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Two Sides Speak on the War for Wind Power

Friday, April 29, 2011

One of the most hotly debated green technologies is wind. And while harnessing it for energy has been around since the age of sailboats and windmills, industrial scale wind farms raise a whole new set of issues.

Here in two separate interviews are two experts with differing views on harnessing the power of the wind…

1. Robert Hornung, President of the Canadian Wind Energy Alliance, which
    represents 460 wind industry members from turbine manufacturers to 
    wind resource assessment providers:

What does the future of wind energy in Canada look like to you?

“In 2003, Canada had just over 300 MW of installed wind energy capacity. We’re now at 4500 MW, and we’ve got another 4000 MW of projects to be built in the next few years. If we look at the range of provincial targets we could easily surpass 10,000 MW by 2015. This is an industry that has been growing by 25% a year worldwide for more than 15 years.”

What challenges must wind energy deal with?

“The Conference Board of Canada recently said that Canada will have to spend $300 billion on new electricity generation and transmission by 2030. We have parts of the country where you can’t connect anything to the grid because there’s no transmission capacity. And at the end of the day wind energy projects will not succeed if they don’t have broad community support.”

What about negative health concerns from people living too close to turbines?

“After reviewing all of the literature, the chief medical officer of health in Ontario and public health in Quebec have said they can find no evidence that wind turbines have a direct impact on human health.”

Won’t burning fossil fuels when the wind doesn’t blow to power the grid negate the environmental benefits of wind? 

“You can take steps to minimize the variability of wind production. For example working to geographically disperse your wind energy production because although wind will go up and down it won’t go up and down in 20 locations at the same time and rate. Secondly you see a lot of work right now on wind energy forecasting, which is providing system operators with advance notice of when wind production is likely to ramp up or down to make it easier for them to manage.”

2. John Laforet, President of Wind Concerns Ontario, a coalition of 57
    community groups that oppose wind farms across the province:

What does the future of wind energy in Canada look like to you?

My view is that industrial wind on a go-forward basis needs to stop all construction of future projects immediately. To conduct a proper health study into the negative effects on people living in the area. To restore local democracy and environmental assessments. End the feed in tariff program because industrial wind should be subject to market fluctuations in supply and demand like everybody else. And, projects too close to homes should be decommissioned. 

What challenges must wind energy deal with?

In Ontario, there are over 135 families reporting negative health symptoms from living too close to turbines. We’re not satisfied with an industry funded literature review. If you go up north, you can see that we’re enabling the wind industry to clear-cut and blast its way into the Boreal forest. And from an economic perspective, the amount of money we are paying for wind energy is harming our economy: The value of a kilowatt hour hovers between 3-4 cents. But wind energy never gets less than 13.5 cents.

Won’t stopping wind energy hamper our efforts to combat climate change?

We have to install fossil fuel backups for renewables because they are unreliable. Wind generated electricity has been around since 1887, and it’s an idea people have talked about since 1865. But even back in 1865, the single largest problem was intermittency and unreliability, and that still hasn’t been fixed. 

Shouldn't we give the fledging wind energy industry a chance to solve the intermittency issue?

No. They’ve had since 1887. The first hydroelectric dam in the world was built in 1881. The first coal fired generator was 1882. The first wind electricity generator was 1887. To say it is a new industry is not true. And, if you look at the global supply of energy before electricity, wind was king. Wind energy generated a majority of the energy we used for 500 years. So there were all kinds of private sector interests in it around the time of electrificiation. The problem was it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.


Written by: Graeme Stemp-Morlock