Empire State legislators are terrified that more than 0.0001 percent methane in Earth’s atmosphere (and carbon dioxide levels above 0.035 percent) will cause catastrophic climate change. They adamantly oppose fracking for natural gas (methane) in New York and building pipelines to import the fuel from Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, equally progressive neighbor Massachusetts is importing liquefied natural gas from Vladimir Putin’s Russia — and developers are building a 600-mile pipeline to bring gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, to power generating plants that provide electricity almost 24/7/365.
A portion of the 100-foot wide pipeline right-of-way must go through forested areas, subject to rules that tree cutting will generally be prohibited between mid-March and mid-October, to protect migratory birds and endangered bats. The pipeline and logging project has naturally generated intense opposition from environmental groups.
Developers, regulators and environmentalists are at loggerheads over the pipeline consortium’s request for approval to continue felling trees until May 15, except in certain situations, to avoid delaying the project and increasing its cost by $150 million to $350 million.
A 16-mile long segment through Virginia’s George Washington National Forest (affecting 195 of its 1.1 million acres) has drawn particular attention.
Allowing any tree cutting in this area would create an “industrial zone” and “severely degrade some of the best remaining natural landscapes” in the Eastern U.S., environmentalists say. They want to keep fossil fuels in the ground and force a transition to biofuel, solar and wind energy.
One has to wonder how they will react to the environmental impacts that “green” energy future would bring. Will they be true to their convictions, or continue to apply double standards?
For example, replacing all U.S. gasoline with ethanol would require corn grown on lands twice the area of Texas, plus vast amounts of water, fertilizers, pesticides and fuels.
Using sun power to replace the electricity from Virginia’s nearly 24/7/365 Lake Anna Nuclear Generating Station would require some 18,000 acres of solar panels that would provide power just 20 percent to 30 percent of the time.
Natural gas and coal generate about 55 million megawatt-hours of Virginia’s annual electricity. Replacing that with wind power would require some 70,000 gigantic 1.8-megawatt turbines, sprawling across more than a million acres of forest, farm and other lands. Transmission lines from wind farms to distant urban areas will require thousands of additional acres.
(This assumes that many turbines must be located in poor wind areas and will thus generate electricity only 15 percent to 20 percent of the time; two-thirds of windy day generation will charge batteries for seven straight windless days; and each turbine requires 15 acres for blade sweep, operational airspace and access roads.)
Manufacturing, shipping and installing the turbines, transmission lines and batteries will require millions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, neodymium, lithium, cobalt, petroleum-based composites and other raw materials; removing billions of tons of earth, rock and ore; and burning prodigious amounts of fossil fuels in enormous mines and factories.
Most of that work will take place in Africa, China and other distant locations — out of sight, and out of mind, for most Virginians, Americans and environmentalists. But as we are often admonished, we should act locally, think globally, and consider the horrendous environmental and human health and safety conditions under which all this mining and manufacturing takes place in those faraway lands.
Many of those turbines will be located on once-scenic, once-forested mountain ridges, since that is where the winds blow best and most often. The turbines will slice and dice migratory birds, raptors and bats by the tens of thousands every year. Those that aren’t yet threatened or endangered soon will be.
The wind industry and many regulators and environmentalists consider those death tolls “incidental takings,” “acceptable” losses of “expendable” wildlife, essential for achieving the “climate-protecting” elimination of fossil fuels.
As wildlife biologist Jim Wiegand and other experts have noted, the wind industry has gone to great lengths to hide the actual death tolls. For example, they look only right under towers and blades (when carcasses and maimed birds can be catapulted hundreds of yards by blades that move at nearly 200 mph at their tips), canvass areas only once every few weeks (ensuring that scavengers eat the evidence), and make wind farms off limits to independent investigators.
These attitudes and policies scream “double standards,” especially compared to regulations associated with protecting sage grouse from drilling operations, for instance. Should turbines be banned in and near bird, bat and wildlife habitats or refuges? Or shut down during mating, nesting and migratory seasons?
Multiply the figures by 50 states — and the impacts grow exponentially, unsustainably and intolerably.
Using substantially larger 3.5-megawatt turbines would reduce their numbers, but the impacts would still be significant. Installing thousands of these monstrous turbines offshore means they would destroy scenic ocean vistas, decimate sea and shore bird populations (but let them sink from sight), impair marine mammal sonar, interfere with radar and air traffic control, create hazards for submarines and surface ships, and require frequent repairs and replacements due to salt water corrosion.
It’s high time energy consumers, legislators, regulators and environmentalists recognized that there is no free lunch when it comes to the energy that makes modern civilization possible.
• Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of books and articles on energy and environmental policy.