LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Understanding what 100% renewable energy really means
The following is a letter to the editor submitted to the Bemidji Pioneer by a reader. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bemidji Pioneer. To submit a letter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Bemidji Pioneer, P.O. Box 455, Bemidji, MN 56601.
When you hear the phrase 100% renewable, it has a feel-good sound. No one would dispute the fact that the wind and sun's energy is renewable and is there for the taking.
What we don't hear is what it takes to capture this energy. To capture the wind, it takes a generator on top of a huge tower, with three 100-foot blades to power it. The generator itself has many of the Earth's elements in it including thousands of pounds of copper.
All of this material comes from mining. Ashtabula I Energy Center near Valley City, N.D., has been repowered with new gearboxes and longer blades. If you have witnessed the transportation of these long blades, you will see a pilot car and highway patrol car in front, a big truck hauling the blade, and another highway patrol car and pilot car in back. All of which burn fossil fuels, including the ship hauling the blades into the Duluth harbor.
It's a two-block-long parade, complete with flashing lights when they go through town. Three of these parades and now we have repowered one wind turbine. The huge equipment used to put the blades in place also burns fossil fuels.
Solar panels are much easier to transport and set up, but they also contain elements that come out of the ground and are not renewable. In order to have power when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine, the plan is storage batteries.
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Batteries are considered hazardous waste. There is an article in Popular Mechanics’ January/February 2021 issue on small nuclear reactors and how they can revolutionize American energy. A better way of spending taxpayer money would be finding a way to use nuclear power to supply electrical needs when wind and sun energy isn't available.
Wind, solar and storage batteries seem like a way to solve the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity, but it solves one problem and creates a bigger one. Landfills will be full of worn-out wind and solar equipment plus a lot of storage batteries that are hazardous waste.
We will have plenty of batteries to deal with if our ground transportation goes electric. It would seem that generating baseload electricity with coal and nuclear plants that have a stockpile of fuel that can be used regardless of the weather conditions would be the best option.
A combination of coal, nuclear wind and the sun's energy would be the most cost-effective way of keeping the lights on without the use of costly storage batteries.