THE VIEW FROM HERE – So-called clean energy may not be the environmental panacea we had been promised

Tom Henihan

In haste to move away from fossil fuels it seems that the impact of pursuing these new sources of energy, such as solar power, the long-term effects have been ignored.

Those who advocate for these new sources of energy give the impression that the process is completely benign, that we can access, as if by alchemy, unlimited and renewable power.

In the US, solar power interests, in looking for flat, treeless terrain are leasing vast tracts of arable land from farmers, offering greater compensation than they could hope to earn from any crop they put in the ground.
Rendering viable land redundant for growing crops is not an encouraging sign for the brave new age of sustainable, renewable energy. This is especially significant when the cost of food is rising worldwide.

The construction of these large installations changes not only the natural environment but also the social milieu and by usurping people’s way of life alter their sense of community and system of values. There will be those who sellout and those who holdout, which often puts untenable stress on the spirit of community and the ties that bind.
Having tirelessly championed the development of these new sources of energy, I do not anticipate the environmental movement subjecting these industries to the same negative scrutiny as it has the oil industry. Yet, it would be naïve to think that concern for the environment is the primary motivating factor with these initiatives. The motivation is money, the same motivation that led to the construction of hydro dams, nuclear power plants and drilling for oil.

So-called clean energy enterprises are also surveying ponds, lakes and wetlands as sites for extensive solar panel installations. Japan has undertaken the construction of the largest floating solar power plant in the world, in regards to productivity. Located just outside Tokyo, with 50,000 solar panels covering an area of almost two million square feet, when completed in March 2018 it will produce an estimated 16,170MWh annually. The plant will provide power to 5,000 households and offset approximately 8,000 tons of carbon emissions a year, the equivalent of 1,700 cars.

In a country of one hundred and twenty-seven million people, almost fifty million households and approximately seventy-five million cars, this huge undertaking amounts to little more than a token gesture.
The rush for clean energy has also prompted a rush on lithium mining for the manufacture of rechargeable batteries for electric cars.

Lithium, while usually found in arid, salt flat regions, the mining process requires large volumes of water and toxic chemical are required in the filtering process. Of course, any procedure, that needs large amounts of water and uses chemicals that require waste treatment is harmful to the environment and spills are also a concern.
These new energy industries upon closer examination are not nearly as squeaky clean as clean energy advocates would have us believe.

They are also aesthetically unpleasant and more environmentally invasive than first considered. Compared to hideous wind turbines gyrating on the landscape, lithium mining, and acres of farmland and wetlands paved with photovoltaic solar panels, eventually dirty oil may not seem so dirty after all.

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