The environmental impact of some clean energy sources is summarized below:
• Hydroelectric facilities, notably dams, can flood vast areas of land. The flooded areas can displace people and wildlife, and impact the ecosystems of adjacent areas with consequences that may be difficult to predict. Dams can change the composition of river water downstream of the dam and can deprive land areas of a supply of silt for agricultural purposes. A dam on a river can prevent the upstream migration of certain species of fish, such as salmon.
• Geothermal power plants can emit toxic gases such as hydrogen sulfide or greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The produced water from a geothermal reservoir will contain dissolved solids that can form solid precipitates when the temperature and pressure of the produced water changes.
• Solar power plants are relatively inefficient and a solar power plant like the Solar Electric Generating Station (SEGS) in Southern California has a large footprint and may be visually offensive to some people (Figure 4-10).
Figure 4-10 also shows some broken mirrors, which illustrates the need for maintenance to repair or replace damaged mirrors.
• Wind farms can interfere with bird migration patterns and may be visually offensive.
Point to Ponder: Is the environmental impact of clean energy sources an important consideration?
Society is searching for environmentally compatible, reliable energy sources. One of the characteristics of an environmentally compatible energy source is its cleanliness.
A clean energy source emits negligible amounts of greenhouse gases or other pollutants. Even though fossil fuels have serious pollution problems, we have seen that mitigation technologies such as greenhouse gas storage (also known as sequestration) can reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions and justify the continued use of fossil fuels as an energy source.
In an objective assessment of competing energy sources, we must recognize that clean energy sources such as hydroelectric, solar, and wind energy can have a significant environmental impact that can adversely affect their environmental compatibility. This impact may affect the social acceptability of renewable energy projects. For example, a wind farm proposed for installation in Nantucket Sound near Martha's Vineyard encountered strong political resistance from residents and some environmentalists because of its expected impact on the aesthetics of the area and the local fishing industry.
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