Guest post by Candace Sheppard
A day after a study was released last week about wind turbines killing more than 600,000 bats in the United States in 2012, the Environment America Research Policy Center released its second report about wind energy’s growing environmental and health benefits and the rapid rise of wind energy in the United States.
Maybe the timely release of the report was a bit of damage control. Some additional good news about renewable energy came from the group Environment New York, which asserted, in a separate report, that wind power was providing “huge environmental benefits for the state.” In its news release, the group claimed that wind energy allows New York state to offset “more than 1, 834,576 metric tons of climate-altering carbon pollution which is the equivalent of taking 382,203 cars off the road.” To put it another way, the group says recent increases in wind energy have helped New Yorkers avoid “1,724 tons of smog-causing nitrogen oxides which contributes to asthma, and 2,130 tons of sulfur dioxide which is a major component of acid rain.”
Those numbers sound impressive given that New York State, according to the report, is now the 14th windiest state in the U.S. as of 2012.
However, some context is in order. Read More
I’m often fascinated by what’s left out of environmental stories. Tim McDonnell has written a piece for Mother Jones that is picked up by the Guardian. It’s titled: “Why the U.S. still doesn’t have a single offshore wind turbine.”
There is a major omission in this section on wind opponents:
Blowback from “stakeholders”: Whale and bird lovers. Defenders of tribal lands. Fishermen. The Koch brothers. Since it was proposed in 2001, Cape Wind, a wind farm whose backers say could provide 75 percent of Cape Cod’s energy needs, has been run through a bewildering gauntlet of opponents and fought off more than a dozen lawsuits on everything from boat traffic interference to desecration of sacred sites to harming avian and marine life. Just down the seaboard another major project, Deepwater Wind, had to negotiate concerns that its turbines would throw a roadblock in the migratory pathways of endangered right whales. Alliance for Nantucket Sound, Cape Wind’s main opposition group, claims the project “threatens the marine environment and would harm the productive, traditional fisheries of Nantucket Sound.”
Of course, there’s another powerful factor at play here: NIMBYism. No one could put it better than fossil fuel magnate Bill Koch, owner of a $20 million Cape Cod beachfront estate and donor of $1.5 million to ANS: “I don’t want this in my backyard. Why would you want to sail in a forest of windmills?”
There is another famous individual who doesn’t want windmills in his backyard, either, but he is conspicuously left out of the story. Any idea who that might be? Read More
There’s a lot of teeth gnashing in green circles over the Solyndra fallout. Even if it wasn’t an election year, Republicans would be cynically milking the story for all it’s worth, and that spigot shows no sign of going dry anytime soon.
But let’s at least be honest and acknowledge that this scandal has its roots in a bipartisan culture that thrives inside the beltway.
Where do you think the actual story is headed?
I can’t remember the last time I stood in a room full of people concerned about climate change that was so full of optimism.
That would be the launch party of a new foundation devoted to promoting the advancement of thorium. Why would we want that?
The idea is to create a new generation of nuclear reactors based on the element thorium, as opposed to the uranium used to produce nuclear power today. Thorium, its advocates claim, is beneficial not only because it’s far more abundant and widely distributed in the Earth’s crust than uranium; in addition, liquid-fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs) could theoretically be much smaller, much cheaper and much safer than conventional nuclear reactors. The waste they produce would remain dangerous for a far shorter period and, crucially, couldn’t be used to create nuclear weapons. As a bonus, these fourth-generation nuclear plants could even burn up the dangerous plutonium stored in existing nuclear waste stockpiles, using it as a fuel.
So, with prospects for a global climate treaty all but dead (for the foreseeable future), which has a better chance of succeeding first: a thorium breakthrough or a true scale-up of renewables that can meet our voracious energy needs?
Here’s some straight talk on climate politics:
A facile explanation would focus on the ‘merchants of doubt’ who have managed to confuse the public about the reality of human-made climate change. The merchants play a role, to be sure, a sordid one, but they are not the main obstacle to solution of human-made climate change.
