Environment & Wildlife
- Wind power keeps our air cleaner compared to generating electricity using fossil fuels. Wind turbines are powered by wind, producing no greenhouse gasses or air pollution as they generate electricity.
- Wind power preserves clean water. Wind energy is an environmentally-preferred choice, generating electricity without polluting water resources. Wind energy also conserves water resources – helping to reduce our growing thirst for fresh water in the energy business.
- Wind farms and the agricultural community are productive partners. As little as one per cent of total acreage is needed for turbines and access roads. The remaining acreage is free for other uses, such as farming or ranching.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from energy conversion process only, not manufacture or construction.
- Water use is difficult to compare for different technologies. In hydroelectric power stations, fossil-fuelled, and nuclear plants, water use is largely non-consumptive. Thermal power stations may cause some water losses through evaporation, as well as thermal discharges into watersheds, within regulated maximum limits. Hydroelectric dams do not cause thermal discharges, but will affect flow patterns.
- From ash management and/or flue gas treatment.
Wind energy is helping Alberta create local green jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve air quality and fight climate change
- Wind energy can provide substantial amounts of new clean electricity to Albertans while at the same time helping to address health concerns about air quality and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Wind turbines generate electricity without consuming or contaminating water or emitting air pollutants or greenhouse gases.
- The largest wind farm in Western Canada was built near Lethbridge in 2014. At 300 MW, a wind farm this size will:
- Reduce Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions by 600,000 tonnes a year – that’s the equivalent of taking 120,000 cars off the road.
- Reduce water consumption by 960 million litres a year, relative to natural gas generation – equivalent to the volume of 320 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Did you know?
- By 2030, wind power generating capacity could reach 2.1 million megawatts, and supply up to 20 per cent of global electricity, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. This would result in the creation of 2.4 million new jobs and would reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3.3 billion tonnes per year.
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) did a review of all published research and concluded that the carbon footprint of wind energy is much less than the other fossil fuels and even lower than nuclear and many of the other renewable energy sources.
Wind energy is helping to preserve our increasingly precious water resources and fight climate change
Over its lifetime, a wind farm requires significantly lower water use compared to all traditional forms of electricity generation. In fact, wind energy is actually helping to preserve our increasingly precious water resources and to fight climate change.
- The power sector is one of the world’s biggest consumers of water, but wind energy uses virtually no water to produce electricity, except for minimal and occasional use for washing turbine blades or keeping dust down on access roads.
- Shifting from conventional forms of electricity production – such as natural gas, coal or nuclear power to renewable technologies such as wind energy – will reduce impacts on water resources by slowing the effects of climate change, and reducing overall water consumption in the electricity sector.
- A 150 megawatt wind farm uses 480 million litres less water each year than a natural gas facility of the same size. That’s equivalent to saving as much water as it would take to fill 160 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
- The International Energy Agency has stated that worldwide, the energy system uses a great deal of water: in 2010, 66 billion cubic meters of water were consumed by the energy industry, and this water consumption is projected to increase by 85 per cent by 2035. Increased use of wind energy will help to reduce our growing thirst for fresh water in the energy sector.
- In the U.S. alone, the Department of Energy estimates that with a 20 per cent share of wind energy in the power system by 2030, as much as 15 trillion litres of water could be saved. That’s as much water as about 9 million U.S. citizens would consume annually.
- A 2011 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants’, found that “On average in 2008, plants in the U.S. nuclear fleet withdrew nearly eight times more freshwater than natural gas plants per unit of electricity generated…” and that “wind farms use essentially no water.” The report also states that a nuclear plant with re-circulating cooling water withdraws 800 to 2,600 gallons per megawatt-hour but consumes 600 to 800 gallons – roughly half the amount withdrawn (Macknick et al. 2011). Recirculation cooling systems result in consumption of water through evaporation, which takes water away from its original source, and is therefore unavailable for other uses.
Birds and Bats
The wind energy industry is committed to respecting and protecting wildlife habitat and the environment, especially considering impacts on birds and bats, when siting wind farms. The industry partners with academic leaders, researchers, regulators and wildlife organizations to ensure development of wind energy is responsible.
Wind energy is emission-free so that it does not pollute the environment or contribute to climate change – the single biggest threats to wildlife in that climate change can disrupt reproductive cycles, shift ranges, alter hibernation habits, and impact the availability of prey.
While the relative contribution to overall avian (bird and bat) mortality from wind turbines is extremely low relative to other sources of avian mortality, the wind energy industry is committed to continuous research and improvement in our understanding of avian interaction with wind turbines.
- Project developers ensure there are mechanisms in place to reduce potential risks to birds and to aid in furthering our understanding of actual impacts on avian species – both prior to and following commissioning of wind energy projects.
- The industry continues to monitor and research emerging issues with respect to bird impacts and to take steps to further mitigate losses. We are also held to high standards by regulatory authorities.
The wind industry is actively engaged in leading-edge research to mitigate bat mortality at wind farms.
- The wind industry is one of the only industries that voluntarily studies and mitigates for wildlife impacts.
- To minimize and avoid risks to bats, project siting considerations play an important role. For example, project planners identify areas likely or known to be used by large numbers of bats and consideration is given to potential habitat impacts when deciding where to place wind turbines.
- Research is also investigating new ways to minimize impacts, such as identifying the wind speeds at which turbines can generate power with minimal impact on bats, the use of devices to deter bats from coming close to a turbine, and whether certain turbine colours are more effective in keeping bats away.
- The Pembina Institute: GHG Reductions from Enhanced Electrification of Potential New Industrial Demand in British Columbia
- Wallace P. Erickson, et. al.: A Comprehensive Analysis of Small-Passerine Fatalities from Collision with Turbines at Wind Energy Facilities
- Wind turbine payback: Environmental lifecycle assessment of 2-megawatt wind turbines
- Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Water may top up the case for renewables – wind energy facilities use the least amount of water, when compared to all other methods of producing electricity.
- Union of Concerned Scientists: Wind turbines—the most widely deployed renewable electricity technology in the United States, aside from hydropower—use essentially no water. Freshwater use by US power plants (for a list of key findings reference Chapter 2, P. 12-13)
- World Economic Forum: Unlike thermoelectric and hydroelectric systems, wind and solar power generation use virtually no water during the production of electricity. Energy vision update 2009 – Thirsty Energy: Water and Energy in the 21st Century (Executive Summary p.3-4, Graphic p.21-22, Case study p.35-38)
Birds and Bats
- To improve our understanding of bat/turbine interactions, the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003. BWEC is dedicated to improving fatality search methods and advancing our understanding of bat fatalities. BWEC is also actively investigating ways to mitigate impacts, such as acoustic deterrents and potential mitigation through changes in operations.
- According to new data published by Environment Canada, wind turbines are not a significant cause of avian mortality relative to other sources. A series of 10 scientific papers in the Canadian journal Avian Conservation and Ecology/Écologie et conservation des oiseaux found that cat predation and collisions with windows, vehicles, and transmission lines caused more than 95 per cent of all avian mortality. Habitat loss due to the development and operation of wind projects is also not significant source of avian mortality. Based on the available data, avian population level impacts have not been observed.