Energy sprawl: The next worry?

Sept. 4, 2009
By Elisa Wood September 3, 2009 Energy facilities take up space. Some, like wind farms, take up a lot of space. In fact, new energy production will consume more land than can be found in all of Nebraska by 2030, according to a recent report by The Nature Conservancy. This will create what the report […]

By Elisa Wood

September 3, 2009

Energy facilities take up space. Some, like wind farms, take up a lot of space. In fact, new energy production will consume more land than can be found in all of Nebraska by 2030, according to a recent report by The Nature Conservancy.

This will create what the report describes as “energy sprawl,” a term I’m guessing we will start to see more in the legal briefs by NIMBYists. It’s a flashpoint phrase. Americans don’t like sprawl of any kind — although we appreciate the convenience it affords. Nice that the super store is only five minutes away; not so nice to give up the paradise that became the parking lot.

Unfortunately, cleaner energy often means greater energy sprawl, the report says. The more aggressively we pursue greenhouse gas reduction, the more acreage we are likely to use. Biofuels, in particular, gobble up a lot of land because they use farm crops.

The report is not suggesting we give up on green energy. On the contrary, it appears to be more a matter of choosing energy sites with care. Chief among the report’s recommendations is pursuit of more energy efficiency. Of all energy choices, efficiency has the lowest impact on land use. For every terawatt hour of electricity use avoided, we avoid sacrificing 4.7 to 17.8 square miles, says the report.

After efficiency, the next three best ways to achieve emissions reductions, but limit energy sprawl, are to:

*Build power plants on brownfield sites as much as possible

*Create flexible cap and trade rules, which allow for emissions reductions with certain low-land impact technologies, such as nuclear power.

*Site plants carefully, in areas where they have minimum impact on habitat

The report also suggests that we make energy sprawl a new metric in energy policy, another issue to weigh when debating which resources to build. Is this a good idea? I’d be interested in hearing what readers think. On the one hand, clearly it’s important to protect habitat. On the other hand, siting power plants already is difficult. And if we don’t produce enough electricity, the consequences are serious.  Power shortages drive up prices, undermine our economy and disrupt our well-being.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts. And I’m guessing they may depend, at least in part, on how close you live to that piece of ‘Nebraska’ likely to disappear.

See the full report at http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0006802

Visit Elisa Wood at http://www.realenergywriters.com/ and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

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