Resource Documents: Emissions (126 items)
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Author: Shellenberger, Michael
When I was a boy, my parents would sometimes take my sister and me camping in the desert. A lot of people think deserts are empty, but my parents taught us to see the wildlife all around us, including hawks, eagles, and tortoises.
After college, I moved to California to work on environmental campaigns. I helped save the state’s last ancient redwood forest and blocked a proposed radioactive waste repository set for the desert.
In 2002, shortly after I turned 30, I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to addressing climate change. I was worried that global warming would end up destroying many of the natural environments that people had worked so hard to protect.
I thought the solutions were pretty straightforward: solar panels on every roof, electric cars in every driveway, etc. The main obstacles, I believed, were political. And so I helped organize a coalition of America’s largest labor unions and environmental groups. Our proposal was for a $300 billion dollar investment in renewables. We would not only prevent climate change but also create millions of new jobs in a fast-growing high-tech sector.
Our efforts paid off in 2007 when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama embraced our vision. Between 2009–15, the U.S. invested $150 billion dollars in renewables and other forms of clean tech. But right away we ran into trouble.
The first was around land use. Electricity from solar roofs costs about twice as much as electricity from solar farms, but solar and wind farms require huge amounts of land. That, along with the fact that solar and wind farms require long new transmissions lines, and are opposed by local communities and conservationists trying to preserve wildlife, particularly birds.
Another challenge was the intermittent nature of solar and wind energies. When the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing, you have to quickly be able to ramp up another source of energy.
Happily, there were a lot of people working on solutions. One solution was to convert California’s dams into big batteries. The idea was that, when the sun was shining and the wind was blowing, you could pump water uphill, store it for later, and then run it over the turbines to make electricity when you needed it.
Other problems didn’t seem like such a big deal, on closer examination. For example, after I learned that house cats kill billions of birds every year it put into perspective the nearly one million birds killed by wind turbines.
It seemed to me that most, if not all, of the problems from scaling up solar and wind energies could be solved through more technological innovation.
But, as the years went by, the problems persisted and in some cases grew worse. For example, California is a world leader when it comes to renewables but we haven’t converted our dams into batteries, partly for geographic reasons. You need the right kind of dam and reservoirs, and even then it’s an expensive retrofit.
A bigger problem is that there are many other uses for the water that accumulates behind dams, namely irrigation and cities. And because the water in our rivers and reservoirs is scarce and unreliable, the water from dams for those other purposes is becoming ever-more precious.
Without large-scale ways to back-up solar energy California has had to block electricity coming from solar farms when it’s extremely sunny, or pay neighboring states to take it from us so we can avoid blowing-out our grid.
Despite what you’ve heard, there is no “battery revolution” on the way, for well-understood technical and economic reasons.
As for house cats, they don’t kill big, rare, threatened birds. What house cats kill are small, common birds, like sparrows, robins and jays. What kills big, threatened, and endangered birds—birds that could go extinct—like hawks, eagles, owls, and condors, are wind turbines.
In fact, wind turbines are the most serious new threat to important bird species to emerge in decades. The rapidly spinning turbines act like an apex predator which big birds never evolved to deal with.
Solar farms have similarly large ecological impacts. Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife.
In order to build one of the biggest solar farms in California the developers hired biologists to pull threatened desert tortoises from their burrows, put them on the back of pickup trucks, transport them, and cage them in pens where many ended up dying.
As we were learning of these impacts, it gradually dawned on me that there was no amount of technological innovation that could solve the fundamental problem with renewables.
You can make solar panels cheaper and wind turbines bigger, but you can’t make the sun shine more regularly or the wind blow more reliably. I came to understand the environmental implications of the physics of energy. In order to produce significant amounts of electricity from weak energy flows, you just have spread them over enormous areas. In other words, the trouble with renewables isn’t fundamentally technical—it’s natural.
Dealing with energy sources that are inherently unreliable, and require large amounts of land, comes at a high economic cost.
There’s been a lot of publicity about how solar panels and wind turbines have come down in cost. But those one-time cost savings from making them in big Chinese factories have been outweighed by the high cost of dealing with their unreliability.
Consider California. Between 2011–17 the cost of solar panels declined about 75 percent, and yet our electricity prices rose five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S. It’s the same story in Germany, the world leader in solar and wind energy. Its electricity prices increased 50 percent between 2006–17, as it scaled up renewables.
I used to think that dealing with climate change was going to be expensive. But I could no longer believe this after looking at Germany and France.
Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid, a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.
Meanwhile, France produces one-tenth the carbon emissions per unit of electricity as Germany and pays little more than half for its electricity. How? Through nuclear power.
Then, under pressure from Germany, France spent $33 billion on renewables, over the last decade. What was the result? A rise in the carbon intensity of its electricity supply, and higher electricity prices, too.
