This post arises from an insightful comment by Howell Clark on my previous article. His thoughts are so important I wanted to blog at the top level about them rather than bury my answer in a comment. Howell says:
well its nice to see that you are not an aginner. where do you think the solution is. power is already costly and wind is only a minor solution in my book. i hate to see wildlife wasted when an alternative might be available. with nevada being taken off the table as a repository for nuclear waste (one of our safest and also most controversial)where do we go for more affordable and socalled environmentally friendly power. as a kid i remember the wind mill powered battery systems on west texas farms before the coops replaced them with the real deal. openly voiced concerns for wildlife doesn't really serve the situation well without presenting an alternative. you back handedly make a point for more coal AND i would think nuclear as i do not believe the go it alone individual systems will pass the muster of overly regulated residential areas where the demand for power is greatest. most cities thru building codes prevent a practical wind turbine on a residence and many home owners associations likewise prevent solar and wind from becoming a reality in neighborhoods that folks residing in have the most wherewithall to try these units out. i don't have the answer and your complaint about dead avian friends doesn't present one either.
Hi Howell, I think you summarise the problem well. If we take the global warming religion as the consistent underlying idea motivating wind farms, it also motivates the terrible 'carbon sequestration' idea too. Taken as a pair (both of which I oppose), they use more coal than if neither were used. Carbon sequestration requires about 40% more coal; wind farms, even in their wildest dreams, can account for only 20% of energy usage. A government doing both will require about 15% more coal (which probably explains why the Australian mining industry alone is spending over a billion dollars on 'clean energy').
My take on coal: digging it up and burning it is one of the few indisputable charitable acts by humanity for the wildlife of Earth. Carbon that has been processed by life and is now lying useless deep in the rocks is brought out and returned to the atmosphere where it can once again give life to plants and from there, animals. Our reasons as humans for conserving it are all essentially self-serving: one day a future generation might need it more than we do, and if we use it now, it won't be there when needed. Of course the bloody-mindedness of the coal companies digging it out from flourishing wilderness areas or prime farmland, wrecking them in the process, cannot be condoned, and I am active right now in helping an Australian community at Felton fight such a proposal.
So turning to human-centred reasons, I tentatively would prefer nuclear (meaning fission) to coal and oil for this reason: nuclear requires higher technology to carry it off. If for some unforeseen reason humanity ever loses its current level of technology and needs to 'start again' at the bottom, low-tech coal and oil will be required. So as an insurance policy, leaving it in the ground makes sound sense.
The problem with nuclear is that there is uncertainty whether it is in fact economically viable. This matters. Too high a price in effect means that other energy sources are being used to support nuclear. For example, a great amount of energy goes into mining and refining (fissible uranium being very dilute in the ore). Because the free market has been corrupted (governments giving cheap electricity to promote exports, etc.), we simply don't know whether uranium is worth the effort or whether it costs more than it gives. A site I respect very much, greenworldtrust, argues here that it is hopelessly inefficient. On the other hand, claims about new efficient sources of uranium from the ocean would have it that we have a virtually inexhaustible supply, and also that reprocessing can get vastly more energy from the ore than is now the case. Short of investing a great amount of time doing my own analysis, which my circumstances currently prevent, I have to remain agnostic about fission. But we certainly have maybe twenty years in which we can go on using coal while we sort out the other issues.
The other big question is nuclear fusion. The reaction ingredients are all so common as to be basically free, so if a reactor could be developed that had a sufficiently high net power surplus that in its lifetime it could fully pay for its own energy needs during construction, power would at last be almost 'too cheap to meter'. There are two main reactions proposed for practical usage as a fusion power generator, one of which produces no radioactive byproducts whatever. Research for one of them costs about six billion euros, and whilst western governments have been throwing money away 'fighting the recession' (Australia alone burned through many billions), research to find out if we can just forget about deadly wind farms etc., isn't financed. Why? Many writes on the web prognosticate that the real objective is ideological; and control of the populace through energy starvation, rules and regulations, etc., and not any concern for the planet, is driving all this.
How much of this is paranoia, how much justified cynicism? Depending on where you are coming from, I agree it could sound like either. And I have glossed over some important issues such as what is a free market, and why it isn't the same as deregulation. If you know of any cogent analyses of nuclear power that can help the rest of us make up our minds, that would be very useful. The problem is that almost everyone has an axe to grind one way or the other, and so more or less nothing written on the subject can be trusted without verification.