NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 17, 2009

As the push for renewable-energy development intensifies across the United States, scientists and activists have begun to voice concern that policymakers have underestimated the environmental impact of projects that are otherwise "green," says the Washington Post. 

There is no question that permit applications for renewable-energy projects are on the rise, especially in the West.  According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), they have received 199 applications for solar projects encompassing 1.7 million acres of land and have already authorized 206 wind projects.  The fact that 8 Western states have established "renewable portfolio standards" has accelerated the push for new projects.

But one of the biggest challenges these projects pose is that they often take up much more land than conventional sources, says the Post:

  • Scientists have found that it can take 300 times as much land to produce a given amount of energy from soy biodiesel as from a nuclear power plant.
  • Regardless of the climate policy the nation adopts, by 2030, energy production will occupy an additional 79,537 square miles of land.
  • Scientists have also discovered the unintended effect of wind turbine projects; the more turbines built, the more grassland birds will confine themselves to narrow ranges, fragmenting a population that must be connected to survive.

However, producers of renewable energy are coordinating with environmental groups and federal agencies to try to map out the best locations for energy production, says the Post.  The Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Audubon Society have created an online mapping project of 13 Western states to show where renewable projects would have the most impact.  Out of the 860 million acres in those states, there are 10,000 conservation areas, and 128 million acres are off limits to energy development.

Source: Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, "Renewable Energy's Environmental Paradox," Washington Post, April 16, 2009.

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