Bryce whopper on land use

The following was posted as a comment on the WSJ website.

While Mr. Bryce may not have his facts straight, he at least gets credit for persistence. This piece is nearly identical to another piece by Mr. Bryce that ran in the New York Times seven months ago, a piece that has been widely rebuked by dozens of journalists and others for its numerous falsehoods as well as its failure to disclose that Mr. Bryce’s employer, the Manhattan Institute, receives large amounts of funding from major fossil fuel industry players like ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers.

Unfortunately for Mr. Bryce, repeating a falsehood does not make it true. After his first piece ran, a number of experts and other independent voices pointed out several critical mistakes in Mr. Bryce’s attacks on wind energy. First, Mr. Bryce overstates the actual land use requirements of wind energy by a factor of at least 20-50 by failing to mention that only 2-5% percent of the land within a wind plant is actually occupied by wind turbines and their supporting infrastructure, while the remaining 95-98% can continue being used for farming, ranching, or whatever its prior use was. In fact, a 2008 report by the Bush Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that obtaining 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind energy would use less land than is currently occupied by the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

Second, Mr. Bryce drastically understates the land use impacts of other types of energy production, ignoring the massive amount of land that must be mined to produce a useable quantity of fossil or nuclear fuel. In this piece, Mr. Bryce comically pretends that the land use impacts of nuclear power are confined to the nuclear power plant, ignoring the large tracts of land despoiled by uranium mining and the disposal of mine tailings and other waste.

Moreover, the harmful and in many cases irreversible impact on the land caused by the extraction, transportation, and consumption of these other fuels is far greater than the comparatively benign impact of installing wind turbines. Furthermore, because fossil and nuclear fuels are consumed when they are used while wind energy’s fuel is never depleted, fossil and nuclear energy require that new land be continually mined in perpetuity. The DOE report mentioned above noted that 1,000,000 million acres of new land are disturbed each and every year in the U.S. by coal mining, several times greater than the amount of land that would be disturbed once and only once by obtaining 20% of America’s electricity from wind energy.

Of course, Mr. Bryce also overlooks the numerous other environmental benefits of wind energy. Most obviously, wind energy does not emit any air pollution, in contrast to the massive amounts of human health-harming and smog-forming pollution belched by fossil fuel power plants. A less recognized benefit is that wind energy requires almost zero water use, in contrast to the many thousands of gallons that must be consumed annually to provide a single household with electricity from nuclear or fossil-fueled power plants. While drought-stricken Texas is concerned about having enough water to keep its fossil fuel power plants running this summer, wind energy saved more than 6 billion gallons of water in Texas alone last year.

By Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association Manager-Transmission Policy,