Letters | Catalyst Fall 2011
Clean Energy—but Still Wasteful?
Your Summer 2011 article on concentrating solar power states that for wet-cooled technologies the water needs range from “700 to 1,000 gallons per megawatt-hour.” According to information published [in 2010 by Argonne National Laboratory] the actual operational consumptive use ranges from about 1.98 million gallons to 6.2 million gallons per year per megawatt for both trough and tower technologies.
In addition, these industrial energy plants potentially consume huge tracts of biologically important deserts. Siting on brownfields or previously disturbed lands would be the optimal solution if water supplies were available.
North Las Vegas, NV
The author responds:
Our wet-cooling numbers were based on data from a 2011 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and are expressed in different units of measurement than the numbers you cite. When adjusted to account for that difference, the reports’ findings are actually similar (though the Argonne report’s numbers are slightly higher).
Siting renewable energy facilities in previously disturbed areas or unused spaces like rooftops, retired agricultural lands, and brownfields may indeed pose fewer environmental impacts. In addition, smaller-scale facilities installed close to where the electricity will be consumed can reduce the demand for new transmission lines, which also have an impact on land and water resources.
Laura Wisland, senior
UCS Climate and Energy Program
Nuclear Waste: A Long-Term Problem
“Can It Happen Here?” begs the question of permanent [nuclear waste] storage, which does not exist because there is neither an environment nor storage technology deemed “safe.” [It also ignores] the fact that the U.S. government subsidizes private power companies who profit from nuclear plants, yet does not expect or require them to take fiscal responsibility for waste storage. Federal subsidies and long-term storage, not just more temporary measures that UCS proposed to Congress following Fukushima, must be addressed!
As you note, siting a permanent waste repository has been politically and technically difficult, and will likely remain so. However, the nuclear industry is required to pay for waste disposal: electric utilities make contributions to a federal fund designated for construction of a permanent repository (though it is unclear whether this fund will cover the actual cost).
The U.S. government does subsidize the nuclear industry in other ways; UCS is working to prevent an expansion of these subsidies while at the same time promoting safer and less expensive energy technologies such as wind and solar. But as long as the United States continues to use nuclear power, our recommendations will help ensure it is as safe as reasonably possible.
Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director
and senior scientist
UCS Global Security Program