Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Renewable Energy Myths

By Michelle Mather

I subscribe to a daily online newsletter from treehugger.com. It’s a great way to start my day with interesting, relevant articles and even though I’ve been eco conscious for more than 20 years, I manage to learn new things all of the time!

A recent article entitled “Do Solar Panels Actually Contribute to Climate Change?” caught my eye and my first thought was “oh brother…. another one of those renewable energy myths that some people seem determined to spread….”

panels

It turns out that Nathan Myhrvold, the former Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft, had been quoted as saying;

“The problem with solar cells is that they’re black, because they are designed to absorb light from the sun. But only about 12 percent gets turned into electricity, and the rest is reradiated as heat–which contributed to global warming.”

After I got over my wonder at why someone at Microsoft would even comment on solar cells (assumably outside of his range of expertise) I wondered whether there was any truth to the notion and if not, how such an idea would even occur to him and why it would be repeated.

I won’t go into the details here (read the rest of the article at treehugger; http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/10/do-solar-panels-actually-contribute-to-climate-change.php?dcitc=daily_nl)

but suffice to say his statement is quite misleading and that solar panels, for many reasons, do a lot more good than harm!

This got me thinking about the number of people who are determined to protest against various renewable energy projects. Wind projects are often met with intense opposition when they are proposed. People complain that they kill birds (office towers and domestic cats kill more) or that they are noisy or that the spinning blades cause a strobe light effect on bright sunny days. I’ve heard opponents of solar farms claim that using large areas of land for solar panels takes too much farmland out of use. (Most often marginal farmland is used and the land can still be used for grazing livestock) There are many other reasons that people oppose renewable energy projects, and whether or not they have merit I think it is important to weigh the good of these projects versus the possible negative aspects of them.

wolfeislandturbines

We are a power-hungry country. We use electricity wastefully and most attempts at getting us to change our ways have been unsuccessful. So, as long as we have a voracious appetite for electricity we are going to need to produce it. At this point in time we use methods with dreadful environmental consequences to produce our power. Nuclear power plants are costly to build (although our governments seem reluctant to admit their true costs) and we still have not determined how to deal with the waste product. We burn coal or oil or natural gas to make power which are all non-renewable and producers of pollution and greenhouse gases. Wind power and solar power are clean and renewable sources of energy. They work. I should know because solar panels and a wind turbine produce the electricity for my home and office. I use them on a small scale. They could and should be used on a much larger scale.

windturbine

We meet a lot of people when we attend Green Shows and Energy Expos and other events. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had people tell me “Wind towers are ugly”. I’m never quite sure how to respond to that. I’d like to say “Oh and coal power plants and nuclear power plants are attractive? And those hydro transmission lines that traverse our landscape are attractive? And the environmental degradation caused by our current power production methods is attractive?”

I think more than anything I’ve learned the sad truth about people and it’s that everyone wants to use electricity (lots and lots of it!) but no one wants to see how it’s produced. Put the power plant somewhere else, out of sight and out of mind, and that way people can merrily go about their lives and not give any thought to the effect of their power-hungry ways on our planet.

Oh… and you know those birds that are allegedly going to be killed by wind turbines. Don’t worry…. at the rate we are going poisoning their environment there won’t be any birds left to be killed by wind turbines!

killdeer

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