Another day, another pipeline protest by “keep it in the ground” activists.
On Dec. 8, a dozen people swarmed a construction site near the Hudson River in an attempt to halt construction of Spectra Energy’s AIM pipeline, which is designed to carry natural gas from New Jersey to Massachusetts. The protesters, who call themselves the HudsonStand12, were arrested and charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest by authorities in Cortlandt, New York.
Those arrests come on the heels of the monthslong protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline project in North Dakota, which, of course, followed the brouhaha over the Keystone XL pipeline.
Climate activists are now hoping to block oil and gas pipeline projects across the country due to their claim that we must keep all hydrocarbons in the ground to avert catastrophic climate change. Those same activists repeatedly claim we don’t need fossil fuels because we can rely solely on wind and solar energy.
But while they obsess over our carbon footprint, climate activists don’t give a fig about the land-use footprint of renewables. Indeed, the dirty truth about “clean” energy is that it requires shocking amounts of land. In a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, I show that using wind and solar energy to reduce domestic carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 (80 by 50) will require covering about 287,700 square miles of territory — an area about the size of Texas and West Virginia combined.
I calculated the land-use requirements by examining three decarbonization scenarios that have been published over the past few years including the wind, water, and solar scenario that has been endorsed by the leaders of the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and 350.org. Averaging those three scenarios shows that achieving 80 by 50 with renewables alone will require about 1,958 gigawatts of wind energy capacity and about 2,441 gigawatts of solar capacity.
I then used data from the Department of Energy and published media stories to calculate wind energy’s capacity density, that is, its overall footprint. The result: wind energy’s footprint is 3 watts per square meter, or 1 gigawatt per 131.3 square miles. I relied on published data for three large California solar-photovoltaic projects to calculate solar’s capacity density. The result: solar’s footprint is 36.3 watts per square meter or 1 gigawatt per 10.6 square miles.
These land-use figures are relevant because of the growing rural backlash against renewable-energy projects. For instance, while national media focused on protesters who gathered near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to oppose Dakota Access, they ignored the recent rejection of a huge wind project located about 170 miles west of there.
On Nov. 15, Billings County officials rejected the application for a 383-megawatt wind energy project that was to cover some 25,000 acres. Chief among their concerns was the project’s visual impact, including the fact that some of the turbines would have been visible from inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
In New York, three upstate counties — Erie, Orleans, and Niagara — as well as the towns of Yates and Somerset, are all fighting a proposed 200-megawatt project called Lighthouse Wind. In Vermont, about 160 towns and cities have signed the Rutland Resolution which calls for more local control over the siting of renewable-energy projects.
Renewables are also hammering wildlife. Not only are wind turbines killing significant numbers of eagles and other birds, a recent study by scientists from the US Geological Survey have found that wind turbines are now the planet’s largest killer of bats.
For decades, a central tenet of environmentalism has been small footprints in everything from agriculture to urban planning. But now, in the name of climate change, environmentalism has been turned on its head. Rather than advocate for people, landscapes and wildlife, our biggest environmental groups are cheering for renewable energy schemes that disregard all three.
In short, keeping it “in the ground” requires decimating much of what’s above ground. That’s a lousy trade.
Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest report for the Institute is “This Land Was Your Land: A Closer Look at 80 by 50.”
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