Coal, natural gas, and nuclear power disrupt the least amount of land per unit of power production, a study by the Strata research organization reveals. Solar, wind, and hydro power bring up the rear, although hydro power’s land footprint is better described as land transformation rather than land disruption.
Strata evaluated each power source by energy facility footprint, resource production land use, transmission/transportation land use, storage land use, and where appropriate, solid waste land use. Coal, natural gas, nuclear power are grouped closely together at 12.21, 12.41, and 12.71 acres per megawatt of power production, respectively. Solar comes in at 43.50, wind at 70.64, and hydro at 315.22.
“By understanding the physical footprint impacted by electricity production, effective policy action can be taken that hopes to balance environmental impact, reliability, economy, and security,” Strata explains. “Realizing that these impacts go further than just the visible activities taking place onsite at generating power plants is essential for understanding the larger picture. If minimizing the overall land use in the electricity generation process is a priority, land efficient sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear power should be considered while land intensive sources like hydro, wind, and solar power should be weighed against competing priorities.”
The strata paper underlines the importance of evaluating the environmental impact of energy sources in a full-spectrum manner. Air pollution, carbon dioxide emissions, land disruption, species impacts, and other factors all deserve consideration when evaluating competing energy sources. The Spark of Freedom Foundation has published a full-spectrum environmental impact analysis, available here. Hydro, natural gas, nuclear, and solar power fare best in a full-spectrum environmental analysis.