Fossil Fuel protectors to run conference opposite Sen. Reid’s National Clean Energy Conference

Next week is the 8th edition of Sen. Harry Reid’s National Clean Energy Conference (NCES 8.0).   This year the Keynote will be delivered by none other than President Obama.  The agenda is a whats-what of great clean energy ideas – rooftop solar – clean energy investment ideas – the advantages from tying energy infrastructure into the Internet – and the synergies between clean energy and energy efficiency.  There’s sure to be a few good videos come from the conference, as has been the case in the past.

The conference will be held at the Mandalay Bay hotel & casino in Las Vegas.

The Heartland Institute just sent me a press release informing me that they, along with the Nevada Libertarian Party, the Policy Research Institute, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, have organized a companion conference – the Affordable Energy Summit – which will be pushing cockamamie ideas about clean energy technologies.  Instead, their goal is to inform us that “conventional energy” is affordable and will preserve the economic health of the U.S.A. while avoiding all the horrible consequences of clean energy.

The Heartland Institute claims promoting solar and wind energy, which is what Pres. Obama’s Clean Energy Plan does, will “will inevitably cause skyrocketing electricity prices while providing little if any net environmental benefits”.  Or:

“Energy is the lifeblood of our economy. Higher energy prices have the same stifling impact on our economy as higher tax rates. The only difference between the two is people might get something back from government in return for higher tax rates,” explained Heartland Institute senior fellow James Taylor, who will speak at the conference.

“Not only do the shockingly high costs of wind and solar power punish American living standards, but they fail to produce any net environmental benefits,” Taylor added. “Wind turbines kill 1.5 million birds and bats each year and require developing vast amounts of pristine land to produce even just a small amount of electricity. Solar thermal power drains prodigious amounts of water from bone-dry deserts and concentrated solar panels incinerate thousands of birds in mid-flight. There is nothing ‘clean’ about gruesome killing spectacles and turning America’s most treasured undisturbed lands into industrial wind and solar farms.”

Before we get into dissecting these claims, let me point you to a section on this site going over the environmental cost of conventional, fossil fuel based, energy systems.  Basically – every form of fossil fuel is stuffed to the brim with carcinogenic chemicals whose consumption causes climate change and a slew of other environmental problems.  Coal consumption releases a witches brew of toxic chemicals, fracking removes water from the hydrological cycle, while injecting megatons of toxic chemicals into the earth, and on and on and on.

All the economic wonders these so-called conservatives are fighting to protect come at huge environmental costs.

Various causes of avian mortality - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_wind_power#Birds

Various causes of avian mortality – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_wind_power#Birds

If wind turbines kill birds and bats – how many animals are dying prematurely because of the fact that we’re collectively in the middle of the 6th major extinction on this planet?  Tons of birds and bats die by flying into skyscrapers.  Generally speaking, wind turbines are one of the smaller causes of premature bird kills according to a preliminary study summarized on Wikipedia.

As for the vast amount of pristine land required for wind turbines, that’s false.  Wind turbines need to be installed wherever there’s good wind, which often is land that’s otherwise unoccupied, yes.  Each wind turbine requires a small amount of space, just like each fracking well requires a small amount of space.  Further, wind turbines can co-exist with farming operations – cows or crops on the ground, with the wind turbine blades spinning away up in the air. 1  According to some back-of-the-napkin calculations at Clean Technica, wind power sufficient for 40% of America’s electricity needs would require only 36,000 acres of land.  A few years ago I’d heard Stanford Univ. Professor Mark Jacobson talk about how all the ways to power the U.S..  One data item he discussed is the land use requirements for various energy systems, and it’s wind power that uses the least amount of land primarily because wind turbine sites can easily be dual-use.

The claim that “Solar thermal power drains prodigious amounts of water from bone-dry deserts” has to do with the concentrated solar projects where, for example, a zillion mirrors focus light on a central tower.  The water is apparently used in cooling and to produce steam to run turbines.  So, yes, these plants consume water but it seems to me it’d be feasible to capture the steam and turn it back into water.  Also, doesn’t every power plant which burns something to convert water into steam to power a turbine also “consume” a prodigious amount of water?  That is, after all, the operating principle of coal or natural gas or even nuclear power plants – the heat is used to convert water into steam to drive turbines.

Concentrating solar plants are known to cause bird deaths.  The birds seem to think the mirrors are actually a lake, and by flying over the mirrors get incinerated. 2  Again, the relative amounts of bird deaths from various causes suggests there are other bird death causes which would be more fruitful avenues of wildlife protection.  For example, please come up with skyscraper glass that doesn’t delude birds into crashing into the windows.  Or require bells on the collar of every housecat.

It’s also possible that as rooftop photovoltaic systems fall in price the concentrating solar facilities will be less necessary.  Rooftop solar can fall to a low enough price to make it directly competitive against “conventional” fossil fuel energy, and therefore be installed on land that’s already occupied by buildings, not present extra risks to birds, etc.

In summary – the Heartland Institute is blowing things out of proportion while ignoring the huge problems of the incumbent fossil fuel system.

  1.  Land-Use Requirements of Modern Wind Power Plants in the United States, Technical Report NREL/TP-6A2-45834 August 2009, http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/45834.pdf
  2.  Solar Farms Threaten Birds, Scientific American, August 27, 2014, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solar-farms-threaten-birds/

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

One Comment

  1. Your rebuttal to the environmental criticisms such as Bird kills and water usage are both accurate and well argued.

    There is a rebuttal also required for the cost criticisms. More expensive energy is bad for the economy, so why not point out that wind and solar are cost competitive and as costs continue to drop traditional fuels will be converted into the high cost ‘tax like’ effect holding back the economy. Renewables offer the possibility of cheaper yet electricity.

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