There are many good reasons for using renewable energy sources. They are cleaner and less polluting than traditional forms of energy, such as coal and gas. And “renewable” means they are replenished resources, so you theoretically have an infinite supply. However, these resources can be mismanaged, too, resulting in damage to the environment.
These energy sources are becoming easier to access through deregulation in some states. Sites such as Energysavings.com allow individuals to select the energy providers they wish to work with. When selecting businesses to work with, it’s good to understand the potential risks, so you can evaluate how well the company is keeping things under control.
The Union of Concerned Scientists lists the current renewable energy sources as:
• Wind Power
• Solar Power
• Geothermal Power
Each type of energy source has a potential impact on the environment if not kept under control. The most likely risks will come from over-demand and cutting of corners in an attempt to meet increased needs. Self-regulation and federal and state regulations help keep this from happening.
The Environmental Protection Association (EPA) says one common problem with all of these sources of energy is in the transmission of energy. Wind farms and geothermal plants are built outside of populated areas and need to get power back to consumers. This can mean the clearing of huge stretches of land to run power lines. A straight route for these power lines is more efficient, which can mean the destruction of large areas of habitat to make way for the construction.
Efficient wind power generation requires the construction of tall towers, which some people oppose because it spoils the appearance of the countryside. The large turbines and propeller blades can be noisy. Some people have complained the vibrations from turbines cause headaches. According to National Geographic Green Living, more then 30,000 birds are killed every year by the turbine blades.
Solar panels are normally placed on existing structures, but new large-scale projects are planned to be built in open areas. This requires land use, which impacts habitats and wildlife. The actual generation of electricity from solar panels is low-risk, but the manufacturing of the solar cells requires the use of hazardous materials.
Some plants are located near geothermally active spots. Others require deep drilling to get to the heated resources. Drilling requires more extensive land use and introduces some risk of shifting earth. Water-cooled plants may dump heated water back into rivers and streams, killing wildlife.
The burning of plant and animal material to produce electricity can put pollutants into the air, like any fossil fuel plant. The feedstock, or fuel, that goes into a plant can be monitored and controlled. If not managed correctly, too much feedstock can be removed, harming the environment.
Hydropower requires the damming of active rivers. Significant amounts of land are forced underwater. Wildlife moves out of the area. Fish that once traveled the waterways now can’t move. Whole populations of fish can be endangered.
Knowing how each of these renewable energy resources can be mismanaged and harm the environment helps you research potential power companies and energy suppliers. Ask how each of the risks are being addressed. Select a supplier that meets your needs and is working to have minimal impact on the environment.
Guest Post by Randy Reed
Randy grew up in a family of hunters outdoors men and women. He also teaches creative writing workshops.
The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the University of Rochester or any employee thereof. University of Rochester is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the guest blog.