The bigger problem is that people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work. This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.
And from the same essay, some straight talk on energy:
Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.
This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. ““ maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?
Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.
Partisans in the climate concerned community are quick to badmouth or dismiss alternative policy prescriptions that–even if you disagree with these alternative options–are at least honest about the scale of the energy challenge and the geopolitical realities.
H/T: Andy Revkin
There is this assumption in environmental and climate circles that the Republican party represents (in the United States) the biggest obstacle to political progress on climate change. Recent developments certainly support this view. Since 2009, the GOP has become increasingly hostile to climate science. Republican presidential hopefuls are marching to this same Tea Party beat (even those who not that long ago sang a different tune). Last month, this prompted Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, to write that,
On climate change, the GOP is lost in never-never land.
But the narrative of Republicans thwarting action on climate change is oversimplified. There are powerful democrats who–historically and currently–have acted in ways that strike me as counter to the climate change cause.
Let’s recall, for example, why climate advocates rejoiced when Michigan Representative John Dingell (D-MI), a close ally of the automotive industry, was ousted in 2008 as head of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee.
More recently, we have the case of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who has single-handedly kept the renewable energy industry from sprouting in some of the best locations of the California desert.
Here’s the backstory. In March of 2009, as the AP reported, nineteen companies had “submitted applications to build solar or wind facilities on a parcel of 500,000 desert acres” in the Mojave desert. That same month, Feinstein wrote a letter to the Secretary of Interior (who heads the agency in charge of the federal land where the renewable energy sites would be located), saying:
While I strongly support renewable energy, it is critical that these projects move forward on public and private lands well suited for that purpose. Unfortunately, many of the sites now being considered for leases are completely inappropriate and will lead to the wholesale destruction of some of the most pristine areas in the desert…This is unacceptable. I urge you to direct the BLM to suspend any further consideration of leases to develop former railroad lands for renewable energy or for any other purpose.
Feinstein also mentioned that she was “preparing legislation to ensure the permanent protection of these lands, which were donated to the federal government for conservation.” This proved to be no idle threat. Later that year, as Todd Woody wrote in the NYT,
…Before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.
Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely.
In his piece, Woody also noted that Senator Feinstein is chair of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Interior Department, “giving her substantial clout over that agency, which manages the government’s landholdings.” Consequently, as he put it:
Her intervention in the Mojave means it will be more difficult for California utilities to achieve a goal, set by the state, of obtaining a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020; projects in the monument area could have supplied a substantial portion of that power.
Some of the big guns in the environmental and climate communities took note of Feinstein’s actions and were not pleased. This is my favorite quote in Woody’s NYT piece:
“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.
The controversy led California Governor Schwarzenegger to observe,
If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it.
In January of 2010, climate blogger Joe Romm penned a post that was headlined,
Green Talk vs green action: Sen. Feinstein’s scuttling of solar, wind projects a baffling mistake
Now let’s fast forward to May of 2011, and this article in the San Francisco Chronicle, which discusses the disparate alliance Feinstein has forged to back the bill she has introduced to Congress, which, if passed, will preserve over one million acres surrounding national parks at Death Valley and Joshua Tree and the Mojave National Preserve. Here’s the post mortem reaction from the vanquished, who have mostly withdrawn their solar and wind development applications:
“It was devastating and difficult and obviously treacherous for the industry, and not the way you would hope to start a [renewable energy] renaissance, but we’re past it now,” said [Shannon] Eddy of the Large-Scale Solar Association. “Any projects within the boundaries of her monument are considered too much of a risk right now to develop.”
Wind developer Oak Creek Energy of Oakland last month pulled the plug on a five-year effort to build a wind farm in the Castle Mountain area that Feinstein wants to add to the Mojave Preserve.
Eddy also remarked of Feinstein that, when it comes to the desert, “She’s just intense. She’s persistent. She’s very formidable.”
