Red flags on green energy

by JATIN NATHWANI, Globe and Mail

Offshore industrial-scale wind farms – and their onshore cousins – have stirred up an unholy alliance of forces and opposition drawing from a fountain of discontent that would have been difficult to predict and that has surprised both opponents and proponents.

Was the Ontario government right to call last week for a moratorium on offshore wind farms? The decision can be best characterized as an attempt to avoid the Scylla of public outrage as well as the Charybdis of financial distress. It is a deft but strategic decision that should provide a welcome reprieve on the march to an uncertain energy future within the confines of the province’s Green Energy Act.

Ontario sorely needs a plan for the electricity sector guided by a rational but balanced approach that can sustain the transformation to a cleaner energy future without a social rebellion. What is beginning to be well understood is that the Green Energy Act, through the tariffs, will embed large costs into the future mix if not modified. What is less well known is a contradiction at the heart of green energy technologies – namely, the large environmental footprint associated with resources such as wind, solar and biomass.

The cruel laws of physics dictate how low power densities and low efficiency of conversion of renewable resources inevitably lead to a much larger environmental footprint. Mismatch between available useful energy from renewable resources and relatively high power densities of modern final energy use means that large-scale diffusion of energy from renewable resources will require anywhere from 100 to 10,000 times the land area compared to conventional resources. Such an expansion of land-use requirements, in relation to the useful unit of energy output, does not rule them out, but they do raise a red flag about “green” assertions.

The unexamined proposition has been that if it is declared to be green, it deserves no further scrutiny or analysis. The large land footprint of renewable sources of generation often collides with other purposes for use of land. This will set in motion a dynamic of social friction with unintended, unpredictable consequences.

The placement of renewable energy resources greatly depends on how land is currently used. Additional facilities in an already built-up or residential area would probably not be welcome. A solar roof may provide a partial answer to the energy needs of a household, but a large-scale ground-mounted “industrial scale” solar facility may attract opposition because it affects other community use. Would energy plantations be welcome to displace forest reserves or a wilderness area? How far do you site a wind installation from a wetland, even if you have met the requirement for setbacks from a farmer’s house?

To date, much of the debate in the energy sector has centred on issues of cost impacts, intermittency, reliability and whether renewables can be integrated effectively into the existing power grid. Whether subsidies are adequate and efficient, and whether they create jobs.

The sleeper issue, however, has been the potential impact of green energy on the environment.

The moratorium announced by the government need not be cast in a particularly cynical view. It is perhaps the first sign in an awakening, a more sophisticated understanding of the ramifications of implementing “green” energy options. Much closer attention to the environmental impacts of such systems, both their positive attributes and some of the problematic areas, is required. These would certainly include biophysical effects, such as the protection of sensitive ecosystems and water resources, but also issues related to health.

For a truly sustainable energy system to evolve, however, there is a compelling need to address the social and political concerns and that will require a far more sophisticated understanding of the views of a community. Perhaps the government has it right on this one.

Jatin Nathwani is a professor and Ontario Research Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy Management at the University of Waterloo.

12 thoughts on “Red flags on green energy

  1. The problem is just this: Scientists have become as dogmatic and irrational in the 20th and 21st Century as the Religionists were in the 16th and 17th Century.

    That is the root of the problem.
    With kind regards,
    Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  2. The people will make it right by settling for no less than a complete moratorium on industrial wind development – offshore, onshore, everywhere.

  3. How diplomatic Jatin. Yes McGuinty is right on ‘this one’ but only because he didn’t want to lose those liberal seats. He has shown himself to not care one iota for the health of people subjected to close proximity of industrial wind facilities on land.
    In fact the pleas of the suffering people of Ontario have been more than ignored … they have been subject to ridicule and name calling. This man is a egotist and control freak with absolutely no empathy or even a rudimentary understanding of the hell he has unleashed on rural Ontario. The economic hell he has unleashed for all of Ontario will be his undoing and fall from his lofty perch in the pink palace. His legacy will be the Premier who forgot to do his homework.

