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Renewable energy projects continue to meet resistance

March 7, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

We have known since the 1970s society would be hard-pressed to find alternative energy sources of sufficient size to replace oil as supplies peak.

Policies were implemented to improve energy efficiency in buildings, produce vehicles that got more miles per gallon, limit highway travel to 55 miles per hour and develop renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

Amory Lovins declared that energy plans such as coal gasification, oil shale and gas and nuclear were not necessary if an aggressive program of energy efficiency were implemented.

The effort was relatively short-lived, as the United States persuaded Saudi Arabia to flood the market with oil, collapsing energy prices. It delayed the threat renewables posed to the oil industry.

We also declared our willingness to use military force to keep oil flowing from the Middle East. We continued to invest heavily in the military option rather than in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Public resistance to utility-scale wind and solar farms has grown, particularly in populated areas or areas of high scenic or ecological value. A recent PBS program documented the obstacles to utility-scale projects in California, including the lack of electrical storage, concern over bird kills, the wind blowing at night when demand is low, and the need to expand the grid.

In a recent Scientific American article, David Castelvecchi presented an overview of various approaches to storing electricity from renewable energy sources. The necessity arises from the fact that Danish customers pay some of the highest electrical rates in the world because of the wind farms selling their nighttime production at very low prices while paying high prices to buy power during the day.

In an article titled The Blowback Against Big Wind, Robert Brice of the Manhattan Institute describes what he sees as an urban-rural divide regarding wind energy. He claims city-based environmental groups and lobby organizations promote utility-scale renewable projects while rural populations endure their adverse consequences.

Not all consequences are negative, as revenues accrue to individuals and governmental units in impacted rural areas.

Since the Manhattan Institute receives funds from oil, gas and chemical interests and questions the need to limit carbon emissions, some see Brice’s writings as part of an ongoing effort to undermine the growth of the renewable industry.

In Ogle County, an effort to tighten the restrictions on setbacks, strobe effects, noise and shadow flicker failed to garner sufficient votes to pass. Opponents saw it as an effort to block wind farm development rather than a reasonable compromise.

Utility-scale solar farms built at airports and abandoned industrial sites have not met public resistance, while those close to residential areas have. In California, rooftop installations of 1 MW or less are gaining acceptance as they have little visual impact and do not necessitate grid expansion.

Renewables have a role to play in meeting our energy needs, which would be substantially less and the conflicts less frequent if we implemented an aggressive energy efficiency program targeted at a 50 percent reduction.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the March 7-13, 2012, issue

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