Renewable energy is on the rise.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2016 report, renewables are the fastest growing energy source, growing globally at a rate of 2.6 percent per year. At that pace, they are expected to meet 29 percent of the world’s energy needs by 2040, up from 22 percent in 2012.
"Renewable sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric offer the promise of cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy."Compared to conventional fossil fuels like coal and oil, renewable sources like wind, solar and hydroelectric offer the promise of cleaner, more environmentally friendly energy, reducing impacts involved in both extracting and generating power.
But reduced impact doesn’t mean no impact. Dams built for hydroelectric power can flood vast stretches of land, displacing people and animals. Solar panel arrays can likewise make environments less hospitable for inhabits. Wind turbines can present hazards to birds and other avian species, and have also been opposed by some for aesthetic reasons.
Fortunately, careful site selection can minimize such impacts. In a paper presented at the International Conference on Environmental Science and Technology in 2014, Gdańsk University of Technology professor Ewa Klugmann-Radziemska noted that mindful consideration of migration patterns can minimize bird deaths due to wind farms. Likewise, she observed that due to the potential impacts of large-scale solar fields on their environments, they are perhaps best suited to “lower-quality locations such as abandoned mining land, or existing transportation and transmission corridors.”
It’s also important to keep in mind the fact that, while renewable energy sources aren’t without their environmental impacts, these impacts are in many cases much less significant than those from conventional sources. For instance, according to Dr. Klugmann-Radziemska, even accounting for the dangers wind turbines present to birds, fossil-fueled facilities are roughly 17 times more damaging to these animals, largely due to their contribution to climate change.
Other complaints have more of an aesthetic basis. In the U.S., large-scale solar farms in places ranging from Vermont to North Carolina to South Dakota have run into resistance, with residents raising concerns that these projects could prove, among other things, property-value-deflating eyesores. Massachusetts’ Cape Cod is home to perhaps the most notorious battle over renewables. There, disagreements over the placement of 130 offshore wind turbines has gone on for more than a decade, with residents claiming that, in addition to possible environmental impacts, the proposed turbines would damage the area’s ocean views.
However, not everyone considers renewable installations a nuisance. Rather, some are objects of fascination—tourist attractions, in fact. For example, last year more than 720,000 people took paid tours of Nevada’s Hoover Dam, arguably the most famous renewable energy project in U.S. history.
More recent developments are proving a draw as well. For instance, according to a 2013 article by Joanna Foster at Think Progress, wind farms across the country are drawing people by the busload. Installations in Michigan’s Great Lakes region, North Palms Springs, Calif., and Atlantic City, N.J., have all proved popular tourist draws, she wrote.
Even the much-maligned Cape Cod wind farms have gotten some support, as local ferry company Hy-line Cruises has announced that it plans to run sightseeing trips to the turbines if and when they are finally installed.
As the saying goes, it’s an ill wind that blows no good.