What about all the headlines about expensive nuclear and cheap solar and wind? They are largely an illusion resulting from the fact that 70 to 80 percent of the costs of building nuclear plants are up-front, whereas the costs given for solar and wind don’t include the high cost of transmission lines, new dams, or other forms of battery.
It’s reasonable to ask whether nuclear power is safe, and what happens with its waste.
It turns out that scientists have studied the health and safety of different energy sources since the 1960s. Every major study, including a recent one by the British medical journal Lancet, finds the same thing: nuclear is the safest way to make reliable electricity.
Strange as it sounds, nuclear power plants are so safe for the same reason nuclear weapons are so dangerous. The uranium used as fuel in power plants and as material for bombs can create one million times more heat per its mass than its fossil fuel and gunpowder equivalents.
It’s not so much about the fuel as the process. We release more energy breaking atoms than breaking chemical bonds. What’s special about uranium atoms is that they are easy to split.
Because nuclear plants produce heat without fire, they emit no air pollution in the form of smoke. By contrast, the smoke from burning fossil fuels and biomass results in the premature deaths of seven million people per year, according to the World Health Organization.
Even during the worst accidents, nuclear plants release small amounts of radioactive particulate matter from the tiny quantities of uranium atoms split apart to make heat.
Over an 80-year lifespan, fewer than 200 people will die from the radiation from the worst nuclear accident, Chernobyl, and zero will die from the small amounts of radiant particulate matter that escaped from Fukushima.
As a result, the climate scientist James Hanson and a colleague found that nuclear plants have actually saved nearly two million lives to date that would have been lost to air pollution.
Thanks to its energy density, nuclear plants require far less land than renewables. Even in sunny California, a solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.
Energy-dense nuclear requires far less in the way of materials, and produces far less in the way of waste compared to energy-dilute solar and wind.
A single Coke can’s worth of uranium provides all of the energy that the most gluttonous American or Australian lifestyle requires. At the end of the process, the high-level radioactive waste that nuclear plants produce is the very same Coke can of (used) uranium fuel. The reason nuclear is the best energy from an environmental perspective is because it produces so little waste and none enters the environment as pollution.
All of the waste fuel from 45 years of the Swiss nuclear program can fit, in canisters, on a basketball court-like warehouse, where like all spent nuclear fuel, it has never hurt a fly.
We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is that there is no plan anywhere to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 to 25 year lifespan.
Experts fearsolar panels will be shipped, along with other forms of electronic waste, to be disassembled—or, more often, smashed with hammers—by poor communities in Africa and Asia, whose residents will be exposed to the dust from toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium.
Wherever I travel in the world I ask ordinary people what they think about nuclear and renewable energies. After saying they know next to nothing, they admit that nuclear is strong and renewables are weak. Their intuitions are correct. What most of us get wrong—understandably – is that weak energies are safer.
But aren’t renewables safer? The answer is no. Wind turbines, surprisingly, kill more people than nuclear plants.
In other words, the energy density of the fuel determines its environmental and health impacts. Spreading more mines and more equipment over larger areas of land is going to have larger environmental and human safety impacts.
It’s true that you can stand next to a solar panel without much harm while if you stand next to a nuclear reactor at full power you’ll die.
But when it comes to generating power for billions of people, it turns out that producing solar and wind collectors, and spreading them over large areas, has vastly worse impacts on humans and wildlife alike.
Our intuitive sense that sunlight is dilute sometimes shows up in films. That’s why nobody was shocked when the recent sequel of the dystopian sci-fi flick, “Blade Runner,” opened with a dystopian scene of California’s deserts paved with solar farms identical to the one that decimated desert tortoises.
Over the last several hundred years, human beings have been moving away from matter-dense fuels towards energy-dense ones. First we move from renewable fuels like wood, dung, and windmills, and towards the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas, and eventually to uranium.
Energy progress is overwhelmingly positive for people and nature. As we stop using wood for fuel we allow grasslands and forests to grow back, and the wildlife to return.
As we stop burning wood and dung in our homes, we no longer must breathe toxic indoor smoke. And as we move from fossil fuels to uranium we clear the outdoor air of pollution, and reduce how much we’ll heat up the planet.
Nuclear plants are thus a revolutionary technology—a grand historical break from fossil fuels as significant as the industrial transition from wood to fossil fuels before it.
The problem with nuclear is that it is unpopular, a victim of a 50 year-long concerted effort by fossil fuel, renewable energy, anti-nuclear weapons campaigners, and misanthropic environmentalists to ban the technology.
In response, the nuclear industry suffers battered wife syndrome, and constantly apologizes for its best attributes, from its waste to its safety.
Lately, the nuclear industry has promoted the idea that, in order to deal with climate change, “we need a mix of clean energy sources,” including solar, wind and nuclear. It was something I used to believe, and say, in part because it’s what people want to hear. The problem is that it’s not true.
