Sunday, May 3, 2009

Environmental Impacts New Challenge for Renewables?

The addition of more renewable energy generating capacity into the overall generation portfolio is fraught with many challenges.  But one that is becoming ever clearer is not what you might expect.

In short, are there serious conflicts between the rapid development and deployment of renewables on one hand and adverse environmental impacts associated with them on the other?

This is beginning to play out as the Obama administration seeks to expedite handling permit applications for projects located on federal lands.

A recent page-one Washington Post article ("Renewable Energy's Environmental Paradox," April 16, 2009) explains the challenge:
"One of the biggest challenges renewable-energy projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources such as coal-fired power plants. A team of scientists, several of whom work for the Nature Conservancy, has written a paper...showing that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant.  Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, the paper predicts that by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land."

And there are other issues as well including projects that might run up against the Endangered Species Act and transmission line siting that would have potentially negative environmental consequences.

Renewable energy is hardly a panacea.  There is a great deal of hard work to be done, but many tremendous opportunities as well.  

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