“The answer, my friend, is blown’ in the wind. The answer is blown’ in the wind.”
Recently I’ve posted about some of the places I’ve visited and how they are facing the challenges of using renewable sources of energy in efforts to move away from fossil fuels. You can read back to how the state of Hawaii and the city of Barcelona are tackling the problem.
I thought it was time to look a little closer to home. My province of Ontario is known for having Canada’s largest city (Toronto), Canada’s capitol (Ottawa), and the Muskokas, one of the world’s few regions one could call paradise. It turns out, it also has a lot of green electricity generated from wind energy.
Canada’s four largest wind farms are all right here in Ontario. The largest is Malancthon with 133 wind turbines which generate nearly 200 megawatts of electricity. It’s located near Shelburne, Ontario, less than an hour’s drive from my home. The second and third largest wind farms are located at Wolfe Island near Kingston, and Prince Township near Sault Ste. Marie respectively. In fourth place is the Enbridge Ontario Wind Farm, located in Bruce County near the shores of Lake Huron. It generates about 182 megawatts of electricity, still enough to power more than 20,000 homes for one year.
All told, wind energy in Canada amounts to 5,265 megawatts but that’s still only 2.3 percent of Canada’s energy needs, so there’s a lot of room to grow. Instead of using running water to rotate turbines or—I shudder to think about it—burning coal to boil water to generate steam to rotate turbines, wind energy does it directly. The Canadian Wind Energy Association has created WindVision 2025 with the goal of generating 55,000 megawatts of electricity from wind energy by by the year 2025, what will amount to about 20 percent of Canada’s needs.
People who support the continued use of fossil fuels and the boost to the economy that fossil fuels provide often forget that developing renewable sources of energy is good for the economy as well. WindVision 2025 is expected to create more than 50,000 jobs and is anticipated to generate more than $165 million in annual revenue. It also might generate as much as $79 billion in investment because it will make Canada a major player in the wind power sector. Most importantly, it would help to eliminate about 17 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Even though I started off looking at wind energy close to home, I believe that Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province off the coast of Nova Scotia deserves some attention as well. It has a lot of wind exposure, as offshore winds tend to be strong and consistent and the island is small enough that every part of it can be considered offshore. Although it’s a province with a small population, because of its location it already generates more than 80 percent of its electricity needs from wind energy and has the goal of achieving 100 percent by 2015, only three short years away.
As with every good thing in life, wind energy has its share of critics. Some are harsh about location (NIMBYism rearing its ugly head). Others are critical of potential health risks, although to date there aren’t any proven harmful effects to human beings, and certainly nothing would possibly be riskier to our health than the known problems already associated with the combustion of fossil fuels.
One of the oft-repeated concerns about wind turbines relates to the harm they cause to birds. Rarely is an article published on the subject without this criticism being brought up in response. To be fair, older wind turbines used smaller blades with smaller surface areas. As a result, they had to turn much more quickly making them harder for flying birds to avoid. Also, some regions such as the Altamont Pass California have wind turbines in areas with high bird traffic, either due to migratory pathways or because of nearby nesting areas. The wind turbines there are also of an older design and have had the highest bird mortalities reported.
Any data from prior to 2000 won’t reflect the newer designs with much larger blades using greater surface areas that turn more slowly and are much easier for birds to fly around without injury. Most of the published literature condemning wind turbines comes from sources referencing older designs and regions with above-average bird traffic.
Looking at how Canada’s wind turbines are doing, statistics from Wolfe Island show that there have been about 14 birds killed per turbine per year, a little more than one a month. (The number of bats killed is about double that number.) This is more than the current industry standard of about 2 bird strikes per year per turbine with modern designs, but Wolfe Island is located in a significant bird area with a lot of avian traffic.
To put it in some perspective though, there are millions of birds killed from moving vehicles each year in North America. Even my house cat Mottie does more damage than a wind turbine to the avian population: I’m sorry to report that during the summer, our huntress kills one to two birds a week, usually with the unconsumed beak and stomach left at our front door as an offering. (Perhaps it’s her way of paying room and board?) And she decimates the rodent population even more than that.
Tryint to protect birds from wind turbines is actually a funny argument to raise: “let’s not use wind turbines so we can preserve Mother Nature”—and burning fossil fuels is less harmful to our environment how exactly? The harm to natural habitats caused from oil spills and developing the Alberta oil sands has certainly rivalled any harm to the environment that modern wind turbines could ever possibly achieve.
It’s unfortunate that any birds are harmed by wind turbines, but clearly the criticism is exaggerated and misplaced. Unless we’re going to outlaw vehicles and house cats, I believe this renewable energy source, one that is plentiful across our country, will go a long way to making Canada a world leader in green energy.