Wishing something is so doesn’t make it possible, and nowhere in politics is the gap between aspiration and reality larger than in the push to quickly eliminate fossil fuel use.
Some politicians and environmental activists want to require that all U.S. electricity be generated from renewable sources by the 2030s. That would mean replacing an overwhelming majority of current production, which is generated by coal- or natural gas-fired power plants.
What would such a transition look like? Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes that “deploying renewable energy at the scale required to fuel the U.S. economy would require covering state-sized territories with nothing but wind turbines and solar panels. It would also require stringing tens of thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines.”
When Harvard physics professor David Keith and postdoctoral fellow Lee Miller examined 2016 energy production data, Bryce notes, they concluded meeting present-day U.S. electricity consumption with renewables “would require 12 percent of the continental U.S. land area for wind.” That translates into 350,000 square miles. Thus, Bryce says, meeting the nation’s current electricity needs with wind “would require an area more than twice the size of California.”
In New York, lawmakers are considering legislation to require that greenhouse gas emissions from all sources be halved by 2030 and eliminated by 2050. That would require all electricity to eventually be generated from renewable energy resources.
But Jonathan Lesser, president of Continental Economics, points out that meeting New York state’s electricity needs with wind alone “would require 140,000 turbines – nearly double the total amount of wind capacity in the entire U.S.” If only solar panels were used, New York would need “more than 15 times the total amount of solar energy in the entire U.S.” The solar option would also require “covering 10 percent of the entire state’s land with solar panels.”
Because wind and solar power production ebbs and flows with the weather, relying solely on those sources necessitates use of backup storage. Based on average daily electricity consumption in New York today, Lesser notes, transitioning fully to wind and solar power would require “installing 1.5 million megawatts of battery storage” in New York. That translates into about 20 batteries “in every single home and apartment in the state.”
Put simply, the push to use nothing but renewables requires disruption or destruction of thousands of miles of natural habitat. Resistance to such measures is growing nationwide, including in the country’s most left-leaning locales. Counties in California have banned or restricted wind projects. In the 2018 Vermont governor’s race, both candidates opposed new wind-energy development. Opposition to wind turbine installation is increasing elsewhere across the country.
Like most, we support using a variety of energy sources – so long as they are economically viable and logistically feasible. Suggesting that green energy use can increase without addressing the latter two factors is wishful thinking, not serious policymaking.
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