24 Aug 2015: Opinion

In Clash of Greens, a Case for
Large-Scale U.S. Solar Projects

Weaning the U.S. economy off fossil fuels will involve the wide deployment of utility-scale solar power. But for that to happen, the environmental community must resolve its conflict between clean energy advocates and those who regard solar farms as blights on the landscape.

by philip warburg

If the United States and the world community hope to avoid the worst effects of climate change, solar power will have to play a pivotal role in electricity production. The technology is quickly maturing, and the price of solar panels has plummeted to the point where new utility-scale solar installations are a sound investment, cheaper than new coal plants and frequently competitive with natural gas. In 2014, solar power accounted for almost a third of all new U.S. electric generating capacity. If the right policies are adopted, solar power could be the leading source of electricity worldwide by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.

As the adoption of solar power goes mainstream, the challenge now is finding enough space to harness the sun’s energy. For solar power to cut
California Valley Solar Ranch
Bechtel Corporation
SunPower's California Valley Solar Ranch includes 12,000 acres of conservation land.
substantially into our reliance on fossil fuels, major solar projects will have to be built on a noticeable portion of the landscape. There will inevitably be environmental impacts. Already, large-scale solar projects have created unexpected and unsettling fault lines within the American environmental movement — conflicts that will have to be resolved with creativity and compromise if we are to wean ourselves off fossil fuels.

In one camp are those who see solar power as a noble use of our non-urban land, even if that means encroaching on farms and natural areas. The alternative, they say, is runaway global warming caused by the continued burning of carbon-based fuels — a far worse outcome than the construction of industrial-scale solar projects. This group makes the same argument for the widespread deployment of wind turbines.

Others see sprawling solar projects as blights on the landscape and threats to wildlife. Their concerns about protecting vulnerable species and natural open spaces have deep roots in the American conservation
To supply all of America’s electricity from the sun, solar installations would have to occupy 0.6 percent of total land area.
movement, and they cannot be discounted. But the danger is that they underestimate the devastation likely to be caused by climate change and overestimate the energy that can be generated from solar panels on rooftops and on smaller parcels of urban and industrial land.

The United States is blessed with a vast reservoir of open spaces, but we are also burdened by an ideological and aesthetic aversion to seeing those open spaces encroached upon. In Europe, clean energy proponents tend to encounter a more pragmatic public response that allows for integrating wind farms and solar fields into landscapes that have often been affected by human activities for centuries or even millennia. Widespread acceptance of offshore wind farms across much of Northern Europe reflects this more tolerant regard for large-scale renewable energy facilities, in contrast to the diehard resistance that U.S. offshore wind proposals have encountered.

To supply all of America’s electricity from the sun, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that solar installations would have to occupy about 0.6 percent of the country’s total land area. That’s equivalent to less than 2 percent of U.S. land now in crop production, but it’s still a big stretch of terrain, almost the size of West Virginia. While this is far more solar than a balanced renewable energy economy would require, it is a useful gauge of solar power’s land needs.

Roughly a fifth of our total power supply could come from rooftop solar arrays, NREL says. Additional solar electricity can be tapped at “brownfield” sites — abandoned and often-polluted industrial properties that are not suitable for residential or commercial use. Brownfield solar projects are being developed in many parts of the country, but these sites are often costly to convert and have a hard time competing with larger solar projects on less encumbered lands.

Construction of utility-scale solar facilities has soared since 2010, accounting for almost two-thirds of all newly installed photovoltaic capacity in 2014. A big reason for this is the much lower cost of building these projects: In the first quarter of 2015, utility-scale power plants based
One key step is to favor farmland over undeveloped open spaces when siting large solar projects.
on photovoltaics (PV) cost less than half as much per installed watt as residential rooftop PV, and 29 percent less than solar power installed on commercial buildings.

But unless Congress extends the federal investment tax credit for solar power beyond 2016, commercial and utility-scale projects that now enjoy a 30 percent credit will face a much lower 10 percent credit, and the residential solar tax credit will be eliminated entirely. Under those circumstances, utility-scale solar power may have a tough time competing with new natural gas plants, though the cost advantage of utility-scale solar projects over smaller installations is likely to persist.

