Renewable Energy Isn't Necessarily Green. Duh.

Jennifer Schwab, the Sierra Club's Director of Sustainability, recently posted an article about the debate over where to place solar panels and wind turbines. She cites opposition to developing renewable energy fields in the Mojave Desert as people who think turbines are an eyesore and encourages environmentalists to get off their high horses and "get with the program."

It is a dangerous oversimplification of matters to say that any concern over constructing vast fields of renewable energy farms is merely a Not In My BackYard issue.

Renewable energy fields are more than just an eyesore. Inarguably, renewable energy is a good alternative to non-renewable energy, but that alone doesn't make it green.

Building renewable energy fields is a destructive process that involves clearing natural landscapes. When you look at the scale that the development is currently proposed, its scary. In California tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of acres of natural landscapes California could be turned into vast solar-powered power plants. Here are a few of the environmental concerns I would like to point out-
  • This construction would mean creating massive network of new roads to install wind turbines and solar panels.
  • Wind turbines slaughter countless bats, migratory and resident birds, and raptors every DAY.
  • Constructing fields of solar panels in pristine habitat degrades- or in extreme cases completely destroys- that habitat for the wildlife that depend on it, including endangered species like the desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep. Some proposed projects would require grading or scraping the desert floor, completely denuding vegetation and the wildlife that calls it home.
  • Energy fields would fragment habitats, disrupting connectivity for all the populations of all of the plants and animals that exist there, obstructing movement for plant and animal populations alike that need contiguous habitat for dispersal, migration, and to move into suitable habitats shifting because of climate change, like Joshua Trees.

As proponents of the environment, we need to question the assumption that renewable energy is green Don't get me wrong, I'm for developing renewable energy. I just think we need to develop it carefully and take the environment into account, namely to ensure its done with conservation of existing natural resources in mind. For example, we can take measures to ensure that connectivity is preserved by designing conservation plans that delineate important wildlife corridors and landscape linkages, protect fragile and rare ecosystems like sand dunes and riparian areas, and take bird migration routes into consideration when placing wind turbines.

We need to consider all of our options regarding solar power plant placement. Have we thoroughly investigated installing solar panels in places that have already been developed like the rooftops of existing businesses and residences, paved surfaces including parking lots and highways, or brownfields?

Renewable energy is a viable alternative to traditional fossil fuel, but we need to take measures to ensure that energy plants and farms are situated in the most suitable locations. As stewards of the environment, we should by no means blindly "get with the program."

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