  4. Well! Oliver K Manuel, my bias opinion on wind turbine effect on climate change after your very complex studies tell me that turbines will have no effect what so ever as our climate is a direct response to changes in the sun and solar system. Are we to conclude from your research that a mini ice age is in the making? Or are we going to blow up and disappear. After 4 videos I did still not understand what you propose is going to happen or what if anything we can do about it. So Therefore I conclude that the best we mere mortals can do in Ontario is eat drink and get rid of McGuinty! With all due respect Sir, could you please explain in laymen terms, what the hell point you are making and how it pertains to the worlds insistence on cluttering up the planet with 50 story industrial obnoxious wind turbines?

  5. “Such an expansion of land-use requirements, in relation to the useful unit of energy output, does not rule them out, but they do raise a red flag about “green” assertions.”
    The McGuinty Liberals and even the Ontario Farmers Association touted the need to “relieve” farmers from their land burden and join the “new age” farming with Industrial Wind Turbines. This shows how much respect McGuinty has for farmers.
    Coming up with opposition, he set his sights on off-shore wind, but that too had major opposition with wealthy cottage owners. How about Crown land then? Will we hand that over to them? Is there a vote or referendum on such a decision?
    I have heard many knowledgeable scientists speak out too, and they need our support. We all need to be critical thinkers and teach our kids to do the same.
    “Green” should not cost your neighbours health and permanent damage to land and wildlife.

  6. “Such an expansion of land-use requirements, in relation to the useful unit of energy output, does not rule them out, but they do raise a red flag about “green” assertions.”

    Why does it NOT rule them out?

    So called “green” energy is commonly referred to as “alternative” energy for good reason: One would only consider it if one had NO ALTERNATIVES!

    DUH!!!

    I have been ranting on about the dismal energy density of “green” energy technologies for over a decade now! There is absolutely no indication that ANY government “gets it”!

    Humanity already has the only pollution free energy technology it will ever need FOREVER. (Integral Fast Breeder Reactors –look it up!). What we don’t have is the intellect or the will to use it!

    Forget the damn science, its ONLY about VOTES! And we the ignorant masses are too damn LAZY to learn the truth even though we now have the answers literally at our fingertips!

    I’m with Oliver on this one!

    R.R.

  7. “The decision can be best characterized as an attempt to avoid the Scylla of public outrage as well as the Charybdis of financial distress. It is a deft but strategic decision that should provide a welcome reprieve on the march to an uncertain energy future within the confines of the province’s Green Energy Act.”

    Did they pay this guy by the word, or what? Nice spin on Dalton’s backtracking too, he calls it “a deft but strategic decision….”. Really. I’d call it “a panicky reversal of an ill conceived program that will cost current and future generations $billions of dollars and will drive industry out of Ontario.”

  8. Wait a minute!

    Aren’t they putting wind turbines up in the strait of Messenia?

    That’ll piss these beasties off for sure!

    Can we hire them for outside the entrance to Queen’s Park?

    R.R.

  9. So there is a difference between “green” and the environment? When did that happen?

    Give credit where credit is due? My life and my world has been filled with green zealots who hijacked science for their own agenda, and soulless politicians who seized that opportunity to enrich themselves and their cozy “stakeholders” beholden to no one. Any who disagreed with their creed was either a denier or a NIMBY; just too stupid to allow any local planning decisions.

    So now egg meets face, I am just going to follow it up with a pie. A pie with local ingredients, environmentally friendly, nut and glutin free, and baked to local health unit standards. Still it is going to make a mess.

  10. Looks like “public outrage” with a very strong dose of “financial distress” the deciding factor in Dalton’s decision, and the efficacy of publicly speaking out very well could have been the tipping factor.

    The voices of the community — whether those voices were from GTA Liberal MPPs terrified of what would be facing them in October from their constituents, or from GTA voters themselves — had an impact on Dalton.

    We must all keep going and make Dalton’s next foray into the dilemma between “Scylla and Charybdis” come to a choice between Premier or the Leader of the Opposition.

  11. Oops…I meant to end that post with:

    …because the people have spoken and he will be voted off the Ontario “island”!

Comments are closed.