As its advocates note, solar power produces none of the climate-altering carbon emissions or health-endangering air pollutants of coal or natural gas, and none of the hazards associated with nuclear power. Utility-scale solar projects do, however, occupy hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of acres. Fortunately, recent experience demonstrates that large-scale solar power can be developed in a manner that minimizes damage to the environment.

One important step is to favor farmland over undeveloped open spaces when siting large solar projects. No agricultural area may be better suited than California’s drought-stricken Central Valley. Building big solar projects there could be a double win, amping up the state’s supply of renewable energy while introducing a dry energy crop in place of the water-hungry cotton fields and sod plantations that farmers no longer have enough water to irrigate.

There are many other parts of the country where photovoltaic panels may be the highest and best use of agricultural land, especially on fields that lie fallow or depend on government support to remain in cultivation. Large solar projects have already been built on farmland in states as varied as
If done right, solar development can address habitat protection and wildlife concerns.
Arizona, Minnesota, and North Carolina.

In some states, the same not-in-my-backyard reaction that has stymied a number of wind farm proposals is now plaguing solar energy developers. Upscale suburbanites in Bedminster, New Jersey, are waging a war of attrition against a solar plant that has been proposed for a moribund farm near their homes. Photovoltaic arrays will be a visual blight on a cherished agrarian landscape, some residents claim. The Bedminster parcel was long ago rezoned for ten-acre country mansions, which neighbors have declared they would rather look at than a solar plant — despite the developer’s claims that the proposed solar arrays would be screened by a grassy berm and natural foliage. While visual aesthetics have fueled this particular battle, New Jersey’s strong farmland preservation policy is likely to deter the widespread adoption of solar power in other, more actively farmed parts of the state.

Tensions can run equally high when solar projects are proposed for natural areas, such as the patch of New Jersey forest where Six Flags Great Adventure has sought to build a solar farm. Those who object to this 90-acre project apparently give little thought to the 1.4 million acres of mountains and forests that mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia will have destroyed by 2020. They are focused on concerns closer to home.

But solutions to the green energy/land conservation conflict can be found. In a number of places, solar developers have anticipated conservationists’ concerns by paying meticulous attention to wildlife and habitat protection. The Moapa Band of Paiutes, in southern Nevada, set a strong example when the tribe created a separate, 6,000-acre conservation area for 75 desert tortoises found on a 2,000-acre site it had selected for solar development. This 250-megawatt project, slated for completion in June 2016, will sell its output to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, supplying the electricity needs of 100,000 households. Today the tribe is well along with the planning of a second solar plant on a slightly smaller scale.

San Jose-based SunPower has been similarly vigilant in developing its California Valley Solar Ranch on the semi-arid Carrizo Plain, sometimes referred to as California’s Serengeti. San Luis Obispo County officials and a trio of national environmental organizations negotiated a rigorous set of environmental safeguards for the project. Before construction began,
Green energy advocates hadn’t counted on friendly fire from traditional allies in the conservation community.
biologists hired by SunPower created new dens for the San Joaquin kit fox, temporary “condos” for giant kangaroo rats, and wildlife corridors allowing pronghorn and Tule elk to pass easily through the solar fields. Solar arrays sit on 1,400 acres of land, producing enough power for 100,000 homes, and 12,000 additional acres have been set aside for conservation in perpetuity.

Thanks to the California Valley Solar Ranch and many other plants generating power from solar, wind, geothermal, and other qualifying sources under the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, roughly a quarter of California’s retail electricity today comes from renewable energy. Under state law, investor-owned utilities and other electric service providers must supply 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020, and if Governor Jerry Brown has his way, half of California’s electricity will come from renewable energy by 2030.

To meet this ambitious goal, diverse groups are now debating the governor’s Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which would devote roughly 177,000 acres of farmland and open spaces to clean energy projects and related transmission. Under the same plan, large stretches of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts would be dedicated to conservation and recreation. This is just the kind of innovative problem-solving with public

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participation that can advance renewable energy on a large scale while protecting the environment.

Green energy advocates may have thought their most formidable foes would be defenders of the fossil fuel status quo. They hadn’t counted on so much friendly fire from traditional allies in the conservation community. But projects like the Moapa Paiute installation and the California Valley Solar Ranch show that, done right, solar development can address habitat protection and wildlife concerns.

