26 July 2007

Alternative consequences

Wind farms do more harm than good (e)

An American scientist contends in a new paper in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology that renewable energy is anything but green. Jesse Ausubel of New York's Rockefeller University argues that mass construction of "boutique fuels" such as wind and solar farms will harm the environment more than it will help it. He says instead that nuclear energy measured in watts per square metre of land used is greener than other forms of renewables, including for dams and biomass production. His findings have implications for Canada, where governments such as PEI are concentrating on green energy. In his paper titled Renewable and Nuclear Heresies, Ausubel contends the different forms of renewable energy create a devastating environmental impact, adding sprawling amounts of infrastructure to the landscape. Ausubel says he didn't receive any funding from the nuclear industry for his research. He criticized wind and solar farms for the amount of infrastructure they require and called wind farms big industrial facilities. His message to Canadian provinces that are aggressively pursuing renewable policies: "I think they're wasting their money. They'll end up with stranded assets." Instead, Ausubel advocates for nuclear energy, arguing its environmental footprint is smaller than that of renewables. While he acknowledges nuclear power comes with its own set of concerns, including waste storage, safety and security, Ausubel concludes that the "extraordinary density of nuclear fuel allows compact systems of immense scale."

But others aren't as convinced of Ausubel's science. Mark Whitfield, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Toronto's York University, said renewable energy doesn't disturb land, and in most instances makes use of already existing infrastructure. Wind farms incorporate farmer's access roads, while solar panels are mounted on the roofs of buildings rather than spread over the land, Whitfield said. He criticized what he called Ausubel's simple joule-per-square-kilometre approach and said that such a reductionist view doesn't take into account other trade-offs such as security, weapons proliferation and severe accident risks that come with nuclear power. "Those are all considerations you'd have to build into a meaningful policy decision-making framework."
(Calgary Herald 070726)

Yes, there are infrastructure considerations when working with alternative energy sources. But so what? What else does he suggest? Do nothing in order to keep the land surface pristine? I'm sorry, it's not going to happen. We will be requiring large amounts of energy to be derived from alternative sources in the future -- wind, solar, hydro, tidal. It is definitely going to change the landscape, but then so has the proliferation of the automobile, the transmission of electricity, and the search for natural energy sources. What's his point, really? As a civilization, we have and always will alter our environments.

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