The environmental cost of wind and solar in NetZero


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Cats, the BBC tells us, kill more birds than wind turbines. And they are right.

But unlike cats, notes British journalist Matt Ridley, all over the world, the largest and rarest eagles and vultures are dying in significant numbers as a result of wind turbines. — wedge-tailed eagles in Australia, Verreaux’s eagles in South Africa, sea eagles in Norway, and bald and golden eagles in the United States.

Ridley notes that a32-turbine wind power station in Spain kills a vulture every three days – decimating rare populations of griffon, cincerous, bearded, and Egyptian vultures. In California’s Altamont Pass wind turbines kill over 1,000 birds of prey each year. A Norwegian wind power station has reduced the number of sea eagle territories on the island of Smola from thirteen to just five – making local extinction a real possibility.

A 2018 study in India’s Western Ghats found that wind farms in biodiversity-rich areas can have far deeper ecological consequences. Wind farms reduce the number and activity of predatory birds, the study found, and this in turn increases the density, as well as the behavior and physiology of vertebrates like lizards.

The U.S. Geological Survey admits that wind turbines are also major killers of bats – up to a million a year in North America alone. Each German turbine, Ridley reports, kills 35 bats a month.

But it is not just the turbine blades that are killers. Endangered North Atlantic right whales (fewer than 350 remain) face near-extinction from offshore wind “farms” along the Northeastern coast of the U.S. Like their fellow human mammals, whales are sensitive to the eerie noise generated by whirring turbine blades. To avoid the noise, the whales might well be forced out of their historic migration routes into a busy shipping lane, increasing their risk of collisions with today’s giant ships.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) claims the wind projects are compatible with the federal “zero kill” standard for these whales. In October the BOEM released a draft strategy for protecting the right whale from offshore wind operations – but with gigantic turbines already authorized in offshore waters from multiple East Coast states, any “strategy” just beginning to be developed today is akin to closing the barn door after the horses have run out into the prairie.

During the comment period, which just ended, a coalition of public interest groups cited documentation that the massive turbines would generate noise levels far in excess of the 120-decibel level which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has determined is the maximum safe operational level for underwater sound.

The Virginia Wind project alone, said coalition spokesman H. Sterling Burnett, “would create a 12,000-square-mile circle of dangerous noise which would almost certainly force the right whales out of their historic migration route and into one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.”

Birds, bats, and whales – and humans, too, are victims of Net Zero. A new report from Australia’s Clean Energy Council, warns of growing evidence linking renewable energy supply chains to modern slavery. The Council has called for more local renewable energy production and manufacturing and a “certificate of origin” to counter concerns about slave labor in mineral extraction and manufacturing in China, Africa, and South America.

Much of the concern over slave labor has focused on Congolese children (as young as age seven) in cobalt mines and Uighurs and Kazakhs being forced to work in China’s polysilicon industry. Cobalt is essential for giant batteries, while polysilicon is used in solar panels.

But in Ecuador’s Amazon region, the rapid growth in demand for balsa wood, used in wind turbine blades, has left workers subjected to substandard labor conditions, including payments in alcohol and drugs. Adding insult to injury, the demand for balsa wood has increased Amazon deforestation and affected the land rights of Peruvian indigenous peoples.

Whatever happened to protecting the environment? Protecting endangered species? Defending human rights? Proponents of the “great reset” (or Net Zero) never answer these questions. They just reiterate the mantra that, “the sky is falling,” and demand that we surrender our vehicles, end centuries of family farming, and eat bugs and crickets instead of meat and potatoes.

Perhaps these seemingly ridiculous societal changes would be worth the sacrifices if only the solution – abolition of nearly every energy source but intermittent wind and solar – would actually improve the quality of human lives over time. Perhaps. [Ever eaten a bugburger?]

And there’s the rub. A new study by Manhattan Contrarian founder Francis Menton explains that Net Zero plans, which rely almost entirely on wind turbines and solar panels, will also require massive backup energy storage to fill in the frequent gaps when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. Otherwise, society will endure often lengthy energy blackouts that will wreak havoc with nearly aspect of human life.

Neither governments nor Net Zero advocates, Menton says, can point to any demonstration project that shows how or even whether the scheme they have mandated might work or how much it will cost. Without a miracle, he muses, no suitable storage technology will be feasible, let alone at an affordable cost, anywhere near the 2035 or 2050 target dates.

Today, no government plan anticipates energy storage capacity by 2035 to be higher than 0.1% to 0.2% of the amount needed to keep the lights on. The calculated cost to reach full storage needs could be as high as a country’s entire annual Gross Domestic Product under the most optimistic assumptions – and up to 15 times annual GDP in the worst-case scenarios.

Menton likens Net Zero advocates to someone jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, fully expecting one will be invented, delivered (in midair), and strapped on before hitting the ground.

The conclusion is obvious: Either the world is being led by fools, or there is another agenda behind Net Zero. Entire nations have voted for the Net Zero agenda, given its advocates near-absolute power, and meekly agreed not to question their wisdom.

Was the sacrifice worth this folly?

  • Duggan Flanakin

    Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout."

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