The truth, however, is that clean energy is not without costs, and decarbonizing our energy supply involves making tough choices. Wide swaths of terrain will be needed if we are to capture the sun’s vast energy potential. Figuring out a responsible way to install renewable energy projects on that land is vastly preferable to the alternative — a world under siege from climate change.



POSTED ON 24 Aug 2015 IN Biodiversity Biodiversity Energy Forests Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Africa Central & South America North America 

COMMENTS


"The United States is blessed with a vast reservoir of open spaces, but we are also burdened by an ideological and aesthetic aversion to seeing those open spaces encroached upon."

Indeed. Some of us are "burdened" by a crazy desire to not sacrifice the delicate biodiversity of the California desert for the sake of mindless consumption and the enduring benefit of Eastern eggheads.

Warburg dismisses rooftop distributed generation with a few utterly unsupported keystrokes, while telling us we defenders of our disappearing deserts just need to suck it up, take one for the team.

He undoubtedly decries the destruction of other intensely biodiverse habitats, like the Amazon rainforest. But hey, a desert's a desert, right? What do a few hundred thousand acres of perceived wasteland matter? Get out of the way, you bighorn sheep and desert tortoises. We need the energy so that we can consume our way to oblivion.
Posted by Bob Howells on 24 Aug 2015


New York city is blessed with a vast reservoir of open space called Central Park. Put solar panels in that "wasted space" before you put them in the open wild deserts of the west.

Why should the ecosystem I love so much (as much as New Yorkers love Central Park), be sacrificed for you energy guzzlers on the east coast? Put solar on your house and place of business before you strip wild lands for a solar farm hundreds of miles from the energy users, so you can run air conditioning in office buildings 365 days a year.
Posted by Jennifer Bell on 24 Aug 2015


As Mr. Warburg lectures the American West about sacrificing for the greater good (his), he would do well to read this piece, titled "It's Time to Shout 'Stop' on This War on the Living World":
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/oct/01/george-monbiot-war-on-the-living-world-wildlife

"There is no alternative — we must keep marching over the cliff. Anyone who challenges it is either ignored or excoriated. And the beneficiaries? Well, they are also the biggest consumers, using their spectacular wealth to exert impacts thousands of times greater than most people achieve."

Warburg's "damn the desert, full speed ahead" attitude is part of the problem, not the solution.
Posted by Bart Scrivener on 24 Aug 2015


There are too many roof tops and other opportunities for solar panels in urban areas where the power is needed - solar roadways and parking lots are now an option as well - remote, large-sale solar development cannot be justified - if you plow under the desert for this stuff, you cause great damage (to the land, habitat, and also luring birds in because they think its water . . . The Ivanpah facility in the Mojave Desert kills several birds daily - they fly in bc they thinks its water, and are cooked to death in the heat before they even get to the ground. O yea, and it doesn't produce near the energy that was promised). And then the power has to be transmitted over great distances -- all transmission lines are inefficient, losing power as it is "wheeled" over distances, and transmission lines cause great damage all by themselves, fragmenting habitat and providing/inviting use and abuse by OHVs, which results in even greater damage spidering out from these lines - I could go on . . . Sorry Yale Guy, your arguments are not persuasive and we don't appreciate your condescending tone, or notion that we should sacrifice our space and quality of life "for the greater good" aka energy generated for people far away when they have appropriate and more efficient spaces for this power source.

Posted by C. Doyle on 24 Aug 2015


Has anyone done an energy audit on utility-scale solar installations? How much carbon is emitted in their construction? And what of the availability of the necessary rare earth minerals and the ecological effects of mining them? All of which is to agree with Warburg when he says that clean energy is not without costs, but to also point out he is omitting a lot of them.
Posted by Murray Reiss on 24 Aug 2015


So terribly disappointing that this article evades any discussion of top-priority energy conservation. You are not going to plaster my desert with solar panels. Try rooftop solar in Los Angeles and turning off the high-rise lighting at night.

