Politicians from federal to local levels have joined in a pledge known as 80 by 50, an effort to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 80% by 2050. The pledges are long on fanfare but short on details. There is, however, a published literature that determines how to achieve so-called deep carbonization, and it involves a massive increase of renewable-energy sources, primarily wind and solar.
This report analyzes the extraordinary amount of land that would be needed to achieve 80 by 50 through wind and solar, the amount of additional high-voltage transmission capacity, and the growing resistance to local wind-energy projects. It also looks at what all this means for the populations of birds and bats, including endangered species.
- Relying on wind and solar energy to achieve an 80% reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions will require installing energy infrastructure over 287,700 square miles, a surface nearly as large as Texas and West Virginia combined.1 It also will require adding at least 200,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines, roughly double the existing capacity.
- The U.S. would have to install about 1,900 gigawatts (1 gigawatt is equal to 1 billion watts) of wind capacity—26 times the existing U.S. amount and four times the global wind capacity—if it plans to rely primarily on wind energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80%.
- Rural communities, acting through more than 100 government entities, have resisted expansion of renewable-energy capacity by moving to reject or restrict wind projects in about two dozen states since January 2015. Solar projects have also faced opposition.
- Wind turbines kill birds and raptors, including bald and golden eagles. The turbines also are the largest cause of bat mortality, including several bats that are categorized as endangered. Attempting a 26-fold increase in wind-energy capacity may have devastating impacts on bird and bat populations.