President Obama has promised that the United States will embrace renewable energy in the form of wind, solar and nuclear, as well as clean coal technologies. Experts relate that these forms of green energy reduce carbon emissions in the air, providing a better environment for man, beast and plant, and help eliminate our dependency on foreign oils. However, studies by environmental groups, the same groups that lobbied for renewable energy, are finding that renewable energy may be more damaging to the environment than initially thought.
Climate legislation (cap and trade), was passed by the House of Representatives in order to help with carbon emissions. However, this has changed from its original intent, as many bills do, into a mode for raising revenues through the selling of carbon dioxide emission allowances. Reportedly, this bill, (which requires 20% of our electricity to come from wind and solar by the year 2020), gives huge subsidies to renewable energy sources for the creation of jobs.
Recent plans to build solar collectors in a 1,000 square mile area covering Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, California, Colorado, and Utah, for the purpose of generating electricity, were revealed by the secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar. He has also alluded to the idea of getting 20% of all electricity from the wind. This would require the building of approximately 180,000 wind turbines, which are 50-stories high. These solar panels and wind turbines can use up a lot of land.
A paper entitled “Energy Sprawl or Energy Efficiency: Climate Policy Impacts on Natural Habitat for the United States of American,” published by The Nature Conservancy reports that land needed for nuclear energy requires only one square mile to produce enough electricity for approximately 90,000 homes. For that same amount of homes, natural gas needs eight square miles, geothermal only requires three, ethanol and biodiesel requires 500, coal needs four, petroleum needs 18, solar takes up six, and wind farms need 30 square miles.
The same amount of electricity (35,000 megawatts) produced by the 1,000 square miles that Mr. Salazar is proposing, could be produced by 30 new nuclear reactors on existing nuclear sites.
Renewable energy sources counter these findings by stating that solar collectors can be installed in wastelands or desert areas. This is also misleading as it takes thousands of gallons of water to cool the solar collectors, plus the water needed to give them the required once a month washing. Californians in the San Fernando Valley have had the water turned off to their fields because it is needed to protect a small fish, which is near extinction. Even if water is pumped to the desert areas to maintain solar collectors, do we possibly want to be faced with a future choice someday, of either water or electricity?
Another area of concern with environmental and naturalist groups is the killing of birds by wind turbines. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects many birds and imposes fines and jail time on anyone harming birds either knowingly or unknowingly. ExxonMobil was recently fined $600,000 for killing 85 birds due to uncovered crude oil tanks and wastewater facilities. PacifiCorp of Oregon (an electric company), paid $1.4 million in fines for the electrocution of over 200 eagles, due to poorly-designed power lines, in Wyoming over a two-year span. However, a 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency found that approximately 10,000 birds have been killed by the wind turbines located on wind farms in Altamont Pass, California. Of these, 80 golden eagles are killed yearly.
Based on the Alameda County study, these wind turbines killed 100 times more birds than ExxonMobil. The difference between ExxonMobil, PacifiCorp, and other such companies in relation to the Altamont Pass Wind Farm is that no prosecution or fines have ever been imposed for the wind turbine killing of birds protected by the 1918 act. Careful records of how many birds have been killed by wind turbines have been kept by biologists since the middle of the 1990’s. Estimated numbers kept by Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates the number of birds killed by wind turbines to be between 75,000 and 250,000.
The American Wind Energy Association reports that for every megawatt of wind-power, between one and six birds are killed. There were approximately 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines in the United States in 2008, giving us a total of 150,000 birds killed, if we go with the number of six killed.
The only defense that the American Wind Energy Association gives is that more birds are killed by human activities and structures, such as birds being hit by vehicles, bird flying into buildings or cats killing birds. However, owners of cars and building, as well as cats, are not being fined thousands of dollars like ExxonMobil or PacifiCorp.
Companies like ExxonMobil fixed their problem of bird deaths by covering tanks and wastewater ponds with special netting to keep birds out. As well as PacifiCorp installing special power lines. There is no easy fix to protect our national bird from wind farms, as there is no prosecution or fines for these companies, which would prompt them to remedy this wrong.
Wind turbines not only threaten birds but other wildlife as well. In Kansas, a place being considered for wind farms, the native prairie (habitat for the prairie chicken, among others), wildlife refuges and nature preserves are all threatened by wind turbines.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, Nature.org, American Wind Energy Association