Everything Has Risks – Natural Gas, Solar, Wind, Wood – Everything
Cris Pasto has been participating in a lively, but friendly email debate on natural gas versus other energy sources. Here’s how Cris responded to suggestions by his email correspondent that burning firewood and relying upon renewables are preferable to natural gas development.
Burning Wood in Your Home
Today, I got to thinking more about the idea of everyone burning firewood. Mind you, we burned firewood all of our lives until about year 2000 and I hope to never go back to it. Imagine the truck traffic if everyone did burn firewood on a repetitive basis. Figure one tractor trailer load per household per year. Imagine the number of chimney or exposure fires.
And, what about the health impacts of burning wood? Well, it can be toxic.
“I think it’s a fair comparison to look at wood smoke as similar to burning vegetable matter such as tobacco,” said Melanie Marty, Ph.D., chief of the Air Toxicology and Epidemiology Branch, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency. “I think we need to educate the public … I don’t think they realize how toxic wood smoke is. I don’t think we’ve done a very good job about that,” said L. Gretchen Wooding, MD.
So, they have done health impact studies on wood burning and its been determined to be detrimental, yet we have not banned it. I do not favor any ban on burning firewood, but I find it very interesting that some push for a ban on a cleaner fuel such as natural gas.
What about impacts on wildlife? Bird nests and habitat are destroyed. Land impact? Logging for firewood purposes can be quite messy and it irritates me when the land is not cleaned up after a job the way I expected.
Risks Are Similar Across the Energy Board
The biggest issue I have with this whole debate is that those opposed to natural gas never put together a quantitative cost-benefit analysis or a matrix to compare all options and see where each measure up on all the issues. Tony Ingraffea insists on such analysis, yet fails to do so himself. Solar and wind power generation equipment manufacturing processes, for example, consume considerable amounts of water that end up contaminated with heavy metals and radioactive materials.
The amount of water and cleaning chemicals needed to maintain the efficiencies with PV and thermal solar is quite extravagant. Please check out the 90 some page presentation and you will see the numbers. Turbine blades require similar cleaning to reduce losses as well. The concrete turbine foundations reach 40’ into the earth certainly disturbing ground water. I submit that the contamination with wind and solar is of greater concern than natural gas. Please read the pre-drilling study on Pennsylvania water and combine that with the fact there are no known aquifers contaminated by the hydraulic fracturing process per Lisa Jackson of the EPA.
Did you notice the amount of land required per mega watt of energy for wind, solar, and natural gas? Natural gas is a winner by a huge margin. Natural gas is less than 1 acre, solar is about 15 acres and wind is around 50 acres.
What about ‘viewshed’? Did you look at the ‘pipelines’ needed for solar and wind? They are huge transmission lines/towers that don’t go away – the natural gas rig disappears. The turbines, thermal solar towers, and miles of mirrors or PV panels don’t go away.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I personally don’t mind the appearance of any of them in reasonable quantities. I was intrigued driving outside Palm Springs, California to see the wind farm, for example, but I must say that was quite an ugly site and half the machines were broken.
Truck traffic? Trucks hauling wind turbines don’t just delay traffic; they stop it when they get stuck trying to maneuver through a village. All energy sources involve truck traffic, so I would call that all a wash. Again, firewood might be a huge offender here, if we all burned it.
What about health impacts? I addressed some of this earlier. Vertigo, flicker/shadow seizures, ‘Wind turbine syndrome’ bloody noses and stray voltage are all problems. I hear some anti’s complaining about frac sand and silicon dust or something to that effect causing health problems. Ever consider that silicon is a major component in PV units?
Property values? Houses too near wind turbines have zero value and will likely get bulldozed by a company – read study conducted by community in Wisconsin in my presentation. With natural gas, land prices soar.
What about wildlife impacts? Wind can equal many dead birds, bats, and eagles. I believe that’s buried in those 90 pages as well. I along with many others like to hunt the fringe around pipeline right-of-ways or reclaimed well pads. Deer love them.
Noise? Wind turbines would be similar to a compressor but with more of them.
I did look at all these impacts and that’s why I speak so confidently. I just can’t seem to get others to really look at the facts.
Note that I only evaluated natural gas, solar, and wind, as natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels. I did not include any ‘renewables’ outside of solar and wind as those in the ‘green’ energy arena recognize the simple fact they are the only practical possibilities at the moment. The other options just aren’t options at this point on the scale required. By the way, the word ‘renewable’ is quite the misnomer. When I think of the word ‘renewable’ or ‘green energy’ I think of something that is free or non-consumptive. Wind and solar chew up some serious natural resources that can’t all be recycled.
You mentioned irritation with our electrical grid. I, too, would like to see improvements in the grid. Natural gas combined with a fuel cell might be a good solution. I think Google, AT&T, E-bay, and others are using it now. You can take natural gas from the pipeline and pass it through a fuel cell in a small box in your yard and produce your own electricity without the electric grid. You can combine that with the electricity you produce from your PV panels. I’m not an expert on bloom energy cells but the concept sounds quite practical.
Who are the Experts?
The bottom line is that I’ve studied this stuff exhaustively and, yet, I would not dare consider myself an expert. I think it utterly crazy that town and village boards are even entertaining moratoriums so they can study these issues. They simply do not have the ability to pull off a real study that would draw out an accurate conclusion. They don’t have the money to hire the experts, and they don’t have the money to fend off the lawsuits from landowners whose rights are being trampled. I along with several others are awaiting to see what our village does here. Does the Village of Spencer have a litigation account or a ‘charitable’ foundation that will back them in a takings suit? Binghamton’s moratorium has just been overturned and the Dryden and Middlefield case appeals were filed recently. The Dryden case has cost their taxpayers in the neighborhood of $70,000.00 so far, I understand. I suppose our village taxes would have to take a hit if this happens here.
We need forms of energy that can stand on their own without soaking the taxpayer any more. I don’t want to ban your panels or wind energy, even though their impacts are far greater than natural gas and their output less, but at the same time, I don’t want you banning my preferred source. I do want to find another solution for the future, but I see natural gas as the viable bridge.
And, keep in mind you will likely need natural gas or other fossil fuel byproducts to produce PV panels if they should approach economic viability. Unobtainium is unobtainable.