Wind and solar have always seemed like the über energy. Clean, seemingly limitless and potentially cheap—what’s
not to like?
Biofuels offer a different, but also powerful appeal. Turn the Midwest, one of the world’s plumpest areas of prime farmland, into a big ethanol and biodiesel factory. Consumers never run out of fuel, new industries are stimulated and farmers make more money, so everyone wins.
Each type has always had its unique drawbacks, but their overall prospects nevertheless seemed reasonably bright.
However, a new study from The Nature Conservancy tempers some of the enthusiasm. If the United States wants to create enough alternative energy to meet the carbon cap-and-trade legislation now before Congress, we’d have to devote an additional 79,500 square miles to the task by 2030. That’s a footprint twice the size of Indiana.
Even if the study exaggerates the impact, it’s still a lot of land.
Most of the space would be allocated to growing crops for biofuels. But some of it also would be pockmarked with wind turbines and paved over with solar collectors.
Delving further into alternative energy is fine and good, the Nature Conservancy says, provided damage to natural habitat is minimized and projects are located on marginal land or brown fields. But the conservation organization emphasizes Americans should make improving efficiency the first priority.
What are your thoughts? Are we leaving efficiency on the sidelines in our enthusiasm for alternative energy?