What is it about wind?

Written by  Wednesday, 18 March 2015 19:38
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Coincidentally, two power projects are being discussed this month at local councils. One is at the bottom edge of Frontenac County, near the border with the City of Kingston.

Since it is a solar power field, little controversy is expected. The 106 acre site will end up being shielded from view by some vegetation and will silently produce up to 15 megawatts of power.

By contrast, another project is being proposed at the far north western edge of Frontenac County and neighbouring Lennox and Addington County. Instead of being located in the fertile, sunny south, it is in the highlands of Vennachar and Denbigh. The population is a fraction of that in the south. There are a few dozen dwellings within a 20 km radius of the site and a couple of hundred people at most.

Yet, a proposed 300 megawatt wind project that is proposed for the region is already starting to generate the first vestiges of protest. Stories about the impact of wind turbines on bats and migrating birds are common. Turbines can be seen, and heard, from long distances, etc.

The controversy that came with the wind project on Wolfe Island and the proposed project on Amherst Island may not exactly be duplicated in North Frontenac and Addington Highlands, but there are and will be people who wish the whole thing would go away.

This is understandable. No one wants their way of life to be challenged, and no one wants their property to lose any of its advantages. Property owners like to control their surroundings. They buy the land surrounding their house when it becomes available.

While it is very much a fact that wind power has huge environmental advantages over coal-fired stations or nuclear power plants, that is easier to say when the turbines are not located within shouting range of our own back yards.

Renewable energy is still a small player in the energy generation market. Wind projects, although small on a global scale, are a measure larger than solar projects, but both are necessary to start turning the tide from the dead end of non-renewable energy to a long-term future that will have to come from renewable resources if the human species is to survive the next 500 to 1000 years.

So, we need to look at them, and in some cases that means applying utilitarian logic to individual landowner interests. A certain amount of inconvenience to a few in the interest of the many has to be accepted.

But we need to be careful, and that is where public processes and honest evaluations of projects is required, so that the balance is not tipped to the point where people are forced from their homes.

There is a proposed wind project off Cape Cod that has generated complaints. One of them, levied by Robert Kennedy Jr. no less, is that “people want to look out and see the same sight the pilgrims saw”.

Well, the original occupants of North America might say the same thing about the entire continent, but that never stopped the industrialisation of North America.

It would take 15,000 wind projects the size of the one proposed for North Frontenac and Addington Highlands to cover the world's energy needs, and even then only when the wind is up.

A 300 mw project is still a huge project, given that each of the six active nuclear reactors at the Pickering nuclear plant produce 500 mw of power each. The environmental implications of wind power certainly pale in comparison to the problem of nuclear waste, not to mention the small, but not inconceivable, potential for a nuclear accident should a nuclear plant fail. Renewables will not replace nuclear energy any time soon, but power production is a long term process, and a wind project in Frontenac and Lennox & Addington could be part of the solution.

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