Utility-scale solar is bunk — California could easily be powered by rooftop generation if we got out of the way of our politicians and the public utilities who fund them. Follow the money trail, people, and quit blaming well-researched "environmentalists" for the lack of renewable energy progress. Hold your elected officials responsible for destroying our world-renowned deserts when better and more logical options exist (such as placing panels where the energy will be used, not tens of miles away).
Posted by Michael Gordon on 25 Aug 2015


I agree with readers of this article who stress the importance of developing solar power on our rooftops and in other built-up areas. My book, Harness the Sun, opens with four chapters that look carefully at these opportunities, ranging from private homes, commercial buildings and warehouse rooftops to landfills and other brownfield sites well-suited to solar development.

At the same time, utility-scale solar projects outside our built environment offer huge clean energy gains that we would be foolish to ignore. In studies that compare the life-cycle carbon emissions (from manufacturing through decommissioning) of utility-scale photovoltaic projects to coal and gas plants, solar comes in way below either of those sources. Yet solar power by no means gives its users, or the planet, a free ride. A chapter of my book called “Cradle to Grave” examines the full sweep of solar’s resource demands, including the challenge we will eventually face in managing huge quantities of solar waste once panels and other equipment reach the end of their useful lives.

In making utility-scale solar part of an ambitious carbon reduction strategy, choosing the right sites is critical. For that reason, my article favors the use of farmland over natural open spaces, in places where it is possible to convert sufficient acreage to solar power. I cite California’s agricultural lands by way of example, but also point to other states where this is happening.

Even on already disrupted lands, care needs to be taken to protect indigenous and migratory wildlife. In the article and in greater detail in my book, I describe where this has been done quite effectively. I also grapple with unresolved issues such as the risk to birdlife posed by “flux” from concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities.

If we could generate all the power we needed from renewable sources within our cities, towns, and villages, I would be all for it. We are very far from being able to achieve that goal, however. In the meantime, if presented with the option of continuing to rely on strip-mined coal, fracked natural gas, and precariously aging nuclear plants, as opposed to renewable technologies like solar and wind, the choice to me is clear.

Posted by Philip Warburg on 25 Aug 2015


Some excellent comments here that go to the heart of the matter: why must we continue to ponder alternative energy in terms of giant, centralized systems? Must everything be subject to the mindless “utility scale” mantra as if we have to go big or go back to the Stone Age? What nonsense. Warburg and too many others present the future of alternative energy as massive or nothing. Why waste open land when we have plenty of urban cityscapes where solar could be collected and fed directly into the local market? Why must we compromise our desert landscapes to continue to feed into an inefficient and wasteful society? A root problem in all this is that the institutionalized system of power (and profit) generation is unwilling to support any local efforts except for a few paltry and mostly symbolic gestures. No one who is truly “green” could enthusiastically support the blighted and buried approach offered by Warburg and the enthusiasts. A better alternative: decentralized and appropriate (small) scale systems.
Posted by Kyle Gardner on 26 Aug 2015


The thesis that we need to convert our power
generation from coal and oil to alternative sources is
persuasive. However, removing forested lands to put
in panels is absurd. There needs to be a concerted
effort to locate panels on brownfields (generally
closer to the end user than the California desert) and
perhaps in some of the spoil areas already destroyed
by the coal companies. Work on the low hanging fruit
first.
Posted by Eric Snyder on 27 Aug 2015


I agree with the author, Phillip Warburg - we so
badly need to get off fossil fuels that large central
station PV must be part of the solution. But I need
to add a few more thoughts.
1. Solar thermal seems to have lost the battle
with PV, despite its ability to add significant
amounts of storage the cost differential keeps
increasing. Birds will be safe.
2) There is no discussion in this article about
the much-needed energy storage when we can no
longer use natural gas. The only alternatives are
batteries or other electrical storage - or some form
of dispatchable renewables. By far the largest such
potential is biomass. We need to be growing much
more.
3) There is also no discussion here of the huge
looming need for carbon dioxide removal (CDR).
Again the best option I see is from biomass -
through biochar. Neither wind nor solar can
remove atmospheric carbon anywhere near as
cheaply as can biomass/biochar. With attention we
can be doubling our annual biomass production,
with healthier farms and forests. Land underneath
solar panels can also still grow significant amounts
of biomass - and there seems to be zero R&D on
that topic. There are many plants that die with
direct sunlight.

