Five reasons to rethink wind power

August 8, 11:38 AM
Environmental Policy Examiner
Paul Wornham

Wind power is high on the priority list for governments looking for ways to meet commitments to reduce CO2 emissions. As a renewable source of power, wind appears to fit the bill as a natural source of energy that can both provide power and be kind to the environment, but there is a down side to wind energy that may make the option less green than you might suspect.

Here are five reasons to rethink wind power as a green option:

Wind turbines need online back-up capacity

Wind is unpredictable, no one can know when it will blow or when it will be calm but because modern life needs reliable power, every wind turbine needs online back-up capacity. In Ontario, that backup is largely provided by gas turbines that run at 60% capacity whether or not they are generating power for the grid. In most cases, it would be more efficient to run the gas generators to generate electricity and not have the additional cost and carbon footprint of the wind farm at all.

Carbon cost of construction

Wind turbines are complex machines and require vast quantities of steel and concrete for the construction of the tower and foundation, in addition to materials like copper, aluminum and carbon composites for the blades and generating system. Concrete is said to be responsible for 5% to 10% of all human sources of CO2, emitting approximately 1.25 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of concrete. Full-size on-shore turbines need between 500 and 1000 tons for a solid foundation which comes at a high cost to the environment before the first kilowatt is generated.

Wildlife

Wind power has a high negative effect for wildlife, particularly birds. The green credentials of wind turbines are challenged especially in Altamont pass in California which is to blame for thousands of bird deaths every year, many of them protected species. Offshore wind farms can affect dolphins and seals in addition to birds.

Landscape blight

Large scale wind farms are increasingly unpopular because they spoil the natural landscape. The late Sen. Kennedy, usually an environmental cause supporter, opposed the ‘Cape Wind’ project in Nantucket Sound largely because of its potential to harm the area’s natural beauty. Planned wind farms in the UK face similar opposition where they are to be sited in or near designated protected areas of natural beauty.

Health

There are concerns that wind turbines sited near communities cause health problems for residents. Reported problems include dizziness, nausea and headaches. A common complaint is about the ‘whooshing’ noise made by turbine blades, which can interrupt sleep and affect concentration. The effects on human health are still being studied, but it is a valid factor to consider when evaluating wind power.

Wind farms are increasingly common sights no matter where in the world you live, but while the intentions of wind power advocates and generators are generally well-meaning, there are some serious problems and unintended consequences with the renewable option.

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