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Visual and Noise Pollution. Wind power is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the world, 1 and is expected by many to become the leading energy alternative to fossil fuels.
The industry is now using third-generation modern turbines, and improved materials and control systems are increasing the efficiency of wind farming. Wind power undoubtedly owes part of its leadership position among alternative energies, and its favour with governments and other regulators, to successful promotion and marketing of its merits. In fact, it is often touted in the media, by governments, the wind industry and many environmental groups as a near-panacea for current world energy and global climate-change problems.
Wind power has its critics, but their arguments do not seem to get the same media or government attention as those of wind power proponents. While many of the detractors are motivated by evident economic or political considerations, this is not always the case. Regardless, the arguments they present serve to highlight that wind power is not without its challenges. Perhaps one of the most surprising developments in the debate is the large rift that has developed over wind power within the environmental community itself.
Renowned environmentalist David Suzuki drew both praise and ire for an opinion piece in which he acknowledged the validity of many of the anti-wind arguments but urged people to look beyond the problems to the greater good of fighting climate change. It is clear that wind power must be part of the solution to the challenges of climate change and energy demands; but, as with all forms of electricity generation, wind power too has its drawbacks.
Wind contains kinetic energy that wind turbines capture and convert to electricity. Wind turbines have a nameplate capacity , which is the amount of electricity a turbine can generate were it to operate continuously and at full capacity. A turbine's capacity factor depends on many things - some inherent to the turbine design, such as cut-in and cut-out wind speeds, and many others related to the nature of the wind and "siting" of the turbines at a particular installation.
Operators look to minimize the cost per unit of electricity generated by using a larger generator that requires stronger winds and accepting that the capacity factor will be lower as a result.
Domestic consumption was approximately The strength of the wind resource and a well-matched system design are also important in determining installation costs, as these elements determine the capacity factor. Despite this claim and the decreasing cost of wind power, traditional sources of electricity generally have lower production costs, at least in North America with the possible exception of nuclear power.
The federal government estimates that the amount of incentive provided through the WPPI is approximately half of "the current estimated cost premium for wind energy in Canada for facilities with good wind sources. With governments in some jurisdictions regulating air emissions in a way that greatly limits the output from coal-fired plants, or even results in the closure of some of those plants, and with many nuclear facilities nearing the end of their service life, the possibility of a serious shortage is growing.
In some proposals and marketing materials, wind power producers have presented production costs that are made possible only because of government subsidies. These subsidies are both direct, such as the federal WPPI 0. Proponents of wind power have also been accused of presenting costs based on unrealistic capacity factors. Suspect capacity factor claims can be easily identified, though, since wind industry associations promote realistic capacity factors.
These capacity factors, though much lower than for a typical thermal plant, are intentional and economically efficient, as discussed previously. Wind is a renewable resource in that it is generated, at the global scale, by the sun. The number of places in Canada and throughout the world where there is enough wind on a consistent basis to "harvest" is limited. Recent research indicates that, globally, there is sufficient exploitable wind resource to meet current global electricity demand several times over.
While wind may be an endless power supply, it is also intermittent, which means that generation is not continuous or on demand. As a result, wind power systems typically cannot be used to ensure that baseload requirements will be met. Wind power must be used in conjunction with other power sources such as thermal, hydroelectric or nuclear. The logic is that such a grid would always be receiving power from at least some of its generators.
A final limitation of the wind resource is that turbines slow the wind and increase its turbulence as they extract its power. This reduction in wind speed limits the density of turbines in a wind farm setting, as it is inefficient to place one turbine in the wind-shadow of another.
Perhaps the biggest and best-known advantage of wind turbines is that their operation is emissions-free. This means that the turbines generate electricity without creating or emitting to the atmosphere any greenhouse gases, smog-generating pollutants, airborne toxic substances such as mercury, or acid-rain precursors.
Therefore, their operation does not contribute to enhanced global warming or to air-quality-related health issues. However, emissions-free operation should not be taken to mean that harnessing wind power is entirely pollution-free.
As wind farms are typically constructed in rural or limited-infrastructure areas, these potentially polluting substances require transportation to and from the installation and likely on-site storage. While the operation of wind turbines is emissions-free, the manufacture of the blades, towers, generators, etc. Similarly, some feel that the emissions from any supplementary fossil-fuel use required to ensure reliable power generation, given the intermittency of wind power, should also be taken into account.
Pollution produced during the manufacture and installation of turbines and their infrastructure is their main environmental effect on a life-cycle basis, and this point is used by wind power opponents to underline that the electricity is not truly emissions-free.
In the case of the latter power systems, though, the impacts of plant manufacture are minimal when compared to the operational and resource extraction impacts.
A fair comparison between power sources would require that the same life-cycle components be considered for all. Finally, computer models of very large wind farms indicate that they could modify local climate. The temperature, wind speed, and moisture content of these layers can be quite different, especially in the early morning hours, and mixing will blend them.
This could result in increased evaporation and higher daily minimum temperatures near the surface. Visual and noise pollution are two of the most significant problems associated with wind power, and have drawn criticism even within the environmental community. In order for wind power production to be economically viable, relatively large wind farms are needed.
However, a cluster of dozens or even hundreds of wind turbines reaching 50 to 90 metres into the sky is visible from great distances - especially given that the necessary wind resources are often found in areas that are open and relatively flat. Viewed from a distance, a collection of turbines may interrupt a vista otherwise devoid of any industrial structures.
Viewed from close, the turbines are a towering and dominating presence. The mechanical operations of a modern wind turbine are virtually silent. Turbines generate noise, however, as the spinning blades move through the air. Proponents of wind power argue that modern turbines are designed to minimize noise pollution and that a normal conversation is possible at the base of an operating turbine.
It also argues that at wind speeds of 8 metres per second or more, discussions about sound emissions from modern wind turbines may be purely theoretical since background noise e. Two types of noise are generated by the turbines: Because the noise is low and in some cases pulsing, 32 it may in fact be more noticeable indoors, because buildings can act as resonators for the sound and people may feel the low-frequency sound as much as they hear it.
Neither of the two reports typically cited for this argument, however, actually suggests that noise from wind power is sufficient to cause these problems. In fact, one of the authors has gone as far as to speak out publicly against the use of his findings as an argument against wind farms. While it is not certain whether noise from wind farms causes mental or physical health problems, there is evidence that both the visual and noise pollution do have an economic impact in the form of lowered property values.
In countering these arguments, wind power advocates typically cite a study published by the Renewable Energy Policy Project 35 and a second study done for the Phoenix Economic Development Group, 36 both of which concluded that turbines do not reduce property values. However, it has been noted by many, including real estate associations, that these studies used analytical methods that are not acceptable for this type of evaluation.
There is no doubt that wind turbines kill and injure birds. Indirect causes of death are habitat changes and altered avian behaviour in response to the presence of turbines. Even the strongest proponents of wind power concede that flight paths and bird habitat use must be considered when planning a new wind development. There is considerable debate, however, as to the number of birds killed and the effectiveness of various mitigation measures.
A recent study for the California Energy Commission on ways to reduce the number of bird deaths at Altamont estimates that the wind turbines kill 1, to 4, birds annually. The study also blames the elevated number of bird deaths at Altamont on the poorly planned installation of turbines with respect to bird flight paths, lack of strategically placed bird deterrents, insufficient management of prey species that are attracted by the towers, and the presence of standing but non-operational turbines.
The National Wind Coordinating Committee NWCC , which publishes information on avian mortality related to wind power, estimated in that the 15, turbines operating in the United States were killing 33, birds a year.
The NWCC information on indirect mortality is less substantive, and reflects the current limited understanding of the effects of wind farms on bird habitat and behaviour.
S sites and Altamont Pass in particular indicate that raptors may suffer relatively greater mortality from turbines than other types of birds. It has been postulated that land disturbance, increased human activity, and additional shelter offered by the structures all act to make wind farms attractive habitat for small rodents, the main prey of most raptors identified in the mortality data.
In contrast to this thinking, however, nesting boxes for birds of prey are mounted directly on the turbines in Denmark. Most of the raptors affected in the Altamont Pass area are protected by federal legislation, as are many other species of birds affected by wind farms in the United States and Canada. It is not clear how new proposals such as the five new wind farms in Ontario will address this potential legal liability. In Canada, there is no record of the federal government taking action against a person for accidentally killing birds protected under the Migratory Birds Act , with the exception of hunters claiming to have accidentally shot a protected species; but in the United States, organizations have taken civil action against turbine owners and operators.
Wind farms, as the name implies, are expansive. In a National Center for Policy Analysis NCPA comparison of the "footprints" of various power generation facilities, wind power was estimated to require nearly 78 hectares ha per megawatt, while nuclear and coal required respectively about 0. The Summerview wind power facility in Alberta will have a capacity of MW when completed and use 2, hectares of land The energy-per-hectare rating of all three of these sites is roughly four times better than the NCPA estimates.
Wind power advocates do not deny that their systems require large areas of land or sea , but counter that the actual space used by each individual tower is minimal and the space in between towers is still available for other uses. In this way, wind farms lend themselves to mixed land use, especially in agricultural settings, since the typical open expanses of agricultural areas often also provide a good wind resource.
In addition, CanWEA and other industry groups claim that wind farms can also be integrated into industrial settings. The expansive nature of wind farms requires extensive infrastructure to support the collection, control and distribution of generated power. In some cases the infrastructure, such as roads, power lines, and outbuildings, may have a greater environmental impact than the operation of the turbines. The extent of the environmental impact of such infrastructure depends largely on the nature of the site prior to its disruption.
For example, opening up remote forests to mechanized access can cause major soil loss, habitat fragmentation, and changes in ecosystem functions. The presence of roads and structures such as utility poles and buildings with windows also increases the incidents of collisions with birds and animals.
The installation of roads, power lines, substations, and outbuildings in an active agricultural area may cause similar problems, though probably to a lesser degree.
It is clear that with respect to atmospheric emissions and the renewable nature of the resource, wind power has many strengths. It can help in the fight against global warming, smog- and mercury-related health issues, and emissions-related environmental concerns. Diversity in energy production creates resilience in the electricity network, and economic and social benefits in terms of a diverse workforce.
This being said, concerns regarding wind power's potential to cause noise and visual pollution as well as avian mortality are legitimate. Furthermore, wind power in North America currently requires government subsidies in order to be economically competitive. The world's current dependence on traditional sources of electricity is untenable, and a shift away from it is necessary and inevitable. The global demand for oil is increasing while worldwide production will probably peak sometime in the next two decades, driving prices upward.
Humanity's consumption of electricity and all forms of energy continues to grow, and the fuels for many of the traditional forms of generation are limited.
This situation, along with growing acceptance that human-induced climate change is real and that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributing factor, will increase incentives to develop non-carbon-based sources of power.