Ron
Posted by Ronal Larson on 27 Aug 2015


Author Warburg is on the right track. There are no
silver bullets to significantly reduce Clean Air Act
emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, use of water
and use of energy. We need everything in the
clean energy arsenal which includes energy
efficiency of every stripe including insulation,
smart windows, super efficient motors, geothermal
heat pumps, solar water heating and solar
daylighting, LEDs, and smart energy management
software and controls (to name a few) and every
kind of clean energy generation including
biodegradable biomass, wind, hydropower &
marine energy, geothermal, and all the types of
solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power,
and combined heat & power. Smarter electric grid,
community power & microgrid including all facets
of energy storage (both thermal and electric).
There is no clean energy option that should be
overlooked, and all must be encouraged. So none
of the comments that "dis" a clean energy
efficiency and renewable energy option should be
taken seriously if we are to maintain clean air and
clean water, addressing critical greenhouse gas
emissions reductions, and reducing our water
resource use (of which energy is the largest water
user). Scott Sklar, Adjunct Professor, The George
Washington University and Chairman of the
Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy
Coalition (Washington, DC)
Posted by Scott Sklar on 27 Aug 2015


Glad to see many sensible comments here.
I disagree with the article in the way it is framed:
as a false choice. Major improvements in
efficiency and conservation must continue to be
developed and implemented in conjunction with
solar energy production. This will reduce the total
amount of electricity that will need to be
produced.
In addition, there are smarter ways to put solar
power on "greenfields" than in virgin desert or
open space. How about all the "green" fields in
the form of expansive green lawns on corporate
campuses? Even residential lawns could be
converted to local power production. In New
Jersey, for example, some corporate campus's
have already installed solar farms. However, many
lawns still retain their pesticide-laden, short-grass
landscape that invite large flocks of Canada
geese, which in turn produce large amounts of
nitrogen-laden waste. We could solve many
environmental issues with one seed by
converting these areas to solar farms.
The German model greatly utilizes small-scale
solar in small communities for localized
production, the majority of which is rooftop.
Germany made many changes to its grid
infrastructure and passed laws in the BundesTag
to facilitate these changes.
Before converting wild open spaces to solar
farms, especially in important habitats, I would
much rather see all of the desert golf courses
converted to solar. Why not use eminent domain
in the name of a national and global crisis to
purchase these areas and develop them into
something useful instead of consuming water
and spreading pesticides?
Posted by Ross Geredien on 27 Aug 2015


It is not possible to forge a compromise or find
common ground with wildlife/open space advocates
by blithely dismissing their concerns, which is what
this article does. Warburg compares Americans
"burdened" by a love of open space unfavorably to
Europeans who have converted much more land
and water to solar power and wind farms. But then
avoids the obvious question of whether we want
the U.S. to be as polluted and bereft of wildlife as
Europe. He also fails to note that when Europeans
want to see nature they come to America, not
England or Germany.

Recent assessments demonstrate that we can get
all of our needed renewable energy from rooftops,
abandoned lots, brownfields, abandoned farms, and
other highly degraded areas. There is no reason to
destroy high quality wildlife habitat to do it. It is
odd for Warburg to cite the very conservative 20\%
estimate then endorse the status quo of trashing
natural areas rather than doing the hard, creative
political work of changing perverse incentives which
make development of public natural areas cheaper
than development of private degraded areas.

The "hard choices" we need to make are not which
public reserves to destroy. What is new about that?
Shell, Exxon, Georgia Pacific and a host of other
logging, mining, drilling and livestock corporations
have been destroying public lands and wildlife
under that banner for a 150 years. The "hard
choices" we need to make concern shifting
massively entrenched economic subsidies away
from trashing public lands and waters toward
radically new building codes, tax codes, urban
planning, efficiency standards, private land
development and technology R&D. Let's focus our
visionary thinking and political organizing in this
direction rather than accepting conservative goals,
weak standards and continuation of status quo
domination of our public lands each and every
year.

