Junk Science: A Green Sings the Renewable Energy Blues

Friday , July 27, 2007

By Steven Milloy
Rockefeller University's Jesse Ausubel introduced his new article on renewable energy by openly worrying about
"hereticide" - the all-to-common historical phenomenon of putting heretics to death.
As a long-time Green, Ausubel has good reason to be concerned given his article condemns renewable energy
as "wrecking" the environment.
"Renewables are not green," is how Ausubel begins the article published in the International Journal of Nuclear
Governance, Economy and Ecology. It's a remarkable statement coming from someone who beat his fellow
Greens to global warming alarmism by at least 10 years.
Ausubel's Rockefeller University bio says that he "was one of the main organizers of the first U.N. World Climate
Conference (Geneva, 1979) which substantially elevated the global warming issue on scientific and political
agendas" and that he "played major roles in the formulation of both U.S. and world climate-research programs."
Ausubel's remarkable article, however, may very well cost him whatever exalted status he may have had in the
Green movement, which is likely to brand him an out-and-out traitor to the cause.
But the Green's loss is a big gain for the rest of us - particularly those interested in sensible energy and
environmental policy as opposed to ill-considered, pie-in-the-sky hopes for a renewable energy-powered
Ausubel calculated the amount of energy produced by various renewable energy sources - including
hydroelectric, biomass, wind and solar power - in terms of power output per square meter of land disturbed.
If you could collect the average annual rainfall of the 900,000-square-kilometer Canadian province of Ontario -
about 680,000 billion liters of water - and store it behind a dam 60 meters tall, you would produce about 11,000
Megawatts of electricity - which is only about 80 percent of the output of Canada's 25 nuclear power stations,
Ausubel says.
In other words, this works out to a power production rate of 0.012 watts per square meter of land. It would take 1
square kilometer of land to provide enough electricity for about 12 Canadians, according to Ausubel, who says
this inefficiency is a key reason for the reduced demand for hydroelectric power.
Biomass is an even worse renewable source of energy than hydroelectric power in terms of ecological harm.
Large-scale power generation from biomass would require that "vast areas be shaved or harvested annually,"
Ausubel says. It would take 2,500 square kilometers of prime Iowa farmland to produce as much electricity from
biomass as from a single nuclear power plant.
"Increased use of biomass fuel in any form is criminal," Ausubel stated in a media release. "Every automobile
would require a pasture of 1-2 hectares." He added.
Wind power? While it's much less land intensive than biomass, that's not saying much. A 770-square-kilometer
area would only produce as much electricity as a single 1,000 Megawatt nuclear plant.
A wind farm the size of Texas would be required to extract, store and transport annual U.S. energy needs. "Every
square meter of Connecticut" would have to be turned into a wind farm to provide all of New York City's electricity
Solar power is also quite a land hog. As photovoltaic cells are only 10 percent efficient and have seen no
breakthroughs in 30 years, U.S. electric consumption would require a 150,000-square kilometer area of
photovoltaics, plus additional land for electricity storage and retrieval.
The photovoltaic industry would have to step up its production by 600,000 times to produce the same amount of
power as that generated by single 1,000 Megawatt nuclear plant.
Aside from land misuse, Ausubel also raises the other undesirable consequences of renewables: wind power
produces low-frequency noise and thumps, blights landscapes, interferes with TV reception, and chops birds and
bats; dams kill rivers; and solar power would require that large areas of land be essentially "painted black" with
photovoltaic cells.
In terms of resource use, the infrastructure of a wind farm takes five to 10 times the steel and concrete used in a
1970-vintage nuclear power plant.
The first part of Ausubel's heresy closes with a sobering assessment: "Cheerful self-delusion about new solar
and renewables since 1970 has yet to produce a single quad of the more than 90 quadrillion BTU of total energy
the U.S. now yearly consumes. ... Let's stop sanctifying false and minor gods and heretically chant 'Renewables
are not Green.'"
The second part of Ausubel's heresy, which will have to be addressed in more detail at another time, is his
prescription for nuclear power.
Greens traditionally oppose nuclear power wherever and whenever they can. Even those Greens that say it's
time to consider nuclear power seem to be paying no more than lip service to the concept - witness the lack of
progress on greenhouse gas-free nuclear power despite all the hoopla about the supposed fossil fuel-caused
manmade climate change.
But Ausubel says that, "Like computers, to grow larger, the energy system must now shrink in size and cost.
Considered in watts per square meter, nuclear has astronomical advantages over its competitors."
In a time when those who question the Green agenda are scurrilously defamed and routinely intimidated - just for
the sin of expressing contrary opinions - the Green Ausubel should be applauded for having the courage to
stand up and speak the truth: that renewable energy wasn't, isn't and ought not ever be.
Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, an advocate of free
enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.