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Do Renewables

Make Sense Yet?

By MIKE ZAGATA • Special to

I see the left is at it again.  If you disagree with or question their agenda, then you are labeled as “evil.”

Now I’m being accused of being opposed to renewables.  If you’ve read my writings on the topic, then you know nothing could be further from the truth.  Anyone who is aware of the concerns regarding climate change and understands that fossil fuels are not renewable, i.e. we’re going to run out of them, would be looking for new sources of energy.  Renewables like solar and wind must, at some point in time, be part of that mixA

What I am opposed to is being asked to drink the renewables Kool-Aid without being told what’s in it.  That’s what happened to the cult members who died in Jonestown, Guyana – the results weren’t good.

Renewables are not a panacea – either environmentally or economically.  They, like the other forms of energy, have their costs.  It is up to us to evaluate their environmental and economic pros and cons via a scientifically honest debate and then decide how to proceed.

For example, for renewables like wind and solar to work, the energy they produce must be stored so that is available when and where it is needed.  Given today’s storage technology, that means lithium ion batteries.

The raw materials used to make them are largely found in China, Russia and the Congo.  That means the United States would have to rely on foreign governments that are not our biggest allies for the materials necessary for us to rely on solar and wind power.

Do you recall what happened in 1974 when we relied on OPEC for our oil?  It wasn’t pretty as people shot one another while waiting in lines to buy gasoline.  Do we really want to repeat that? To make matters worse, China recently announced that it may curtail the supply of the rare-earth metals used to make the batteries.

The raw materials used to make lithium ion batteries must be mined in countries that don’t have our strict mining regulations.  Is it really OK for us to close a blind eye to that environmental damage just because it isn’t in our back yard?

After they’re mined, the materials must be transported to where the batteries are manufactured, used to manufacture the batteries, distributed to where they will be used to store energy and, when their useful life is over, either recycled or disposed as a hazardous waste.

Each of those steps requires energy, and that’s why during the entire life cycle of a lithium ion battery, especially the ones used in cars, it may actually be carbon negative for the first 10 years.

Does that make sense?  Does it make economic sense to buy an electric vehicle knowing that you won’t own the vehicle long enough to recover its incremental cost over that of a car with a normal combustion engine?

More and more authors are beginning to point out the amount of farm and forest land that will be impacted by solar and wind farms.  For New York State alone, we’re talking hundreds of thousands of acres.

Each wind turbine occupies a certain area that no longer sequesters carbon and must be accessible by a road that takes more land out of production and no longer sequesters carbon.  Each solar farm covers acres with glass and thus is no longer covered with green plants that sequester carbon.

Will we produce enough renewable, carbon-friendly energy to offset the carbon that is not sequestered but that would have been sequestered by the green plants that grew on that land?

If not, then it would not make good environmental “sense” to proceed.

During the public meetings on the Constitution Pipeline Project, I recall hearing the vocal opposition to the clearing of a right-of way for the pipeline because it would negatively impact wildlife.  Emotion was rampant and facts were few as the opposite would occur.

However, that same opposition will, if the playing field is level, likely rear its head again because the electricity produced by solar and wind farms will, in order for it to be delivered to where it is needed, require the construction of new transmission lines – lots of them.

You see, the Kool-aid that we are being offered is laced with environmental and economic inconsistencies.  Before we spend a dollar for environmental benefit, we must make sure we will indeed receive a dollar’s worth of environmental benefits.

Capital is too scarce to do otherwise and crying wolf without having a viable solution to offer will make it more difficult in the future to gain the public’s support.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner during the Pataki Administration and an environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.


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