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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Brad Plumer of Vox on Wilderness and Costa Rica's Renewables

I think both of Brad's articles are excellent. I'm just adding comment and although some of it may come off sounding anti-renewables, let me just state for the record that I'm "not anti-renewables." No, seriously, I'm fine with rooftop solar, properly sited wind farms, and I think we should keep most existing hydroelectric. Nuclear certainly can't do it all.

Money quote:

A new study in Current Biology reports that Earth has lost 10 percent of its wilderness since the early 1990s —an area twice the size of Alaska. "The amount of wilderness loss in just two decades is staggering and very saddening," said lead author James Watson of the University of Queensland.

A wilderness area is, by definition, free of human industry (roads, agriculture, mining, etc) which includes the the sight of power stations on distant ridge lines and hilltops as well as the forest cleared to provide corridors for the power lines that lead from them.

The loss of wilderness is only part of the story. As was mentioned in Plumer's article, you can't recreate intact ecosystems once you destroy them, including those that are not part of a wilderness area. A case in point is the Ivanpah solar thermal power station that usurped intact desert tortoise habitat , and never mind that it may also be incinerating up to 6,000 birds a year.

Kudos to Plumer for including a link to a report from the Breakthrough Institute about using technology and innovation to shrink our environmental footprint (GMO-free organic gardening, grass-fed beef, wood stoves, and the 100 mile diet are not in the game plan).

In the past few years, deforestation in Brazil has starting ticking up again, particularly among small farmers —and there's evidence that forest loss has accelerated in nearby Peru and Bolivia.

If you want to read on a daily basis stories about the losing battle to save nature, subscribe to the excellent Mongabay website. Interestingly enough, the top story at Mongabay at the time of this writing is about the Belo Monte mega-dam in Brazil, a renewable energy source. Take a minute to Google the term "dams destroying Amazon."

Construction of 40 major dams in the Brazilian Amazon would destroy the heart of the world’s largest rainforest, severely affect indigenous people and is not economically justifiable, says Greenpeace in a major new report.

In comparison, the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the mightiest power station in the United states, uses municipal waste water for cooling ... just saying.

Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station
 Which is a nice segue to Brad's other article: Costa Rica has gone 76 straight days using 100% renewable electricity.

There were dozens of articles published on this topic when Costa Rica did this last year, but after having read many of them, I have to say that Plumer's is by far and away, the best one.

Renewable energy isn't always a good thing. It just may be that new hydro in biodiverse parts of the world is no better than fossil fuels when it comes to negative environmental impact, so maybe we should not be praising Costa Rica for expanding hydro.

When was the last time you read a story about Washington State's low carbon energy? And yes, our hydro has also had a serious negative impact on river ecosystems.

The only critique I can offer concerns a single sentence:

In that case [for places without much wind, sunshine, geothermal or hydro], countries worried about greenhouse-gas emissions may have to turn to nuclear power (reliable but expensive and dogged by concerns about waste).

May have to turn to nuclear instead of may have to turn to wind or solar? As for expensive, the cost of nuclear, like everything else, is relative, varying from place to place and over time.

To put the expense of nuclear into perspective for a first world industrialized nation trying to decarbonize without out it, I give you once again, my standard account of the results of an ongoing real-world test case. From the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, second in command to Merkel, who was also the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety from 2005 to 2009:

“I don’t know any other economy that can bear this burden [$30billion a year]...We have to make sure that we connect the energy switch to economic success, or at least not endanger it. Germany must focus on the cheapest clean-energy sources as well as efficient fossil-fuel-fired plants to stop spiraling power prices."

While renewable aid costs are at the “limit” of what the economy can bear, Germany will keep pushing wind and solar power, the most cost-effective renewable sources, Gabriel said. Biomass energy is too expensive and its cost structure hasn’t improved, he said.

Germany is demonstrating the real world cost of trying to reduce emissions with only renewables; $30 billion a year, according to Germany's economics ministry. $30 billion a year would pay for forty custom built $7.5 billion Generation III AP1000 reactors over ten years ($30B/year x 10years  = $300B, $300B/$7.5B = 40 AP1000 reactors). Add those to existing reactors and they could supply about 97% of Germany's electricity by 2025. And their emissions reductions have been flat for the last six years ...six years of carbon in the atmosphere we can't get back.

And nuclear is only dogged by waste concerns because of successful antinuclear marketing. The waste issue is, in reality and in comparison, trivial.

My visit to Costa Rica was probably the best vacation I've ever taken. It was my first experience with the stunning biodiversity of a tropical rainforest. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I leave you with some old video footage I took with a camcorder: 

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