Environment & Wildlife
- Wind power cleans our air. 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.
Source: Canadian Electricity Association, ‘Power Generation in Canada: A Guide’. For footnotes, please see resources section at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
- According to new data published by Environment Canada, wind turbines are not a significant cause of avian mortality relative to other sources; data shows wind energy projects do not result in significant habitat loss and population level impacts were not observed.
- A report from the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace suggests that wind energy could account for a full fifth of the world’s energy needs by 2030.
- 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
- 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 thermoelectric energy production (e.g. nuclear or coal) towards renewable technologies such as wind energy, will reduce water demand.
- Given that water scarcity is pressing and will be increasingly exacerbated by the growing impacts of climate change and population growth, wind energy is key to preserving our water resources.
- A 150 MW wind farm uses 480 million litres less water each year than a natural gas facility of the same size. That’s equivalent to the volume of 160 Olympic sized swimming pools.
- The IEA recently stated that worldwide, the energy system is thirsty: in 2010, 66 billion cubic meters of water are consumed, and projected to increase consumption 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 US 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 the equivalent to annual consumption of more than 9 million US citizens.
- A 2011 report by the Union of Concerned Scientist ‘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 recirculating 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
Wind energy is emission-free and does not contribute to climate change – the single biggest threat to wildlife
- The wind energy industry is deeply committed to protecting wildlife and the natural environment by siting wind farms with respect for all habitats. The industry partners with academic leaders, researchers, regulators and wildlife organizations to ensure development of wind energy is respectful and responsible.
- Birds: Project developers ensure there are mechanisms in place to reduce potential risks and to aid in furthering our understanding of actual impacts on avian species – both prior to and following commissioning of wind energy projects.
- Birds: Overwhelming evidence from studies consistently shows that wind farms are a minor source of bird mortality relative to other human impacts and other electricity sources.
- Birds: The industry continues to monitor and research emerging issues and to take steps to further mitigate effects on avian species – the wind energy industry is held to high standards by regulatory authorities.
- Bats: The wind industry is one of the only industries that voluntarily studies and mitigates for wildlife impacts.
- Bats: The industry is engaged in pro-active and leading-edge research to mitigate bat mortality and is actively involved in funding and researching mitigation options to reduce bat fatalities and understand impacts to wildlife.
- 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
Environmental Footprint Chart
Source: Canadian Electricity Association, ‘Power Generation in Canada: A Guide’.
- 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, 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.
- 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.
- Environment Canada released the latest scientific assessment of annual bird mortality from a range of sources in Canada. 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 effects due to the development and operation of wind projects are also not significant sources of avian mortality, and based on available data, population level impacts were not observed.