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I have long known that there is nothing remotely `green’ about
putting wind farms all over the countryside, with their
eagle-slicing, bat-popping, subsidy-eating, rare-earth-demanding,
steel-rich, intermittent-output characteristics. But until I read
Robert Bryce’s superb and sober new book Power Hungry, I had not realised just how
dreadfully bad for the environment nearly all renewable energy

Bryce calculates that one Texas nuclear plant generates about 56
watts per square metre. This compares with 53 for gas turbines, 1.2
for wind, 6.7 for solar or 0.05 for corn ethanol. Sorry, but what
is so green about using 45 times as much land – and ten times as
much steel – to produce the same amount of power? It does not
surprise me that those with vested interest in renewables close
their minds to this, but it genuinely baffles me that other people
don’t get it.

I’ve dealt with bird killing elsewhere, but Bryce contrasts the
prosecution of Exxon for killing 85 birds in uncovered tanks with
the fact that:

Michael Fry of the American Bird
Conservancy estimates that between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per
year were being killed by U.S. wind turbines. And yet, the
Department of Justice won’t press charges. `Somebody has given the
wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card’ Fry told

Bryce goes on to show that wind power does not reduce carbon
dioxide emissions. At all. Even in Denmark, with its unique ability
to switch Norwegian hydro plants on and off when needed:

If Denmark’s huge wind-power
sector were reducing carbon dioxide emissions, you’d expect the
Danes to be bragging about it, right? Well, guess what? They’re
not…The September 2009 study by CEPOS [a Copenhagen think thank]
said that Denmark’s wind industry `saves neither fossil fuel
consumption nor carbon dioxide emissions’.

Then there’s the need for long transmission lines to link up
remote renewable power plants with customers. Recently wind farms
in Oregon were forced to feather their blades because they were
producing far too much power for the local grid during a sudden
storm. The solution is better linkage between local grids, but that
means more pylons. Wind alone will require 40,000 miles of new
power lines – covering an area the size of Rhode Island.

Then there are the rare earths, or lanthanides. The wind
industry relies almost entirely on neodymium-iron-boron magnets,
importing all the neodymium from China.

Environmental activists in the
United States and other countries may lust mightily for a
high-tech, hybrid-electric no-carbon, super-hyphenated future. But
the reality is that that vision depends mightily on lanthanides and
lithium. That means mining. And China controls nearly all the
world’s existing mines that produce lanthanides.

Bryce’s book is more than a demolition of renewable energy. It
contains a fascinating and detailed account of the shale gas
revolution and of the latest developments in modular nuclear
technology. It makes a persuasive case that this century will be
dominated by `N2N’ energy – natural gas to nuclear – and that the
consequence of the rise of both will be continuing steady
decarbonisation of the economy. This is the best book on energy I
have read. It confirms my optimism – and my rejection of the
renewable myth.


By Matt Ridley | Tagged:  rational-optimist