Kieran Suckling
Executive Director
Center for Biological Diversity
Posted by Kieran Suckling on 28 Aug 2015


I live near ground zero of the solar rush, and
increasingly notice the nibbling away of public and
private desert lands by Big Solar. The most
egregious is the Ivanpah Solar installation on the
CA-NV border, which I drive by frequently. This
thing never would have been built without billion
dollar federal loan guarantees linked with public
lands permitting fast track. This transferred
financial and environmental risk from the investor
class to the taxpayers and public land users.
Ivanpah Solar is now a vast, aesthetically jarring
interruption of a pristine desert landscape covering
6 square miles. Environmental planning
documents foretold these adverse impacts, but
until you actually see Ivanpah sprawled across a
formerly pristine, creosote-dotted valley with its
alien, glowing-hot 460-foot high solar power towers
and 173,000 heliostats, it is difficult to appreciate
just how profound Big Solar’s footprint can be.
Sitting back on the east coast, I doubt Mr. Warburg
appreciates the subtle beauty of the desert and the
accumulating damage Big Solar is doing in our
backyards.
Posted by Scott Page on 31 Aug 2015


In transitioning from anecdote to viable strategy,
many seem to lose sight of the critical issue of
scale. The pushback on utility-scale solar, as it has
currently been implemented, is understandable. It
is undoubtedly the case that many utility-scale
solar projects have been poorly planned and
inconsiderate of local ecological impacts. This is, in
part, due to the opportunistic way in which solar
developers site their projects. This is being
remedied as more states both by state planning
initiatives, but also by the developers themselves
as they take into account more ecological and
aesthetic concerns. But contentious opposition only
shifts those developers to other locations with less
organized, and often less wealthy, inhabitants.

But to the issue of scale - we have had the
privilege and curse in this country of being
abstracted from the impacts of our energy
consumption. Few have any sense of the immense
industrial energy apparatus that supports our
current existence. And as we shift from high-
density energy sources such as fossil fuels to low-
density energy sources such as solar and wind, we
will necessarily have to grapple with the scale of
our energy needs in new ways. This will require us
to explore the ethical dimensions of our
consumption in order to be able to fully understand
the impacts of our energy choices and guide our
decisions for how to live in the future. If we decide
to attempt to live the way we currently do, then
utility-scale renewables are an absolute necessity.
If we elect to pursue a deep conservation strategy,
then perhaps some of these can be avoided, but
probably not all of them. And if we resist the
transition to renewables altogether, then we will
ensure that less prosperous nations will suffer
most of the consequences of our choices, not only
through climate change but also the local
environmental impacts of mining and extraction. I
have always considered myself a conservationist
and an environmentalist, but we no longer have
luxury of taking the high road with our resistance
to development for any purpose under any
pretense. As the author concludes, these are hard
choices that require deep consideration of what our
priorities are and how to balance them during a
period of tremendous upheaval and promise
concerning our energy future
Posted by Chris Clement on 02 Sep 2015


...we can't tear down old hydro electric dams to resurrect salmon runs because the low carbon energy they would have produced would have saved the salmon runs anyway?

This new argument that we must promote any and all "renewable" energy projects regardless of environmental damage is a really stupid one. I hope it goes away soon.
Posted by Russ Finley on 06 Sep 2015


Another category of open land that could readily be
used for solar panels are the many acres that
necessarily surround military air bases and training
facilities, and also commercial airports (not to
mention all the flat roofs of nearby warehouses, etc.).
I understand that during the Clinton Administration
there was even an initial effort to utilize the space
around an airbase -- with the base not only generating
enough energy for itself, but enough to sell to
neighboring communities -- thus helping the budget of
the air base.
Posted by Mike MacCracken on 07 Sep 2015


"a Moribund farm" indeed, if this solar plan goes
through. Far from the concerns of "visual blight" is
the fact that this is an attack on the Master Plan of
the township of Bedminster. The zoning of this area
was upheld in Superior Court over 10 years ago.
The fact is that this land is owned by the Kirby
Trust, a trust that benefits the Kirby family with
personal assets of over $3 billion. This is about
MONEY not saving the world from global warming.
The property benefiting this project, Sanofi's US
Headquarters is almost a mile away. Sanofi's
campus has more than enough open space and roof
tops to accommodate its solar electric needs, it's
just more less expensive to cover open farmland.
NJ, the most densely populated state in the country,
has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve
it's precious open space. To cover it with solar
panels is just wrong.

