It is never a good idea to put all your eggs into one basket. As the world tries to tackle the problems associated with climate change, and reduce its dependency on oil fuels, wind turbines are popping up as a viable supplement for harnessing energy.
Capturing wind for energy use is not a novel idea. The history of wind power dates back to the time before Christ, with the invention of the sailboat. The sail boat soon became the catalyst for the creation of windmills. The first recorded uses of windmills were found in Persia and China between 500-900 A.D. These early windmills were used to facilitate the tasks of grain grinding and water pumping. Today the island of Crete applies the same ancient techniques as water pumping machines for crops and livestock use (Dodge, 2001). In North America, it was the farming industry that first benefitted from the use of windmills to produce energy. In the early parts of the twentieth century (1920-1930) wind power was used in remote farming areas that did not have access to electrical power grids (Natural Resources Canada, 2006).
It seems that even today the farming industry will once again benefit from wind power not only as a source of energy but as an economic supplement. This is good news for an industry that struggles to make ends meet. Since renewed interest in wind farming is prompted by global warming and the world’s recent concerns over sustainable development, there is a pressing need for clean energy, and anyone who can produce that will make money. For the farming industry, the development of wind farms promises to be a good return on investment (Page, 2007). Farmers have two options (1) they can lease their land to wind developers or (2) produce the wind power themselves to sell to utility companies (Gordon, 2007), the only real hitch is that their land be located within a wind belt.
The attached illustration provided by Steven Fick, shows that many parts of the Canadian landscape provides enough wind to power turbines, yet according to Mary Vincent, “Canada produces only enough wind energy to supply about 40,000 homes”, she points out that Alberta alone has enough wind potential to power up three million homes” (Vincent, 2001). There is quite a bit of untapped renewable energy here, it seems a shame not to take advantage of this abundance. Vincent also mentions that “eighty percent of Denmark’s electricity comes from wind, with a goal of reaching 50 percent by 2030”. When Canada complains about the Kyoto Protocol, setting their standards too high for reducing GHG’s (greenhouse gases) they should perhaps look to those countries that are actually doing well in meeting those standards, and take example from them.(Vincent, 2001)
SOURCE: R. BENOIT, W.YU, NUMERICAL PREDICTION RESEARCH DIVISION, METEOROLOGICAL SERVICE OF CANADA, ENVIRONMENT CANADA
Although, some things are beneficial, there is always a downside. What needs to be considered is the weight of the negative impacts. One of the arguments against wind turbines is that they are not aesthetically appealing; they are an eye sore and obstruct the natural beauty of the landscape. This argument seems rather weak when you consider the alternative. Should we forge ahead like business is usual with our dependency on oil, coal and in some cases nuclear energy we may not have a pristine landscape to admire? Another bone of contention is that these wind turbines, especially on a large scale are a source of noise pollution. Many residents living near such farms report having to close their windows to reduce the sound. Some say “not in my backyard” (NIMBY). What about those residents who live close to airports? The engineers of the wind turbines report the noise problem to be an easy fix. There is enough aerodynamic technology to construct and design blades that will certainly reduce the impact of noise. Their designs simply need a little tweaking, and the problem is drastically reduced.
Next we have scientist who have reported a number of bird and bat fatalities at the site of wind farms. According to Wendy Priesnitz, editor of Natural Life Magazine, some believe these arguments to be inflated, when we study these fatalities we should be considering scale, she says. For example, comparing the number of bird fatalities due to hitting glass pane windows and taking a look at the number of times a cat will kill a bird. Priesnitz, also points out that countries such as Denmark have been harnessing energy using wind turbines for quite some time, and have found that birds actually adjust their migratory route around the turbines (Priesnitz, 2007).
The biggest environmental concern in the wind industry for scientists is the bat. It seems that bat fatalities are higher than that of birds. Ecologist Robert Barclay, from the University of Calgary has been studying the problem. He went to one wind turbine site and reported “620 dead bats compared to only 30 birds” (Fobert, 2007). He came up with some plausible causes to this dilemma. For some unknown reason bats are not using their echolocation systems to navigate around the turbines. Barclay also noticed that there appears to be three types of bat who turn up dead at the wind turbine sites: The red bat, silver haired bat and the hoary bat. What these bats have in common he says is that all of them are migratory bats. Barclay admits that not much is known about the migratory paths bats take and that research is needed in this area to direct the developers in the wind industry to perhaps modify their location and steer away from the bats migratory path. Finally, Barclay noticed that bat fatalities are not found on all wind farms. It seems that the larger and taller turbines are the most threatening. This brings up another unknown question about bat behavior: at what height do bats migrate? (Fobert, 2007)
Another researcher is looking into the possibility of installing an acoustic device that would provide a signal to the bats to change direction. Ed Arnett, a conservation scientist says “bats use echolocation to paint an audio picture of their surroundings. Scientists are developing a device for wind turbines that will interfere with this signaling […..]; however the biggest problem will be projecting the sound out far enough from the turbine for the bat to hear in time to avoid it”. (Fobert, 2007)
Since the welfare of the bat population could be threatened by the construction and use of large scale wind farms it would be prudent to continue research on the subject. In the meantime why not promote several smaller scales sites which look to be quite promising and pose no real threat to the environment.
Research into the various possibilities we have to harness energy is being conducted with sustainability in mind. We know that no solution is completely fail-safe. When making decisions about clean energy it becomes a matter balance and moderation keeping in mind that a variety of energy sources exits. It is up to us to select the ones that work best at stabilizing our ecosystems as well as our economy.It sounds like one of the viable solution to protect and manage our environment.
Dodge, Darrell, Illustrated history of wind power development from
Fobert, Emily, Wind energy drives some animals batty, 2007 from
Kindra, Gordon, Harvesting the wind – wind energy may be a profitable companion crop
Natural resources Canada
Page, Candice “The winds of change, Turbine farms sprout right across the lake”
The Burlington Free Press, Sunday November 4th 2007
Vincent, Mary “Who has mapped the wind?” from Canadian Geographic May/June 2001
Vol. 212 – issue 3