Brunell Comment: Land is the wild card in Biden’s Green Gamble
By Don C. Brunell
From Don Brunell
Shortly after taking office, President Biden issued a comprehensive order to convert America to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2035, in just 15 years.
Translated, this means no more electricity from coal and natural gas – quite a challenge when you consider that 60 percent of the 4.12 trillion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity we generated in 2020 came from burning fossil fuels, while 20 percent came from renewable energies including hydropower.
Country is the wild card. In February 2019, the Institute for Energy Research determined that 100 percent renewable energy could be achieved in the US, meaning that a third of the country could be covered by solar and wind power plants.
In contrast to coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants, it takes a lot of land to build wind towers and solar panels. They require small footprints measured in hectares. Wind and solar systems can run for miles along mountain ridges and through valley floors; much of it is vacant public land and critical wildlife habitat.
It can be impossible to find enough suitable property. It might turn out to be Biden’s Achilles heel.
For example, the dispute over the approval of the nation’s largest industrial-scale solar park planned in the Nevada desert has stalled, pitting green energy enthusiasts against each other.
Recently, Wall Street Journal reporter Jim Carlton wrote: “The Battle Born Solar Project by Arevia Power, California, planned to be the largest solar array in the United States, would be 22 square miles – the equivalent of 7,000 soccer fields – with more than a million solar panels with a Height from 10 to 20 feet. “
“These major projects are increasingly meeting with resistance from environmental activists and local residents who are passionate about clean energy. Their objections range from wanting to keep the land untouched, to protecting endangered species, to concerns that their prospects may no longer be so good, ”added Carlton.
Here in Washington, the Horse Heaven Hills wind project planned by Scout Clean Energy would extend along a 24-mile ridge south of the Tri-Cities in Finley to Benton City. Many of the 244 spinning wind machines would be taller than Seattle’s Space Needle (605 feet). The heights range from 500 to 671 feet. It is also hung up in contentious approval hearings.
Horse Heaven Hills is a major wine growing region in Washington and is home to the state’s largest winemaking facility. Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy believes the state wine industry could be harmed by a change in the microclimate caused by the giant turbines, as happened in Texas.
The incomprehensible challenge is to generate enough greenhouse gas-free electricity for our growing demand without generating nuclear power.
There is promising research in Wyoming where coal-fired power plants are being shut down. Instead of tearing down boilers, generators and power transmission systems, they would be retrofitted. The new heat source would come from advanced nuclear systems.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Bill Gates’ Terra Power and PacifiCorp, owned by Warren Buffets Berkshire Hathaway, have teamed up and plan to commission the first sodium reactor on the site of a disused coal-fired power station.
The project includes a 345 MW sodium-cooled high speed reactor with a molten salt energy storage system. If required, the storage technology can increase the system’s output to 500 MW for more than five and a half hours, which corresponds to the energy requirements for around 400,000 households.
If successful, the same conversion technology would be available for other coal-fired power plants to be shut down and shut down. Hopefully this nuclear option would significantly reduce the number of solar panels, wind towers, and acres required for these renewable energies.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, author, and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected]