From hydroelectric dams to solar panels, Washington is the largest consumer of renewable resources. While these alternative energies help reduce societies consumption of fossil fuels, there are certain hindrances that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Although optimistic of benefits, Pierce students like Eduardo Murillo are uncertain if these alternative sources will be doing more harm than good for Washington’s environment and economy.
“I’m not sure whether the point is to save money or to save Earth,” said Murillo. “I believe we are conflicted and confused by what it really means to go green.”
With 43 dams statewide, 75 percent of Washington’s power comes from hydroelectric energy produced from water channels such as the Nisqually, Columbia and Snake River. Even though hydroelectric dams provide a majority of Washington’s electricity, many of these dams also cause problems for wildlife.
These massive dams, the Youngs Creeks Project for example, disrupts seasonal salmon runs due its size, making it impossible for these creatures to migrate and spawn upriver.
However, these alternative sources of energy don’t affect wildlife on the same scale as greenhouse gases or nuclear energy. Animals such as salmon and birds will migrate from structures such as hydroelectric dams and wind farms much easier than nuclear reactors.
Student Emily Garinger is concerned with alternative energies influence not just on local but global wildlife and what may lead to a turn-around for some species.
“With Washington’s use of alternative energies, other states should lead by example to help boost our nations need for new sources of renewable energy,” Garinger said. “Thereby cutting down the hazardous effects we already inflict on animals such as the polar bear which I hope can be saved before becoming extinct.”
Washington is the second largest generator and consumer of wind power in the United States. Generating up to 773 megawatts of electricity, wind farms such as the Big Horn Wind Farm, Windy Flats, Wild Horse Wind Farm, White Creek Wind Power and Lower Snake River Wind Project serves approximately 230,000 homes in Washington. While one of the cleanest alternative energies, noise has also been an issue for residences who live near these wind farm.
While solar power plants have proven effective in states like Nevada, Washington is a tossup when it comes to the usefulness and effectiveness of solar energy.
Some cars and homes in Washington, mainly in Bellingham, have built-in solar panels that directly convert sunlight into energy for utilities such as solar water heaters. Tom Bush, professor and department coordinator of Earth and science, provided professional prospective on the benefits and drawbacks to the state’s use of alternative energy.
“Here in the Pacific Northwest, most of our electrical needs are generated from hydropower, with a minor amount coming from coal imported from Wyoming, and a small amount coming from natural gas and landfill methane,” Bush said. “Each of these has drawbacks with the main criticism of wind farms being that they harm birds, but otherwise are a clean source of energy. Solar panels are not something that would be viable on a large-scale, commercial basis, given that they are expensive and require some high-tech minerals.
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