In the first part of this series, we showed the energy transition will follow an “all of the above” trajectory, irrespective of aspirational messages. Our conclusions are based on the inherent limitations of wind and solar low-density energy machines for generating base-load power: low-density energy machines would cover hundreds of millions of acres.
“Green jobs” for LDEMs will require massive coal and iron mining, smelting iron and forging steel. Outsourcing the “dirty jobs” of mining, smelting and forging to third-world countries is irrelevant to global CO2 emissions – it only makes the United States an environmental colonialist.
Utility-scale LDEM deployment will cause grave environmental harm. Rural communities are pushing back against LDEMs for environmental, aesthetic and social justice reasons.
Limitations of the Princeton Net Zero Report
In part 1 in the March EXPLORER, we discussed Princeton University’s Net Zero America report, an outstanding, 18-author study of five models to de-carbonize the United States by 2050.
The report does not mention environmental impact of LDEMs. Princeton’s report and Bloomberg’s coverage of it are excellent at showing the magnitude of LDEMs required for net zero by 2050. But both include some eco-gaslighting. Areas for nuclear power include foreign uranium mines and areas for oil and gas include frac’ sand mines (see figure 1). But areas for wind and solar do not include the required copper, iron and coal mines, which Bloomberg admits are significant.
Environmental and Health Impacts of Wind LDEMs
According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife report, LDEMs kill more than 250,000 birds per year. Wind industry apologists rightly point out that this study shows cats kill nine times more birds than wind turbines do. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife generated these numbers in 2017 when there were only 50,000 wind turbines. With 2 million wind turbines, the number of birds killed by turbines will be 40 times greater (and five times more than killed by cats) just by simple math.
But the harm will not be linear when scaled up. Per Princeton’s report, wind turbines would be dominantly cited along migratory bird corridors in the Mississippi Valley, along the offshore East Coast (figures 2 and 3). Noted environmentalist Michael Shellenberger said the Environmental Defense Fund repeats wind industry misinformation that “technology” will somehow solve this problem. No new technology can change bird migratory paths.
The Associated Press reports wind industry lobbyists had the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act loosened (effectively repealed). Turbine operators can legally kill up to 4,200 bald eagles per year. Department of Fish and Wildlife extended the effective period of eagle kill permits from five years to 30 years. The wind industry is allowed to count the birds killed by turbines, with no outside auditors, in every state except Hawaii.
Birds aren’t the only winged creatures menaced by wind turbines, though.
Scientists warned in the journal Biological Conversations in 2017 that the hoary bat could go extinct from the expansion of wind farms.
Wind corridors make places good for turbines. Migratory insects use wind corridors for efficiency. A study in Oklahoma shows that the highest density of insects is 150 to 250 meters above the ground, which is about the same height as wind turbine blades. A study in Germany found 1.2 trillion insects per year killed by wind turbines. Monarch butterflies are a migratory insect. Compare the monarch’s migration pattern with Princeton’s map for wind turbines in Texas (figure 4).
Whales are sensitive to noise pollution. In 2009, Scientific American reported that underwater sonar could lead to injury and death in whales and other marine life. Right whales migrate up the Eastern Seaboard, where the proposed offshore wind power plants would be located (figure 1). Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit opposing offshore wind turbines because their noise pollution will impact the endangered North Atlantic right whales. Only 400 right whales remain.
And whales aren’t the only mammals adversely affected by noise pollution. In 2013, the French Academy of Medicine declared wind farms a health nuisance for humans because of the continuous piercing sound of the turbine. In October 2018, the World Health Organization declared wind turbine noise a health hazard and set limits. WHO found that chronic noise contributes to cardiovascular disease, lack of sleep, hearing loss, tinnitus, and increased changes in blood pressure and heart health.
The Dark Side of Solar Power
Almost all solar power plants in the United States require clear-cutting of trees and bulldozing the topsoil before installation of solar panels. This “strip mining for solar” removes the biosphere: it kills fauna and flora and destroys future niches for later wildlife recovery. Examples include Topaz in California and Roserock in Texas. A proposed solar power plant in Spotsylvania, Va. would require 6,500 acres of trees to be cut down.
In his book “Apocalypse Never,” Shellenberger reports that all of the endangered desert tortoises “relocated” at Ivanpah solar power plant in the Mojave Desert died.
Biologists, environmentalists and Native American groups opposed the Soda Mountain Solar power plant in California because it cut off Desert Big Horn Sheep’s migration pathways, according to a Sept. 2015 report in the New York Times. Modifications were made, but biologists contend that it was too little.
LDEMs are pushing into semi-rural communities. Communities are pushing back. Biologists, conservation groups and community stakeholders have banded together to preserve their community aesthetics and endangered species from LDEMs. Lawsuits have increased. It took 14 years to get wind turbines approved offshore Nantucket. The 9,000-acre Battle Born Solar power plant in Nevada was recently withdrawn after intense community protests. Local NAACP President Evelyn Foxx said the Sand Bluff solar power plant in Florida will “negatively impact the African-American community.”
Electricity expert Robert Bryce published in Forbes a list of 317 rejected wind projects. We were able to quickly put together a list of both wind and solar projects that are actively opposed, litigated or defeated in table 1.
Sidestepping Stakeholder Opposition
“After a (wind or solar developer) submits a plan, government agencies and local communities take a long time to tell them all the reasons they can’t build it,” lamented Eric Larson, lead researcher for the Princeton Net Zero America study.
He advocates for an accelerated one-stop approval office for wind and solar power plants, to get around all the regulatory red tape.
The state of New York revoked local stakeholders’ rights by creating the Office of Renewable Energy Siting. The office “streamlines” the approval process for LDEMs. ORES bypasses local town halls and county zoning boards that previously had jurisdiction. The local townspeople are not happy.
Green versus Green
The environmental impact of LDEMs has led to a growing war between traditional allies. Wildlife biologists and the Audubon Society commonly oppose the Sierra Club, the Natural Resource Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund. The local chapter of the Sierra Club opposed the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility, in opposition to the national chapter’s support. The local chapter later changed its name.
Two chapters of the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Rochester Birding Society are parties to a lawsuit against ORES for approving 70 turbines south of Lake Ontario, near Rochester, in a migratory bird corridor. According to Shellenberger, the NRDC, the EDF and the Sierra Club support New York state against their former green allies.
Environmental Justice for Whom?
The group Friends of Maine’s Mountains has been fighting wind turbines for years. It has slowed or stopped wind projects across the state. Their stated motivation is “social justice.” Their community will be dug up and despoiled, their birds, bats and hawks will be killed, their rural communities will be turned into noisy industrial power plants for someone else’s power. As reported in Seattle Times in 2018, group spokesman Christopher O’Neil said, “Lots of folks in Portland with their BMWs and fine-dining restaurants are OK knowing (we) country bumpkins are getting wind turbines, just so we can have a clean, green conscience.”.