David Suzuki: Wind power offers healthy way to generate renewable energy

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      There’s no free ride when it comes to generating energy. Even the cleanest sources have environmental consequences. Materials for all power-generating facilities have to be obtained and transported, and infrastructure must be built, maintained, and eventually decommissioned. Wind turbines take up space and can harm wildlife. Hydro floods agricultural land and alters water cycles.

      That’s why conservation is the best way to reduce energy-consumption impacts. Reductions in energy use and investment in energy-efficiency technologies are so significant that the International Energy Agency refers to conservation as the “first fuel”.

      No matter how good we get at conserving, though, we’ll always need energy, so we must find ways to employ the least damaging technologies and reduce negative effects. We know the world’s preferred, and currently cheapest, method to generate power—burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas—is the most destructive, causing pollution, global warming, and massive environmental damage during extraction, transport, refining, and use. And supplies are becoming more difficult to obtain and will eventually run out.

      In contrast, wind power doesn’t create pollution or global warming emissions, is affordable, and will never run out. Improvements to power-generation capacity, efficiency, and affordability will continue to boost its importance in the energy mix. But we must ensure turbines are installed in locations and using methods that reduce negative impacts on humans and wildlife.

      Thanks to ongoing research and testing, wind power has come a long way in a relatively short time. Wildlife behaviour studies, along with technological improvements, have significantly reduced harm to birds and bats, and better siting has reduced impacts on other wildlife and habitat. Wind power generation is far safer for birds, bats, and other animals than burning fossil fuels.

      But what about wind power’s effects on humans, a key argument used by opponents? Turbines, especially older ones, can be noisy, and some people find them unsightly—although I prefer the sight of wind farms to smokestacks and smog. Many problems can be addressed by locating quieter turbines far enough from human habitation to reduce impacts.

      As for health effects, a recent comprehensive Health Canada study confirms previous research: Although people report being annoyed by wind turbines, there’s no measurable association between wind turbine noise and sleep disturbance and disorders, illnesses, and chronic health conditions, or stress and quality-of-life issues. A 2013 Australian report concluded people living near wind installations where anti-wind campaigns were active were more likely to report health problems, suggesting some issues may be psychological.

      Health Canada says more research may be needed and we shouldn’t downplay the annoyance factor. Again, improvements in technology and proper siting will help overcome many problems. And there’s no doubt that fossil fuel development and use—from bitumen mining, deep-sea drilling, mountaintop removal, and fracking to wasteful burning in single-user vehicles—are far more annoying and damaging to human health than wind power and other renewable-energy technologies.

      Wind energy is also becoming more affordable and reliable. Denmark gets 34 percent of its electricity from wind and Spain 21 percent, making wind their largest electricity source. Portugal gets more than 20 percent, Ireland 16, and Germany nine percent. All have much higher population densities than Canada. Overall, wind power contributes about four percent to worldwide electricity generation.

      Improvements in grid and storage technologies also mean wind and other renewable technologies are increasingly feasible and desirable, especially as costs continue to drop. Investing in wind and other renewable energy is also good for jobs and the economy and can create greater stability in energy pricing than relying on volatile fossil fuel markets.

      Total global investment in wind energy in 2012 was more than $80 billion, creating 670,000 jobs. According to a Blue Green Canada report, investing the $1.3 billion the oil industry gets in annual federal taxpayer subsidies in renewable energy and conservation could create 18,000 to 20,000 jobs, compared to fewer than 3,000 in oil and gas. And we can’t ignore the many related cost impacts of fossil fuel development, from health-care to infrastructure.

      To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions at a pace and scale that experts agree is necessary to avoid increasing catastrophic effects of global warming, we need a mix of renewable energy. Wind power will play a large role.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      Mike

      Dec 9, 2014 at 5:34pm

      anyone know why that turbine on the top of Grouse mountain almost never moves?(turns)

      Meatballs

      Dec 9, 2014 at 9:03pm

      Our local Grouse Mountain invested heavily into renewable wind power generation. You should ask them how that's been going now for over 5 years. Last time I looked it seemed to me missing a blade.

      @Mike

      Dec 9, 2014 at 9:13pm

      "While Grouse Mountain’s Eye of the Wind may symbolize the future of wind power in B.C., it also illustrates the province’s snail-like pace in harnessing this energy source—a dispute with B.C. Hydro over safety regulations has prevented the turbine from producing any power."

      http://www.straight.com/life/bcs-energy-answer-blowin-wind/page/0/1

      ron

      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:54am

      Drive from L.A. to Palm Springs to see what a blight on the landscape those hideous turbines are. They must be stopped.

