Environmental Impact of Wind Energy

There are many benefits of wind energy, just some of which are financial savings, increased job opportunities, and a way to help revive depressed rural areas.

In this time of high unemployment rates, with jobs not as readily available, the transition to using wind energy is invaluable to the economy.

The United State department of energy reports, “According to the American Wind Energy Association, employment in the wind industry’s manufacturing sector has increased from 2,500 jobs in 2004 to 20,000 in 2010, with an estimated additional 14,000 manufacturing jobs planned.”[1]

This fact alone means that the creation of jobs would be substantial, leading to a lessening of unemployment. Between the savings on energy costs for consumers that can be realized by the use of wind energy, and the increased number of employed individuals, the benefit to the economy could be substantial.

One of the most important factors in using wind energy is that it does not have the negative environmental impact that fossil fuels do. Wind energy, unlike fossil fuels, does not produce greenhouse gases, the discharge of particles and other pollutants into the atmosphere, or cause liquid or solid wastes to be discharged into water and/or soil [2].

Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy

One of the major concerns with regards to wind turbines and wind farms is its impact on the inhabitants, both human and animal, that live in close proximity to wind farms.

The wildlife most likely to be adversely affected by wind farms are birds and bats, who are susceptible to things such as disturbance, habitat loss and collisions.

There have been a number of high profile wind farms that have been delayed and/or cancelled due to environmental concerns, including:

  • Washington, USA – Radar Ridge wind power project – cancelled due to concerns about the marbled murrelet seabird.
  • Massachusetts, USA – Cape Wind – has moved very slowly since being first proposed in 2001. Reasons for opposition include concerns about birdlife, commercial fishing potential, cost of wind-produced power, and impact of aesthetics of the area.
  • Otago, New Zealand – Project Hayes – cancelled following drawn out opposition and legal proceedings on environmental grounds.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, “if wind farms are located away from major migration routes and important feeding, breeding, and roosting areas of at-risk bird species, it is likely that they will have minimal impacts” [3].

In order to minimize these risks it is essential that a thorough study of the area, including an environmental impact assessment, is conducted before planning the building of wind farms.

Impact of Wind Turbines on People

Another concern is the effects that wind farms and wind turbines have on people living in proximity to the sites.
The most common complaint is that wind farms are an eye-sore, and a blight on the natural landscape and scenery.

Residents living near wind farms also have both psychological and physiological complaints.

Some complain of not being able to sleep due to turbine noise, and psychological issues due to the low decibel sound and vibration that the turbines produce.

The Canadian and American wind energy associations requested an expert panel review the situation and investigate. The resulting document, Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects [4] determined the following:

  • There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
  • The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
  • The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds, and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.” [4]

In order to alleviate some of these issues the best plan should be to educate the residents about the impact of the wind farm.

When undertaking the development of a wind farm, planners should also take into consideration the number of residents in the area, and should consider finding areas that are less densely populated to construct wind farms.

In addition, new technological developments, and methods to reduce wildlife mortality should be prioritized, to make this clean, green energy source that much greener.

Article References

[1] U.S. Department of Energy. Wind and Water Program. Wind Energy Benefits

[2] Wind Energy, The Facts. Environmental Benefits

[3] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Wind Farms

[4] Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review

[5] Renewable Energy World. Wind energy outlook 2012: An uncertain forecast. Retrieved from http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/12/wind-energy-outlook-2012-an-uncertain-forecast?page=2

[6] Save Our Sound: http://www.saveoursound.org/

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