Compounding the Problems with Renewable Energy

No matter what form, energy production has costs. From a fire to a coal-burning power plant, bad accompanies the good. It’s a fact of life. The costs are unique to the form of energy. Renewable energy sources are no exception.

All Lives Matter

Unfortunately, wildlife is often the causality. I wrote about this earlier when I discussed the varying reports of bird losses associated with the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System and wind turbines overall.

The numbers are staggering. With the former, estimates put the losses at 28,000 birds—for one plant. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that wind turbines take upward of 440,000 birds per year. These figures use present-day capacity.

Putting It in Perspective

According to the US Energy Information Administration, coal provided about 39 percent of the electricity in 2014. Natural gas came in next at 27 percent, followed by nuclear power at 20 percent. Renewable energy sources made up the balance at 13 percent.

Of that number, wind energy fueled 4 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. Solar power provided less than one percent. Despite what the popular media would have you believe, renewable energy lags well behind fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Many tout wind power as the renewable of choice, citing its potential. Let’s look at what that means for wildlife. First, let’s set aside solar energy effects for the moment. Second, let’s assume that fossil fuels and nuclear won’t go away forever. Finally, let’s consider the bold move of 75 percent of our electricity from wind turbines.

If you crunch the numbers, you’ll see that this figure is 18.75 times the wind energy we get now. Assuming present-day technology and its foibles, we’re talking upward of 8,250,000 birds killed per year by turbines. How long do you think bird populations will survive with those losses?

The Takeaway Message

My point is not to trash renewable energy sources. I, for one, think we should explore nuclear energy again. What I am suggesting is the red flags are there and waving furiously. We need to re-examine our current technology to examine these issues.

Remember, one of the ecological risks of climate change is a loss of biodiversity. Losing over 8 million birds a year would have an impact. To put it into further perspective, current annual bird losses from wind turbines are twice that of the Exxon-Valdez spill and the Deepwater Horizon disaster—combined. And that’s not the only consequence.

While bees have received much of the attention, birds are also major pollinators. They are important seed dispersal agents too. Bird losses, therefore, can have far-reaching effects. These impacts don’t even consider the consequences on bat populations. Before we get too excited about wind energy, let’s consider what’s on the line. Chris DR

photo credit: _MG_8631-16.jpg via photopin (license)

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