My eye just happened to catch the editorial in Sunday's New York Times celebrating the impending removal of a large power-generating dam on the Penobscot River in Maine. To the Times, this is a great thing:
[Demolition of the dam is] critical to the entire Penobscot River watershed, which covers nearly a third of the state. Thanks to the work of the Penobscot River Restoration Trust and its partners, the lower river will be free-flowing once again, allowing the revival of a complex migratory ecosystem once teeming with fish working their way up from the sea.
Of course, there is no mention in the editorial of how much power is produced by this dam, or what source Maine is going to use to replace it. Perhaps the Mainiacs are just supposed to reduce their power usage?
Wouldn't you have thought the New York Times would love hydropower? It's "renewable," and, unlike wind and solar, it works all the time and doesn't need back-up capacity from the hated fossil fuels. Sure it has some impact on the environment, but so do wind and solar. Wind and solar take vast amounts of land to generate small amounts of power, and then they go dead at night for solar and on calm days for wind.
And how about the thousands of birds killed by wind turbines? If you haven't seen it, check out this article from Britain's Mail Online from June 27. The headline is:
Rare bird last seen in Britain 22 years ago reappears - only to be killed by wind turbine in front of a horrified crowd of birdwatchers
It seems that a group of some 40 bird enthusiasts went out to a remote Scottish island to see a rare "white-throated needletail," a type of bird not observed in the area for decades. Even as they were observing the bird, it was smacked out of the sky and killed by a wind turbine. There is a video of the killing at the link. Is hydro's environmental impact really worse?
Hydro produces meaningful amounts of reliable power -- 7% of total power and 19% of the electricity in the U.S., according to this from the U.S. Geological Survey. Get rid of that, and where do you go? Fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) are obviously the dominant option -- filling 82% of U.S. energy demand according to this from the Institute for Energy Research. The New York Times hates all fossil fuels with a huge passion. (it thinks that fossil fuels cause "climate change.")
Well, the New York Times likes wind. According to this from Forbes, with huge government subsidies wind had made it up to 3.5% of U.S. electricity generation by 2012 -- which makes it well less than 2% of total power generation. (No wind-powered cars!) The Forbes article notes that the large increase in wind capacity over the last few years was largely driven by Federal tax credits that effectively offset about 30% of the cost of building the turbines. But the tax credit ended on January 1, 2013. Without that, wind goes from being somewhat uncompetitive to extremely uncompetitive. Meanwhile, solar is stuck at less than 1% of capacity and is so expensive that massive government subsidies have not made it go anywhere.
Is there any option left with the prospect of generating enough power to keep this economy going? As far as I know, there's exactly one: nuclear. According to this from the World Nuclear Association, nuclear generates about 19% of U.S. electricity, which would put it at somewhat less than 10% of total power generation. Oh, but not a single new nuclear plant has been built and opened in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 emboldened the regulators to make the approvals impossible to get. The regulatory tourniquet was loosened a bit a few years ago, and according to the the WNA, there are now a total of three nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. That may or may not be enough to replace the old ones being retired over the next few years. And then there was the Fukishima incident in 2011.
To its partial credit, the Times has spoken modestly in favor of nuclear power, at least as recently as 2010. Since Fukishima? Not that I can find. Needless to say, its friends from groups like Greenpeace, NRDC, and WWF are passionately against nuclear.
I can say that a few years ago I attended an event at the apartment of the then head of the New York Times editorial board, and she definitely had electricity there. I seriously doubt that she is ready to give it up. It's just that, in the New York Times mindset, things like electricity come from the tooth fairy.