Research & Commentary: Carbon Dioxide Restrictions Will Devastate Environmental Treasures

Published November 7, 2009

Forcing nationwide cuts in carbon dioxide emissions offers only speculative environmental benefits, if any, as a switch to wind and solar power will certainly cause environmental degradation. It requires 600 square miles of wind turbines to produce the same 1,000 megawatts of electricity as a single medium-to-large coal power plant.

Even in favorable locations, wind turbines can supply electrical power only about 20 percent of the time, meaning utilities must still have an alternative baseload source to compensate for wind fluctuations. By taking coal and natural gas out of production, carbon dioxide restrictions will require a massive program to build more nuclear power plants to supply this baseload.

Wind turbine developments despoil nature’s beauty and indiscriminately kill birds and bats, including many endangered species. “Cutting wide swaths of unspoiled forest for access roads, clear-cutting miles of ridgelines, erecting industrial structures with spinning blades that threaten migrating birds and the last remaining bats–these are irreversible actions with permanent consequences,” Eleanor Tillinghast, director of the environmental advocacy group Green Berkshires, wrote in the Boston Globe.

Solar power likewise requires substantially more environmental destruction than coal. The Nevada Solar One array, the most efficient in the nation, requires 350 acres of land to produce less than 1/10th the power of a conventional coal power plant, and that’s at peak efficiency at noon on a cloudless day. Both wind and solar power projects can require the construction of new transmission lines, often across otherwise-pristine lands. And they use much more water than coal power plants, a serious problem in desert areas with the most sunlight.

All of that explains why so many environmentalists oppose further development of wind and solar power. By forcing construction of more of these projects, carbon dioxide restrictions will have a devastating impact on many of America’s most-valuable natural treasures.

The following articles provide information about the deleterious environmental effects of wind and solar power and other substitutes for fossil fuels.


Myth Busting Ethanol Fuel Subsidies
This Heartland Institute Research & Commentary shows ethanol fuel will not reduce global warming, and does not provide much fuel when compared with the amount of resources used to produce it. The paper also explains why the diversion of grain to ethanol production has resulted in higher food prices in the developed world and food shortages, food riots, and starvation in less-developed nations.

Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China
The byproduct of producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels–silicon tetrachloride–is a highly toxic substance that poses environmental hazards.

Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water
This New York Times article exposes an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can demand a huge amount of water. Solar farms, biofuel refineries, and cleaner coal plants could consume billions more gallons of water every year.

Ethanol’s Water Shortage
Heavily subsidized and absurdly inefficient, corn-based ethanol already has driven up food prices. The U.S. Senate’s plan to increase production to 36 billion gallons by 2022, from less than seven billion today, will place even greater pressure on farm-belt aquifers.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other environment topics, visit The Heartland Institute’s Web site at and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, you may contact Brian Costin at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].