Renewable Energy Resources: Wind

In December 2017, the former provincial government announced the winners of a bid for future renewable energy generation in the province and, after a number of competitive bids, ALL of the winners were wind energy generation. This meant that in the end 3 companies were chosen to build 4 wind farms in the southern part of the province.[1] This process received a lot of positive press due, in large part, to the unprecedented low price at which the wind generated electricity was to be sold. [9] What this really means is that renewable energy projects are getting cheaper and cheaper – which is great news for those hoping to move away from a fossil fuel generated electricity grid towards a renewable one.[2]

Through wind production, kinetic energy from moving air is converted into electricity by wind turbines that are mounted in locations with favourable weather patterns (regular and strong wind gusts).[3]

The first commercial wind farm in Alberta was installed on Cowley Ridge near Pincher Creek in 1993.[4] This was one of the earliest wind farms in all of Canada and at the time Alberta was the third largest generator of wind energy in the country, behind only Quebec and Ontario.[5]

Opposition to wind turbines

An increase in wind turbines has also come with an increase in criticisms. One of the main critiques has been that living in close proximity to wind turbines has negative health effects. You may have even heard about marches in Ontario where groups of rural landowners organized protests in an attempt to tell the province that they didn’t want wind turbines installed in their rural communities.[6]

In response, the Ontario Ministry of Health and the Council of Canadian Academics have published reports stating that the only causal effect of wind turbine noise was, annoyance.[7] In addition, they found that any potential negative effects caused by the annoyance of wind turbines are still significantly less dangerous to human health than fossil fuel emissions, especially with the publication of new research demonstrating the significant negative health outcomes associated with air pollution.

Check out our section on Toxins & Waste here, for a more in depth look at how pollution is harming our health.

Although perhaps unfounded, these fears about wind turbines, will play a role in how lawmakers attempt to legislate wind turbines and how their construction and permitting will be regulated. Hopefully, increased education and a strong stance by lawmakers will help to encourage more smart wind turbine construction.

What about the birds?

Another common critique of wind turbines is that they cause a disproportionate number of bird and bat deaths. The exact number of deaths caused by wind turbines and related infrastructure is hard to come by and similar reports, issued by different actors have yielded very different results. However, there is some consensus, including that wind turbines do cause at least some bird mortality and that wind power and associated infrastructure is expected to increase exponentially in the coming years, which could mean more related bird and bat mortality.

To help limit these deaths, the American Bird Conservancy, a United States based bird conservation group developed the Bird Smart program. This program calls for careful siting of wind projects, operation and construction mitigation, bird monitoring and compensation to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss.[9] The program focuses on implementing standards for new wind projects to ensure they minimally affect birds, especially those populations that are already threatened or endangered and that they are not constructed on a migratory route that sees large numbers of birds each year.[10] Although American based, the Bird Smart program has been supported by Canadian groups such as Nature Canada [11] and it may be a smart way to move forward with wind turbine construction recognizing that all increased human infrastructure has an effect on the environment.

 

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[1] Alberta Electric System Operator, “REP Round 1 results” Government of Alberta online: https://www.aeso.ca/market/renewable-electricity-program/rep-results/.  

[2] Rachel Ward, “Alberta’s wind farm deal scored ‘pretty remarkable price’, energy researcher says” (14 December 2017) CBC News online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/wind-farm-rachel-notley-alberta-university-calgary-1.4448323.

[3] Rachel Ward, “Alberta’s wind farm deal scored ‘pretty remarkable price’, energy researcher says”.

[4] TransAlta, “Cowley Ridge” (2018) TransAlta Corporation online: https://www.transalta.com/facilities/plants-operation/cowley-ridge/.

[5] CANWEA, “Wind Energy in Alberta”, online: https://canwea.ca/wind-energy/alberta/; Alberta Culture and Tourism, “Alberta and Modern Wind Power”, online: http://www.history.alberta.ca/energyheritage/energy/wind-power/alberta-and-modern-wind-power.aspx.

[6] CBC News, “Wind turbine protest to block major Ontario highway” (17 October 2013) CBC News online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/wind-turbine-protest-to-block-major-ontario-highway-1.2101075.

[7] Chief Medical Officer of Health of Ontario, “The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines” (May 2010) at 6 online: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/common/ministry/publications/reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.pdf; Council of Canadian Academies, “Understanding the Evidence: Wind Turbine Noise” (2015) online: http://www.scienceadvice.ca/uploads/eng/assessments%20and%20publications%20and%20news%20releases/wind-turbine-noise/WindTurbineNoiseFullReportEn.pdf; CBC News, “Wind turbine noise linked to only 1 health issue – annoyance” (9 April 2015) CBC News online: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/wind-turbine-noise-linked-to-only-1-health-issue-annoyance-1.3025495; Government of Canada, “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study: Summary of Results” Health Canada (30 October 2014) online: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/environmental-workplace-health/noise/wind-turbine-noise/wind-turbine-noise-health-study-summary-results.html.

[8] Nature Canada, “Save bird lives” online: https://naturecanada.ca/defend-nature/how-you-help-us-take-action/save-bird-lives/; American Bird Conservancy, “About ABC” online: https://abcbirds.org/about/.

[9] American Bird Conservancy, “Bird-Smart Strategies” online: <https://abcbirds.org/program/wind-energy-and-birds/bird-smart-strategies/>.

[10] Nature Canada, Save bird lives.

 

 

 

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