Posted by John Samtak on 02 Oct 2015


The comment about strip mining coal reminded me
that significant mining of metals is required to
produce the materials that go into renewable
technology. These mines are blights on the landscape
and usually in poor countries where livelihoods are
lost as a result and human rights abuses occur. There
are many other issues: the manufacturing process of
solar and wind tech has the potential to devastate
water sources due to pollution. Renewable technology
does not produce enough power to manufacture
itself, so fossil fuels are still needed. The scariest
thing for me is the mountains of eco-waste that are
about to reach extraordinary proportions as 7 billion
people start using disposable solar gadgets in a world
that is not set up to recycle them, and the problems
with the leaching of metals into watersheds via
landfills. All of which is not to say that I disagree with
the development of renewable energy sources. We
must reduce our emissions or we will not survive. But
not enough attention is being paid to how we make
renewables sustainable, nor to energy conservation
as an approach, nor to how we rein in our
consumerist mindset so that we don't add to the
problems of ecosystems struggling to adapt to the
climate change we are guaranteed to experience due
to the emissions already in the atmosphere and still
being released. If we can't discuss how to make clean
tech green, we are missing the point.
Posted by Deborah Harford on 09 Nov 2015


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philip warburgABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philip Warburg is the author of two books on renewable energy, Harness the Sun and Harvest the Wind. He was president of the Conservation Law Foundation, New England’s leading environmental advocacy group, from 2003 to 2009. Previously he directed the Israel Union for Environmental Defense in Tel Aviv, and was an attorney at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC.

 
 

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The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan may have a silver lining: It provides an opportunity for the U.S. to show other nations it has a flexible, multi-faceted approach to cutting emissions.
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With Court Action, Obama’s
Climate Policies in Jeopardy

by michael b. gerrard
The U.S. Supreme Court order blocking President Obama’s plan to cut emissions from coal-burning power plants is an unprecedented step and one of the most environmentally harmful decisions ever made by the nation’s highest court.
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Beyond the Oregon Protests:
The Search for Common Ground

by nancy langston
Thrust into the spotlight by a group of anti-government militants as a place of confrontation, the Malheur wildlife refuge is actually a highly successful example of a new collaboration in the West between local residents and the federal government.
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Beyond Keystone: Why Climate
Movement Must Keep Heat On

by bill mckibben
It took a committed coalition and the increasingly harsh reality of climate change to push President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. But sustained public pressure will now be needed to force politicians to take the next critical actions on climate.
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Rachel Carson’s Critics Keep On,
But She Told Truth About DDT

by richard conniff
More than half a century after scientist Rachel Carson warned of the dangers of overusing the pesticide DDT, conservative groups continue to vilify her and blame her for a resurgence of malaria. But DDT is still used in many countries where malaria now rages.
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Undamming Rivers: A Chance
For New Clean Energy Source

by john waldman and karin limburg
Many hydroelectric dams produce modest amounts of power yet do enormous damage to rivers and fish populations. Why not take down these aging structures, build solar farms in the drained reservoirs, and restore the natural ecology of the rivers?
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Beyond the Perfect Drought:
California’s Real Water Crisis

by glen macdonald
The record-breaking drought in California is not chiefly the result of low precipitation. Three factors – rising temperatures, groundwater depletion, and a shrinking Colorado River – mean the most populous U.S. state will face decades of water shortages and must adapt.
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Why U.S. East Coast Should
Stay Off-Limits to Oil Drilling

by carl safina
It’s not just the potential for a catastrophic spill that makes President Obama’s proposal to open Atlantic Ocean waters to oil exploration such a bad idea. What’s worse is the cumulative impact on coastal ecosystems that an active oil industry would bring.
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Climate Consensus: Signs of
New Hope on Road to Paris

by david victor
After years of frustration and failure, a more flexible approach to reaching an international strategy on climate action is emerging – and it could finally lead to a meaningful agreement at climate talks in Paris later this year.
READ MORE


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“Alaska
An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S.
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“Battle
The 2015 Yale e360 Video Contest winner documents a Northeastern town's bitter battle over a wind farm.
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Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
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Colorado wildfires
An e360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate.
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“Tainted
A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
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