All of which, in the laudable aim of environmental preservation, might strike some as counterproductive to the goal of kicking the fossil fuel habit.
To sum up: Yes, on climate change, today’s Republicans are ” lost in never-never land,” as Fred Hiatt put it. And yes, from 2000-2008, we had a “drill, baby, drill” Administration that ignored climate science altogether.
But on fuel economy standards and on the budding solar and wind industry in the U.S., progress has been stifled by two Democrats.
Ironically, both Dingell and Feinstein are longtime champions of the environment.
It’s prompting the Pentagon to become less fossil fuel dependent and will likely hasten the scale up of renewable energy technologies. From Elisabeth Rosenthal’s must-read front page story in today’s NYT:
Even as Congress has struggled unsuccessfully to pass an energy bill and many states have put renewable energy on hold because of the recession, the military this year has pushed rapidly forward. After a decade of waging wars in remote corners of the globe where fuel is not readily available, senior commanders have come to see overdependence on fossil fuel as a big liability, and renewable technologies “” which have become more reliable and less expensive over the past few years “” as providing a potential answer. These new types of renewable energy now account for only a small percentage of the power used by the armed forces, but military leaders plan to rapidly expand their use over the next decade.
Why is this the best news climate change advocates have heard in an otherwise very bad week? Back to Rosenthal:
While setting national energy policy requires Congressional debates, military leaders can simply order the adoption of renewable energy. And the military has the buying power to create products and markets. That, in turn, may make renewable energy more practical and affordable for everyday uses, experts say.
National security, climate change and energy economics are convergent rationales that provide the DOD with a potentially huge institutional advantage over other energy innovators. A litre of petrol transported along highly vulnerable supply lines to Afghanistan costs an average of about $100. Enhancing the energy independence of forward-base operations in combat zones “” to save lives and money “” is thus a powerful short-term incentive for energy-technology innovation in everything from building insulation to fuel efficiency for jeeps, tanks and jets, to renewable power generation and storage. The price at which new technologies make economic and strategic sense is enormously higher than what the energy market “” or any plausible cap-and-trade or energy tax scheme “” would allow.
Maybe this classic song got it wrong, after all.
The Mojave has become a metaphor for an existential crisis in the environmental movement as it tries to balance the development of renewable energy with its traditional mission to protect ecosystems.
And some climate activists chided me for making hay out of the Mojave desert/renewable energy controversy. Looks like Romm is taking on Feinstein over this and in doing so, he’s ignited a zesty debate among his loyalists, revealing a green schism that is sure to grow wider and nastier.
Or has it already? Craig Goodrich, a new reader to this blog, decried the scourge of wind turbines in a recent comment:
The plague of industrial wind plants is utterly destroying countryside and wildlife habitat at an incredible “” and genuinely unprecidented “” rate, while producing no useful energy and reducing CO2 emissions nowhere in the world.
This struck me as a bit vague and exaggerated (the pillaging of habitat), so I asked him to provide specifics. He obliged, but all the links sent his response straight to my spam filter. So I’ve pasted his comment below for everyone to have a look-see. A disclaimer: I’ve only given these websites a cursory glance. Thus I have no way of knowing whether any of the groups mentioned below are astroturfers or legitimate grassroots organizations.
If they’re all legit, does this add up to a story the media is missing? Or does it pale in comparison to, say the mountaintop mining madness that has gone on for so long? I’m not sure, since I haven’t yet looked into this issue with any rigor. But given the renewable energy boom underway, plus the biofuels craze, this quote from one policy expert is worth pondering:
If we are to prevent serious, damaging climate change, it will require one of the largest land-use changes in the history of the country.
