Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone? – “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell
We’ve been told with clockwork regularity that in order to prevent a baked planet, we have to generate our electricity through renewable sources, primarily wind and solar. Set aside for now the legitimate questions about the reliability and cost of both and consider this: Do we even have enough room for the equipment necessary to produce enough power to meet the demand?
Both wind and solar power are voracious land hogs. Wind or solar can need 90 to 100 times more acreage than a natural gas plant to generate the same amount of electricity. And let’s not forget the large swaths of land that will have to be appropriated, and in heavily forested areas clear cut, to build transmission lines that connect solar and wind farms to distribution lines.
Yes, there is a lot of open land in this country on which to build wind and solar projects. But don’t think the NIMBYs are going to let the renewables sites just roll over without not just a fight but a war.
A recent report from Mass Audubon and Harvard Forest says that it’s possible that solar can grow at the same time that “the nature we have” is protected. But before they can make their case, the authors had to acknowledge:
The current trajectory of deployment of large ground-mount solar is coming at too high a cost to nature. Concerns about impacts to nature are partly responsible for erosion of public support for solar, with many communities now seeking to slow or entirely stop new ground-mount solar systems.
The point was later reiterated:
Under current siting practices, thousands of acres of forests, farms, and other carbon-rich landscapes are being converted to host large-scale solar.
And all this time the save-our-planet left has sworn its great devotion for trees – whose presence is “an amazing nanotechnology carbon-capture solution” – and bucolic farmland. Eco-activists fuss and scold over the cutting of trees to clear land for housing, commercial development, and raw materials, but apparently it’s just fine to remove trees if they’re replaced by solar panels.
In a separate post, Mass Audubon notes that “since 2010, over 5,000 acres of natural and working lands have been destroyed for solar development in Massachusetts, resulting in the emission of over half a million metric tons of CO2 – more than the annual emissions of 100,000 passenger cars.”
Again, we have a clarifying admission that should be in the headlines.
The solution offered by the report is to place solar panels on structures and use them as canopies over parking lots. But not every home and structure can support solar panels, and not everyone wants an aesthetically displeasing solar array on their house.
The authors also admit that rooftop solar systems, “which on average are smaller … involve higher ‘soft costs’ (e.g., permitting, marketing),” and while placing canopies “over parking lots is very popular with the public,” this method carries “higher average costs than most ground-mount and rooftop projects due to the additional materials and labor needed to elevate solar panels.”
Simply put, according to one Massachusetts lawmaker, “it’s cheaper at the moment to buy land, clear cut it, and put up solar.”
This being the case, the authors then – of course they do – suggest “these systems would benefit from additional incentives to be more attractive for developers,” paid for by taxpayers’ dollars.
We have a suggestion: Stop trying to impact a climate that is going to do what it’s going to do despite man’s interventions, and quit manipulating markets and people’s activities. There are more constructive things for smart people to do.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board