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They're Paneling Paradise to Put Up Solar -- a Lot


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Real Clear Investigations

The pathway to a green future involves taking millions of acres of pristine wilderness and turning them into fields of windmills and hot expanses of glistening panels.

The Biden administration’s goal of supplying 40% of the nation’s energy from the sun by 2035 means covering millions of acres of forest and desert habitat with vast solar panel installations fenced off like prisons. It would require 8,800 square miles of land, or 5.6 million acres, to generate that power (leaving out small installations on buildings and the like) -- about the size of Rhode Island and Massachusetts combined.


But the push to convert that land from pastoral to energy-productive is galvanizing a new environmental movement, one led by citizen groups and small non-profits rather than the monied green interests arrayed against them -- ones ironically accustomed to casting the fossil fuel industry in the role of the ecological heavy.  

The potential impacts of solar-power installations have flown under the radar while much public resistance has centered on wind farms – which kill an estimated 1.2 million birds per year in the U.S.  and are considered loud and unsightly by many who live near their towering turbines. Even as the Biden administration has made limiting the environmental impact of oil and gas a key goal, it has opened large tracts of federal lands to solar development by major corporations including Duke Energy, Exelon and BrightSource Energy.

Solar advocates say mitigating climate change requires a switch to carbon-free energy, and utility-scale solar installations are vital to the effort. They contend a looming climate crisis requires the switch to be made quickly, although the effects of widespread solar development are not fully understood.:snip:

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