So without further ado, here’s Goodrich’s descriptive compilation of wind power atrocities across the globe:
OK, you asked for it:
Germany, nearly everywhere. http://wilfriedheck.de/
Denmark, ditto. Analysis at http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/wp-content/uploads/mason-2005-10.rtf
France, threatening the incredibly beautiful and historic Mont Saint-Michel. http://epaw.org/
England, all over — from vandalizing the peaceful Lakes District to offshore installations overstressing mother seals at the Yorkshire breeding grounds. http://www.countryguardian.net/
Wales — the devastation of Cefn Croes will break your heart. http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~hills/cc/gallery/index.htm
Scotland, disfiguring the Highlands — http://www.viewsofscotland.org/
… skipping for the sake of space numerous local atrocities in Eastern and Southern Europe, ignoring the mess in Spain, we cross the Atlantic to
Mars Hill, Maine — check out the video at http://www.wind-watch.org/video-marshill.php for a taste of what is going on around wild mountain ridges all across New England.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia — http://www.shol.com/agita/LookoutMountain/ — several ridges are already disfigured, and the State of Virginia is fighting plans to place a huge phalanx of turbines within a mile of the best-preserved battlefield of the Civil War, Camp Allegheny. http://www.vawind.org/ or a Pennsylvania video at http://www.wind-watch.org/video-meyersdale.php
Ontario’s beautiful Thousand Islands region on the St. Lawrence, and upstate New York across the river, is disfigured by 86 turbines on Wolfe Island — http://www.wolfeislandresidents.ca/ — which has so horrified area residents that local groups on both sides are fighting desperately (with mixed success) against any more such installations, which the lunatic Ontario government wants to see all along the eastern Lake Ontario coast.
Skipping across Michigan ( http://www.knowwind.org/ ) to my native Wisconsin, in Fond du Lac County, where I grew up, an 87-turbine plant has been installed directly adjacent to Horicon Marsh, the largest freshwater marsh in the world and a crucial stopover for migratory waterfowl. Duckburger, anyone? http://www.windcows.com/
And on and on and on. Only a recent decision by the Kansas Supreme Court saved the last remaining unspoiled tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills from being destroyed by turbine plants. In Wyoming, look for the Big Sky and you see turbine blades. In Nevada (even!), residents are fighting to save Virginia Peak ( http://aplusfirearms.com/saveourvalley.htm ).
New Zealand — http://www.tui-g.co.nz/ . Australia — http://www.spacountryguardians.org.au/truth.php — or video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_CZIfiFPwk&feature=related
And all of this for nothing. Nothing. Even granting for the sake of argument that CO2 emissions should be reduced, industrial wind turbines can’t do it, for all sorts of technical reasons which (again) I will spare you.
Each of these wretched turbine towers — picture the Statue of Liberty with a 747 pinned to her nose — costs about $2 million to erect, and will cost about $1 million to decommission. Typical landowner contracts provide that the contract becomes void if the wind developer sells the plant to another company, which they typically do instantly once the project is completed. These turbines are there forever, disintegrating and dripping industrial lubricants onto our grandchildren’s vandalized landscape.
“Criminal lunacy” is far too kind a term for this.
The controversial wind farm proposed off of Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, will have to overcome yet another hurdle, this latest one thrown up by the National Park Service, which announced yesterday that the Nantucket Sound was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s an extraordinary ruling on several levels, which should be evident by this summation in the NYT story:
Known as Cape Wind, the project is the nation’s first planned offshore wind farm and would cover 24 square miles in the sound, an area roughly the size of Manhattan. The park service decision came in response to a request from two Massachusetts Indian tribes, who said the 130 proposed wind turbines would thwart their spiritual ritual of greeting the sunrise, which requires unobstructed views across the sound, and disturb ancestral burial grounds.
Nantucket sound, which encompasses more than 500 square miles, is the largest body of water nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. As I’ve said before, climate activists who support renewable energy are going to find themselves increasingly at odds with preservationists, wildlife advocates, and green NIMBYists.
A commenter at the National Parks Traveler blog aptly sums up the emerging dynamic:
We want clean energy. We want wind farms.
Build them in the California desert and disturb the turtles?? Build them in the bay and destroy our visual??
How dare you!!
Build these wind farms – yes; but never, never, never, never, never in MY backyard.