Green Energy Eats Land


The Washington Post has a good article today on the brewing battle between the energy and the naturalist wings of ideological environmentalism. The problem is that no kind of environmentalist believes in tradeoffs—they apparently believe that all good things can be had at once. The only reason the world is not a verdant energy rich paradise is due to the machinations of a cabal of greedy and evil capitalists. (OK. OK. That characterization may be a little harsh, but when you talk with them sometimes….) Anyway, this chart in the Post shows their problem: renewable fuels are land intensive which means that such fuels will displace large areas of nature.

In square miles per terawatt-hour per year electricity from biomass needs 210 square miles of land; wind, about 18 square miles; and solar photovoltaic is 14 square miles. Compare this to natural gas which takes 7 square miles; coal 4 square miles; and nuclear at less than 1 square mile. 

In contrast, the ever-increasing productivity of so-called corporate agriculture has meant that more and more land has been reverting to nature in the United States. Switching to renewable fuels could reverse that trend.

We at Reason have been predicting this conflict within the green movement for some time.

Heads up: Look for my article in the next issue where I compare the capital costs of building 1,000 megawatt power plants of various types (including carbon sequestration and renewables).