France shows that moving from mostly nuclear electricity to a mix of nuclear and renewables results in more carbon emissions, due to using more natural gas, and higher prices, to the unreliability of solar and wind.
Oil and gas investors know this, which is why they made a political alliance with renewables companies, and why oil and gas companies have been spending millions of dollars on advertisements promoting solar, and funneling millions of dollars to said environmental groups to provide public relations cover.
What is to be done? The most important thing is for scientists and conservationists to start telling the truth about renewables and nuclear, and the relationship between energy density and environmental impact.
Bat scientists recently warned that wind turbines are on the verge of making one species, the Hoary bat, a migratory bat species, go extinct.
Another scientist who worked to build that gigantic solar farm in the California desert told High Country News, “Everybody knows that translocation of desert tortoises doesn’t work. When you’re walking in front of a bulldozer, crying, and moving animals, and cacti out of the way, it’s hard to think that the project is a good idea.”
I think it’s natural that those of us who became active on climate change gravitated toward renewables. They seemed like a way to harmonize human society with the natural world. Collectively, we have been suffering from an appeal-to-nature fallacy no different from the one that leads us to buy products at the supermarket labeled “all natural.” But it’s high time that those of us who appointed ourselves Earth’s guardians should take a second look at the science, and start questioning the impacts of our actions.
Now that we know that renewables can’t save the planet, are we really going to stand by and let them destroy it?
Michael Shellenberger is a Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment,” and president of Environmental Progress, an independent research and policy organization.
Originally published on February 27, 2019, at quillette.com
Author: Swanson, Janna
Usually these turbines are pushed through for two reasons – money and lowering emissions.
The money is a little different in every area and the utility companies play it all close to the chest but this is what we have gathered.
In Iowa MidAmerican has freely admitted that they will receive $10 billion in tax credits. They have built 2200 turbines all told so that averages out to $4,500,000 per turbine in tax credits alone. They get to assess their turbines as well. They have assessed them at about $2,726,500 each.
The utility companies get a big pass on taxes because of the tax structure which allows them to pay 0% the first year increasing by 5% each year until they reach the cap of 30% in year 7, they will pay (very) roughly about $1,000,000 per year in taxes per installation and about $1-2,000,000 in landowner payments per installation. At this point realize that this is only tax credits we are talking about and they will still charge for the electricity the turbines generate. Why are electricity prices not falling if all their capital costs and then some are being paid for? Also, a utility will continue to pay taxes no matter how the energy is generated.
Landowners will receive about $10,000 per turbine. They receive this after signing one of the most ridiculous contracts you have ever read. See the paper “Things Commonly Found in a Wind Contract“.
On the other hand, the following are the economic detriments to a community.
Property values drop
The paper I have attached shows study after study that proves property values drop. The wind industry has their own studies but these studies are generally diluted by using assessments done up to 10 miles from the turbines or including farmland values that have had their value artificially raised by turbine payments. Also just the fact that almost no one wants to live in an industrial wind installation is a clear indication of value loss.
- Summary: Wind Turbine Property Value Impact Studies – Mike McCann
- Municipal Property Assessment Corporation 2012 study of wind turbine impacts on residential property assessments – Wayne Gulden
- Case Study: Diminution in Value – Wind Turbine Analysis – Lansink Appraisals and Consulting
- Case Study: Diminution/Change in Price – Melancthon and Clear Creek; Wind Turbine Analyses, Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC); Current Value Changes – Lansink Appraisals and Consulting
- Local impacts of wind farms on property values: A spatial difference-in-differences analysis – Yasin Sunak and Reinhard Madlener
- Re: Wind Turbine setbacks – Mike McCann
- Regarding Ben Hoen study on residential property values – Mike McCann
- Impact of Wind Turbines on Market Value of Texas Rural Land – Derry Gardner
- Wind Turbines & Property Value – Kurt Kielisch
- Wind Turbine Impact Study – Appraisal Group One
- Excerpts from the Final Report of the Township of Lincoln Wind Turbine Moratorium Committee – Elise Bittner-Mackin
Farmland is taken out of commission
About 3 acres per turbine is almost unrecoverable. Farmland is not just dirt, it is soil. It is a living thing full of water, air, microorganisms in organic matter and minerals. Topsoil is the first layer, it is like gold and takes up to 500 years to create one inch of it. Clay or sand is the next layer down but the soil is damaged when they are mixed. Compaction is a huge issue in farming. Compaction ruins farm land by pressing out the air and water. Deep compaction can last for generations and cannot be undone by deep tillage. Wind turbine construction both compacts soil and mixes soil with clay.
The entire county’s base economy will be impacted by this loss of farmland for generations especially since decommissioning never includes the bases. Corn and bean roots are very often deeper than the bases.
