By Stephen Vance, Editor
The resolution with regard to wind turbines put forward by Cynthia Lemon at the January 18 meeting of council and the debate that followed reminded me of something I had written several months ago that touched on the topic of wind turbine placement.
I decided that I would dust it off, and share it again.
Before I even begin I am sure that many of you have already assumed that because I have often written about, and have expressed concern for environmental issues, that I must be in favour of erecting hundreds of state of the art wind turbines all over the place in order to generate clean, green power.
You’d be wrong.
Just because one has a concern for environmental issues, does not imply that they would blindly embrace wind turbines- or at least it shouldn’t.
I do concede that once up and running a windmill is a very clean source of power generation from a carbon emissions perspective. The only methods of energy production that have lower carbon emissions are nuclear and hydro.
Manufacturing, and delivering those massive wind turbines to the site, and constructing them though, is a pretty dirty business that involves enormous amounts of fossil fuels to manufacture the steel structures, and to transport the components.
Still, over the long term, after the initial manufacture and construction is out of the way, wind power is a very, very clean way to produce electricity.
It isn’t terribly reliable as a sole source of energy supply as it is at the mercy of mother nature, but if you build enough of the suckers, and view them as one part of an overall sustainable energy strategy, then wind is definitely something to be embraced as a positive energy source.
The main problem we seem to be having here in Ontario is that some very poor locations have been chosen for these installations.
As has been alluded to recently by Meaford Councillor Cynthia Lemon, many of these wind farms are being built far too close to residential areas, and there has not been enough consideration given to how these windmills will be accepted as neighbours.
Poor locations equals unhappy neighbours, equals, bad press, which results in unnecessary debate over what otherwise would be an environmentally preferable alternative energy source when compared to coal or nuclear.
Irritation, and potential health risks aside, I do find it somewhat amusing that people who live smack dab in the red zone of a major nuclear power plant say nothing about the potential health risks of the nuclear industry, but want to find every possible way to cut the wind power industry down to its knees.
So if I’m not on the wind bandwagon, but I am clearly labelled as being “one of those green people”, then I must be a solar fanatic right? I must think that we should shut down all of the other power plants and instead slap solar panels on every available surface?
Well, not exactly.
I love the solar concept. It is quiet, it is reliable, and it is definitely drawing on a reliable and renewable resource. I’ve seen some great usage of solar power in Holland and Germany where they also have a very extensive wind power sector.
The trouble with solar is that like wind, it could never be a full replacement for our current energy supplies, because we would completely deplete all of our current known supply of fossil fuels just to manufacture enough solar panels to power our planet. So we’d have a wonderful supply of power, but we wouldn’t have any materials left to manufacture the things that we would like to power.
Solar must been seen as another component of a multi-faceted power generation program, along with wind, hydro, geothermal, and nuclear.
Yes, I said nuclear.
Nuclear because we currently have it, it does generate very low emission electricity, and it is better than coal.
But don’t let the pro-nuclear crowd fool you.
Yes, it is quite true that the generation of nuclear power at the plant is very clean, and produces very little in the way of carbon emissions. But nuclear power begins with the mining and processing of uranium which is terribly destructive to the environment, and produces all kinds of nasty emissions. Then there is the problem of disposal – or rather the storage of, because there is no way to safely dispose of radioactive waste for the long term.
There is also a very serious potential danger associated with nuclear power.
Not to minimize the health concerns of those who are living near windmills, but nuclear accidents are nasty business. I’m not an alarmist, and I certainly wouldn’t advocate huge anti-nuclear campaigns, but I have been to places like Chelyabinsk Russia where they have experienced major nuclear disasters, and the results are devastating.
We can fool ourselves and buy into the official line that nuclear power is safe, and that we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by accidents that happened half a world away in the former Soviet Union, but the reality is that accidents do happen.
In fact even in the last ten years there have been nuclear accidents in Tennessee and Illinois, and there have also been nuclear accidents in places like Japan, Hungary, and the United Kingdom that have ranked at levels 3 and 4 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The most recent accident was just three years ago. It is rare, but it does happen, and it only takes one big event to create absolute devastation.
Still, as nasty as the downside of nuclear is, it is a better option than coal. Everyone knows how dirty coal is, and how much pollution the burning of coal spews into our atmosphere. As if the burning of coal wasn’t dirty enough, according to an article published in Scientific American, coal in fact results in more radioactive waste than nuclear power generation.
I would be very surprised if there is anyone outside of the coal industry that advocates the continued use of coal as a source of power generation.
So now you are thinking “Okay smart guy, you’ve dumped on most every way we have available to us to generate power – what’s your solution?”
This is why I tend to stay out of the energy generation debates.
I always come back to the fact that we need to reduce the amount of electricity we use. I’m not talking about turning off a light switch here and there, or using a few CFL’s. What we need is a drastic reduction in our energy consumption.
We all need to re-think, and re-assess our current reliance on electricity, and take some serious steps toward conservation.
Massive reductions in energy use combined with a the integration of wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear and whatever other ways we might find to generate electricity won’t solve the problem forever, but it would allow us to eliminate the use of coal, and would buy us the time we need to allow our talented, and creative engineers to dream up and develop other energy alternatives that could be added to the mix.
And while we are at it, let’s be smart about where we put the wind turbines.
As much as I respect the need to incorporate wind power into our energy generation arsenal as a way to lessen our impact on the environment by creating cleaner power, I’d want one in my back yard about as much as I’d like to have a coal power plant there.