in the hills above Livermore, California, home to an extensive array of large wind turbines. We began hearing the sound before we topped a ridge, with nothing in sight to explain the noise and vibration. As we walked over the top , we saw the turbine blades spinning above the ridge and realized the sound we had been hearing from over a quarter mile away on the other side of the ridge was from a wind farm. In addition, the previously undeveloped ridge slopes had been carved and graded with a series of roads for the installation and continuing maintenance of the turbines.
Solar panels don’t have turbine blades, but they do require vast swaths of previously undeveloped land for their installation, access roads and chain link fencing to keep out all the critters that were displaced in the solar installation.
Solar mirror arrays concentrate the energy of sunlight into a tight fiery beam that hits a target and heats a liquid medium that is used to generate electricity. Any hapless flying creatures that enter the invisible beam are burned to a crisp instantly.
The benign image of renewable green energy resources depicted behind a herd of deer or antelope is belied by the reality of their destructive impacts on the natural habitat they occupy.
The truth is, there’s no free lunch, there’s not even a relatively inexpensive snack. Producing and consuming energy, even renewable energy, results in destruction of natural habitats, toxic waste production, the death, disruption and displacement of wildlife, and challenges to the health and safety of humans.
In a world of finite resources, any unlimited growth and development causes more problems than benefits for all of life on the planet.