As the world runs out of fossil fuels, and as the fossil fuels we still have cause climate change to spiral, communities really do have a responsibility to find and use renewable sources of energy with lower environmental impact. One of those energy sources can be found all around us, every day: the wind.
Windmills have been used as a source of power for centuries. although it is only relatively recently that they have been used to generate and store energy, as opposed to simply powering tools such as stones to grind grain. By the 1930s, many American farms used wind generators, and in 1951, the first wind "turbine" was connected to the utility grid, in the Scottish Orkney Islands.
With the development of the streamlined Horizontal Axis Wind Turbines (as in the photo above) the concept of "wind farms" entered both the public imagination and the public's nightmares.
Wind generated energy is clean, economical, safe, dependable, and has a very low long-term environmental impact. Once a wind farm is decommissioned, the land returns to its former state very quickly. Public opinion, however, is deeply divided and in some ways, it boils down to the individual's aesthetic sense.
Despite claims to the contrary, there are no demonstrable human health risks to living near wind turbines. Yes, they make noise, but the noise is not dangerous and neither Health Canada nor the World Health Organisation has been able to find any other adverse effects, in spite of studying the issue in depth. The turbines themselves don't cause headaches although irritation at their presence can. Some people feel strongly that they do not want to look at a landscape covered in windmills. Other, feel, equally strongly, that windmills are beautiful objects.
Livestock grazing on land occupied by windmills appear indifferent: they will graze right to the bases of the stacks, and will also use the cement as a scratching post on occasion. Flocks of migrating birds will avoid wind farms, and studies are necessary to site the turbines away from environmentally sensitive areas. Research is now being done on the effect of wind turbines on bats: it is not the arms of the sails that harm the bats but instead the atmospheric changes wrought by the changing winds, so again, care must be taken to avoid sensitive bat habitats.
Wind farms do have an effect on the landscape, and they probably should not be sited where they will interrupt pristine vistas. But, there are plenty of areas, particularly in Canada, with the necessary wind patterns that are away from human habitation and well-suited to energy generation. And, finally, there are a lot of people who are interested in wind technology and who find the turbines graceful and beautiful. They are happy enough to live within sight of a wind farm, and equally happy to take advantage of the energy savings generated.
It is possible for individuals to erect turbines on their property and use them for household energy generation. Some people even link their windmills to the utility grid and see their meters going up and down depending on how much energy they generate and contribute to the community pool. And, when a wind turbine is combined with solar panels, you are generating clean, inexpensive, renewable energy, day and night.
Turbines can be sited on shore, off shore, and under water. A future post will examine these terrific new energy sources.