green stocks report
Environment vs. Clean Energy? A False Choice
Renewable energy shouldn’t repeat the blunders of older industries.
By RONA FRIED, Ph.D.
Rona Fried, ph.D., is
president of Sustainable
Business.com, the online
community for green
business: daily sustainable business and investor news, Green Dream
Jobs, Business Connections and the sustainable
Contact Fried at rona@
Consult your financial
advisor before making
With every dire report on climate change comes
equally disturbing evidence of the loss of animal
and plant species. If you cherish the diversity
of life, it’s very painful to read about Sarah Palin’s aerial
killing of wolves, the collapse of bumble bee, frog and bat
populations, or the latest State of the Birds report confirming what many of us observe — 30 percent of our birds are
I know clean energy pioneers feel the same way. It’s
why many of them got into the business in the first place.
My fear is that, as the industry goes mainstream, new players won’t have the same sensitivities. Venture capital firms
will just go for the gold rush, saying, “We need as much
clean energy as we can get to power the world.” The fact
is, even if we supply clean energy to 6. 9 billion people (and
growing), our planet won’t be livable unless we also make
room for the species we share it with.
Right now, most species don’t have the room they need
to survive. We impact every square inch, including the
ocean. Suburban sprawl and the invasive species we’ve
introduced are bad enough, but then there’s oil and gas
drilling, mining, farming, cattle grazing and converting
land for biofuel crops. And now, we’ll build enormous
solar, wind and geothermal plants?
For now, environmental nongovernmental organizations are major supporters and promoters of clean energy,
and we need to keep it that way. The last thing we want is
to splinter this strong, natural coalition between renewable
energy advocates and environmental groups. Clean energy
companies offer critical solutions to climate change, which
in turn helps to maintain long-established habitats.
The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (batsandwind.
org), a unique collaboration among the American Wind
Energy Association, Bat Conservation International, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory, believes it is close to a solution that
will prevent the deaths of millions of bats. A pilot project
will shut down turbines when wind speeds are low, which
is usually when bats are nearby.
But what happens to the land when large energy plants
are under construction? Before the credit crunch, there
were at least 80 large solar projects on the drawing board
in California. Solel’s ( solel.com) proposed 553-megawatt
(MW) solar thermal plant, for example, would cover 9
square miles ( 2,330 hectares) of the Mojave Desert. Clean
energy doesn’t produce pollution, but it does have an
The Obama administration will open hundreds of thou-
sands of acres to renewable energy development, on shore
and off shore. The industry must use new permits wisely
and not get pulled into a business-as-usual, environmentally destructive business model, siting projects everywhere
they can. We still have the chance to develop clean energy
plants the right way, sustainably, without sacrificing more
of our wildlands and waters. A recent report found, even
if all environmentally sensitive lands were omitted from
potential development, California would still have enough
land to produce 500,000 MW of renewable energy — more
than the state’s peak demand.
Let’s start by indentifying the best
places to build. Focus on lands
that are already disturbed, rather
than on greenfields.
Let’s start by indentifying the best places to build.
Focus on lands that are already disturbed, rather than
on greenfields. There are hundreds of defunct oil and gas
fields in the Rockies, and thousands of acres of derelict
farms, as Robert Redford noted in a recent Huffington Post
editorial ( huffingtonpost.com/robert-redford/balancing-
renewable-energ_b_183816.html). Private lands have
been chopped up for subdivisions that never got built.
A national energy plan should balance large solar thermal, wind, wave and geothermal plants with distributed
energy, including residential and community-based solar,
small wind and geothermal heat pumps.
A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study
published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology pointed to extravagant inefficiency and use of materials
in manufacturing, including solar factories. It warned that
inefficiency could drastically reduce solar’s lifecycle energy
balance, the ratio of energy required to produce a panel
versus the clean energy it produces.
In a time when companies are struggling for capital
and market share, cleaning up manufacturing processes
can not only cut costs but also help a firm stand out from
Renewable energy companies: Keep leading the charge
toward a sustainable economy, not only by producing clean
energy, but also by adopting efficient, clean manufacturing
processes. And insist on appropriate siting for projects, to
protect our land and water. ST