Greening Green Energy

CO2 Down to Earth 8

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by Philip Fry

After weeks of little response, I have been overwhelmed with informative and encouraging messages, some brief and focused, others full of exciting and detailed research. I have read the messages and replied, but have not had time to assemble all the data and points of view received. A few general issues stand out though; I will try to resume them, leaving many items for later discussion.

There is a decided mistrust in the manoeuvres of the Provincial government with regard to the energy needs of local and regional communities. (Need I recall the jail issue, as a confirmation of mistrust?)

There is also a strong trend to reject “mega-systems” in favour of local community control. This view is based on a number of factors, the main one being that the conditions for generating and transmitting electricity change from one landscape patchwork to another, differing significantly from locality to locality, so that those with local experience are best placed to know what is to be done. Also brought forward were: the disproportion between the amount of land required for solar and wind installations compared to their (intermittent) energy output, and the consequent impact of land loss on local well-being; the monocular vision of energy corporations, focused on profit (the “bottom line” and “dividends”) rather than on service to the community; and the transmission of power over long distances, seen as both environmentally and financially costly. Is it possible that “green energy” is not yet as “green” as it seems? If so, should we not be looking at ways to mitigate damage and proceed with caution?

According to the Ontario Energy Quarterly Q1, 2020, our provincial grid-connected generation capacity by fuel type is 34% nuclear, 29% gas, 32% hydro, 12% wind, 1% biofuel, and 1% solar. The claim that this consists in largely “clean energy” is considerably weakened when we notice that the measurement of emissions is limited to the point of electric generation, and does not include the effects of inputs, infrastructure, and transmission. If we include impacts on biodiversity as critical elements of “green energy” in our present dilemma, the messages sent to me paint an even more sombre picture.

Nuclear is clean, only if we ignore how uranium is mined, processed, and delivered to the 16 nuclear units at Bruce, Darlington, and Pickering, then blindfold ourselves about what is to be done with the massive stockpiles of radioactive waste already accumulated. So far, no certainty on this file.

Gas, replacing coal generation, is cleaner, but still produces CO2, and is not an adequate long- term solution.

Hydro relies on dams, which create large bodies of stagnant water upstream that destroy the habitat of biota dependent on running water, block the passage between upstream and downstream, and disrupt normal downstream flow. Much of the large-scale potential of provincial watersheds has already been exploited, but some small-scale use of submersible generators might be possible, if disruption of the site could be avoided.

Wind and solar large-scale installations face considerable land use challenges. These problems are open to creative mitigation – extensive use of sites already bearing a “carbon footprint”, such as rooftops, for example – and the innovative design of solar and wind installations to permit market gardening, herding of small domestic animals, and planting indigenous wildflowers to enhance biodiversity.

The current embedded (local) generation capacity statistics for Ontario show an interesting shift in the grid percentages: solar jumps to 62% and wind to 17%, leaving the “big” provincial fuels far behind. This is the direction we need to go, but it will mean supplanting the “one focus, one use, and for profit” attitude with a community based, multiple use, biodiversity-friendly approach to land use.

Many of the adverse impacts of wind and solar can, I believe, be reduced by introducing mitigating conditions during the early planning stages of a project, and, if the site is already constructed, by negotiating appropriate interventions. We do not need chain link fences and warning signs surrounding large parcels of land in our patchwork landscape. Next time, I will discuss possible mitigating techniques.

If you have comments and suggestions, please contact me at: wildflowerguy@gmail.com

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