THE ROLE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY IN THE REDUCTION OF GREENHOUSE GASES

Posted on December 5, 2008 by Linda Bullen

Despite some early skepticism, the concept that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contribute to global warming is now a widespread, if not universally accepted, belief. This link was acknowledged by the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 127 S.Ct. 1438, 1446 (2007). With the recognition of this relationship has come an increased awareness of the role that traditional energy production facilities have played in global warming, which, in turn, has resulted in an increased interest in the development of renewable energy. 

 

            Renewable energy is energy which, by definition, is naturally replenished. The most commonly recognized forms of renewable energy are sunlight, wind, geothermal, water and biofuel/biomass sources. While lawmakers throughout the U.S. have passed legislation requiring that a percentage of electricity must be derived from renewable resources, the state of Nevada has been a leader in mandating that renewable energy be a made a significant part of electric provider's portfolios. In 1997, Nevada’s legislature passed into law in the state’s first “Renewable Portfolio Standard” which required that electric providers in the state acquire renewable electric generation or purchase renewable energy credits so that each utility had 1 percent of total consumption in renewables. In 2001, the standard was modified to require that, by the year 2013, 15 percent of electricity be derived from renewables.

 

            While renewable energy facilities are generally environmentally preferable to their fossil-fuel counterparts, they are not without their impacts to both the human and natural environments. For example, renewable energy sources are often less concentrated than fossil fuels, thereby requiring a significantly larger geographic footprint for renewable energy facilities. In addition, certain types of renewables have significant visual impact, and some renewable projects utilize other, sometimes precious, resources such as water.

 

            These impacts are, in the case of most large scale electrical generation projects, analyzed in the course of the environmental review process mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). NEPA requires not only analysis of the environmental impacts of proposed projects when such projects have a federal nexus and are deemed to have a significant impact on the environment, but also requires mitigation of such impacts or rejection of projects where the environmental impact is significant and cannot be adequately mitigated. 

 

            Development of renewable energy projects requires careful examination of science, law and public policy to ensure compliance with all applicable legal requirements and protection of the environment. The process is lengthy, costly, and at times contentious, but each completed project brings us closer to meeting the nation's energy needs without contributing to global warming.



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