Much farmland is drained by extensive tiling infrastructure. The large equipment and especially the large cranes that can easily weigh 500,000 lbs. (or the weight of 125 cars). The compaction they cause moving between turbines can also crush tile 2-6 feet in the ground.
Farmland is dependent on aerial applications for both weed control and cover crops. The presence of wind turbines increases risk and cost for the aerial operator as well as efficiency. Many refuse to fly within 1/2 mile of an installation. Some farmers will say to use ground rigs but if the conditions are muddy or the crops are leaning this is not a great option.
Bird and bats kills
Yes, in a farming community bird and bat kills certainly figure into the overall economy. They are natural pest control. When they are killed or driven off this impacts the economy so greatly that the US Geological Survey has issued a report on the economic impacts of bats alone.
The USGS report includes a list of the actual dollar amount of bats’ impact in each county across the US. MidAmerican just applied to the USFWS for a permit to kill eagles and endangered bats.
Eventually these things will have to come down. Two decommissioning reports done by expert engineers:
- Decommissioning Estimate for the Green River Wind Farm Phase I
- Decommissioning estimate: Vestas V3.0-112 turbines on the proposed Monticello Hills Project
It is generally accepted that each turbine will cost $150,000-$200,000 to decommission. Many companies refuse to put decommissioning agreements in place.
Industrial wind energy is one of the most inefficient and ineffective ways to cut CO₂. In 2016 the American Wind Energy Association actually boasted that turbines would avoid 159 million metric tons of CO₂. It seems like a lot until you realize that mankind emits 35-40 billion metric tons of CO₂ every year. So their best boast is that they are avoiding so far less than 1% of emissions that even if they doubled the amount of turbines they had in 2016 that they would not reach past 1% CO₂ avoidance worldwide.
MISO (Midcontinent Independent Systems Operator) puts the cost of avoiding CO₂ with wind energy at $237/per ton – or $37,683,000,000 for 159 million metric tons.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Coalition for Rural Property Rights president
National Wind Watch board member
Author: Miller, Lee; and Keith, David
- Wind power reduces emissions while causing climatic impacts such as warmer temperatures
- Warming effect strongest at night when temperatures increase with height
- Nighttime warming effect observed at 28 operational US wind farms
- Wind’s warming can exceed avoided warming from reduced emissions for a century
We find that generating today’s US electricity demand (0.5 TWe) with wind power would warm Continental US surface temperatures by 0.24°C. Warming arises, in part, from turbines redistributing heat by mixing the boundary layer. Modeled diurnal and seasonal temperature differences are roughly consistent with recent observations of warming at wind farms, reflecting a coherent mechanistic understanding for how wind turbines alter climate. The warming effect is: small compared with projections of 21st century warming, approximately equivalent to the reduced warming achieved by decarbonizing global electricity generation, and large compared with the reduced warming achieved by decarbonizing US electricity with wind. For the same generation rate, the climatic impacts from solar photovoltaic systems are about ten times smaller than wind systems. Wind’s overall environmental impacts are surely less than fossil energy. Yet, as the energy system is decarbonized, decisions between wind and solar should be informed by estimates of their climate impacts.
Lee M. Miller, David W. Keith
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Joule, Volume 2, Issue 12, P2618-2632, December 19, 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2018.09.009
Download original document: “Climatic Impacts of Wind Power”
Author: Sepulveda, Nestor; et al.
- Firm low-carbon resources [e.g., nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, and bioenergy] consistently lower decarbonized electricity system costs
- Availability of firm low-carbon resources reduces costs 10%–62% in zero-CO₂ cases
- Without these resources, electricity costs rise rapidly as CO₂ limits near zero
- Batteries and demand flexibility do not substitute for firm low-carbon resources
We investigate the role of firm low-carbon resources in decarbonizing power generation in combination with variable renewable resources, battery energy storage, demand flexibility, and long-distance transmission. We evaluate nearly 1,000 cases covering varying CO₂ limits, technological uncertainties, and geographic differences in demand and renewable resource potential. Availability of firm low-carbon technologies, including nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, and bioenergy, reduces electricity costs by 10%–62% across fully decarbonized cases. Below 50 gCO₂/kWh, these resources lower costs in the vast majority of cases. Additionally, as emissions limits decrease, installed capacity of several resources changes non-monotonically. This underscores the need to evaluate near-term policy and investment decisions based on contributions to long-term decarbonization rather than interim goals. Installed capacity for all resources is also strongly affected by uncertain technology parameters. This emphasizes the importance of a broad research portfolio and flexible policy support that expands rather than constrains future options.
Nestor A. Sepulveda, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge
Jesse D. Jenkins, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, MIT
Fernando J. de Sisternes, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, MIT
Richard K. Lester, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT
Joule. Published: September 06, 2018