      Paul Taylor

      Dec 10, 2014 at 6:03am

      The largest provider of electricity is actually lignite coal fired thermal plants.Denmark has the highest electricity rates in the industrial world and the highest rates of cancer . There is no spot in Denmark that you can't see a wind turbine unless you view is blocked by a building . Denmark with French petroluem giant Total is going to frac for shale gas . Denmark sees the economic realities of chasing the renewable energy fantasy . 31 percent of Denmark's capacity is gone when the weather is not right to spin turbines dependent on wind

      Bruce

      Dec 10, 2014 at 10:37am

      People will argue that renewables need 100% backup; this is true. But look at the best backups: hydro, and natural gas turbines.

      Legacy hydro makes an excellent battery, all you have to do is retrofit extra turbines, so it can provide power in bursts as needed, rather than just its average capacity. That, by the way, should be BC's role with the explosive growth of solar PV: California's battery. They send us sun power during the day, and we send them rain power at night.

      For natural gas backup, in most areas fuel is 80% of the power cost, so the capital expense is not too excessive.

      And once high performance battery-electric cars drop down to middle class prices (2017 or so), the storage problem is automatically solved. The typical electric vehicle has enough capacity to supply a household for several days. Even if they're only charged via smart-grid, that's enough to smooth out demand.

      Richard Mann

      Dec 12, 2014 at 11:54am

      Governments and the Wind Industry continue to deny health impacts.

      The Health Canada study is widely quoted in the media. However, they only released a summary. Neither the data nor the results/paper were released, and the report has not been peer reviewed.

      The Health Canada statement is listed here,
      http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/noise-bruit/turbine-eoliennes/summary-re...

      Note that Health Canada indicates that in a significant fraction of respondents experienced “severe annoyance”, and that “WTN annoyance was found to be statistically related to several self-reported health effects including, but not limited to, blood pressure, migraines, tinnitus, dizziness, scores on the PSQI, and perceived stress.”

      Here is a response to the Health Canada study. It is written by Carmen Krogh (former Health Canada employee, chief pharmacist for Canada) and Dr Robert McMurtry (Order of Canada, former Dean Western University Medical School, and former advisor to Health Canada). The commentary is on the Canadian Medical Association Journal web page:
      http://cmajblogs.com/health-canada-and-wind-turbines-too-little-too-late/

      Here is a link to my own research measuring Infra sound from Industrial Wind Turbines.
      http://www.wind-watch.org/documents/measuring-wind-turbine-coherent-infr...

      I join the many scientists and experts worldwide asking for a thorough investigation of wind turbine noise before more wind turbines are erected. In particular, I am looking to Health Canada for guidance on acceptable levels of infra sound exposure in our communities and workplaces.
      .
      Richard Mann
      Associate Professor (Computer Science)
      University of Waterloo.

      johana

      Dec 14, 2014 at 8:30am

      David Suzuki COULD put his money where his mouth is by buying my IWT surrounded house which has been on the real estate MARKET for > 5 years without having ANY viewings OR offers on its REPLACEMENT valuation.

      I'm not holding my breath that Mr. S will accept this challenge, but until he does, I'll never believe any of the hot air he expels!

      Shellie Correia

      Dec 16, 2014 at 2:51pm

      Easy for someone like David Suzuki with extreme wealth, and no wind turbines near any of his homes, to say that they are safe. That is absolute nonsense. The wind industry pays people obscene amounts of money, to promote this unreliable, unaffordable energy source, and deny they people suffering, so that they are not held accountable! Backroom deals and corruption run rampant in the wind industry.
      My son has severe aural sensory processing issues, which basically means, that noises that might be tolerable for most people, would be a living nightmare, for my son. The gov't and the wind industry do not want to deal with this issue. They know that my son is not the only person suffering from these issues. It is easier to ignore the truth, and hope that no one has enough money to fight them and their endless resources, in court. I will be fighting this, until they listen, and acknowledge the serious problems that are occurring, because of their refusal to do proper studies, or listen to those that have. Do not listen to the miscreants pushing this unreliable, inefficient, unaffordable energy source. For 30 years, they have claimed that the price will come down. It has only increased, along with our electricity bills, which in turn inflates the price, of everything else.
      My son's specialist even went so far as to write a letter on his behalf, to explain what my son's issues were, and why the incessant cyclical noise, and infrasound, will cause serious harm to my son. It is corrupt for the gov't and the wind industry, to ignore these issues, so that they can continue to push their faux-green agenda, on unsuspecting ratepayers.

      David Hunkeler

      Dec 17, 2014 at 9:05am

      We should not be dogmatic about any declaration. Wind power may or may not be better in regards to a certain environmental parameter (e.g. Global warming) then other forms of energy and it could be worse in others mid point metrics (e.g. ozone depletion). The "answer" will also depend on many elements such as the specific geographic situation and the upstream transport as well as life of a give unit. There are tools, such as Life Cycle Assessment, to estimate these and, furthermore, to evaluate the sensitivity of the conclusions and tradeoffs as a function of assumptions.