My grandpa had an old saying: “Nothing’s free, and nothing’s priceless.” That sounds a little cynical, but it’s true. Everything has a cost, even if that cost can’t always be measured in dollars and cents.
That old saw came to mind as I read a recent article about birds being incinerated at a solar power plant in California. The article said that as many as 28,000 of our fine feathered friends, from hummingbirds to pelicans, may go down in flames each year as they navigate sunbeams concentrated by a field of mirrors. Turns out the sun’s power isn’t free if you’re a bird caught in man’s efforts to harness the sun.
“Free” wind power isn’t free to birds, either. A quick search finds estimates of 888,000 to at least a million birds being hacked to the ground each year by windmills generating less than 5 percent of our nation’s energy, and creating huge eyesores on some otherwise beautiful vistas in the process.
Here’s a simple mathematical fact: Wind and solar energy are not going to replace coal, gas and nuclear power in the foreseeable future. Together, wind and solar make up less than 5 percent of U.S. electricity output today, and even rosy scenarios have them making up barely 13 percent of the grid over the next 20 years. There are technological reasons for this which may be overcome through, well, technology. But the real reason is real estate. Fossil and nuclear power require less than 5 square kilometers per gigawatt while wind and solar require 20 to 150 square kilometers to produce the same amount of power, and that only happens when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Continue reading