Renewable Energy: When Is Green Power Not So Green?

Renewable energy is an important goal. Fossil fuels won’t last forever, and they also pollute. Nuclear energy generates nuclear waste that must be safely stored for thousands of years. It also has the potential for catastrophic failure, a potential that has been realized in the former Soviet Union, in Japan, and even in the United States.

Renewable energy sources, however, have their own problems. They are not without environmental impact.

According to an article in New Scientist, “Hydroelectric dams produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane, and in some cases produce more of these greenhouse gases than power plants running on fossil fuels.” Hydropower damages river habitats and hydroelectric dams can cause disrupt fish migration. Dams have significantly contributed to the decline in salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest and California.

Solar farms have problems as well. They are land intensive–they can even be more land intensive than the fossil fuel projects they are meant to replace. Wind farms have the same problems and are also noisy and kill birds.

Geothermal power, incredibly, causes earthquakes. In 2009, a $60 million geothermal project in Basel, Switzerland was cancelled because of the earthquakes it was causing and would continue to cause.

In additional to these problems, renewable energy is expensive. Even the most viable renewable energy source, wind power, is at least twice as expensive as traditional energy.

What to do? Technology will improve and solutions will be found. Some dams already are designed to allow fish to migrate naturally. Some wind power facilities shut down their turbines when there is high change of hitting many birds–some even track flocks of birds via radar.

A Shell International study predicted that in fifty to one hundred years, most of America’s energy needs will be served by renewable sources. This may well be true. In the meantime, it’s important to support real progress rather than feel good solutions. And, as always, we need to be on the lookout for unintended consequences.


We are CB Power and Industrial Equipment, supplying new, replacement and spare parts on major power and industrial equipment. For expert advice or a quote, call 1-888-317-8959 today.

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