Talking Gaia: A Monthly Expert eForum Series

Wind Power Blows Away Toxic Carbon Emissions

This month’s Talking Gaia invites five prominent members of the global society to give us their take on wind power. They put the pros – and the cons - to help you make up your own mind on the realities of the issue. Informed opinion is the lifeblood of Gaia Discovery and we value the debate.

When you've read the experts’ opinions, why not add your own below? 

"Wind power poses adverse environmental impacts too."

Arthur Boyd, Chairman, Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy Projects, National Research Council

In recent years, the growth of capacity to generate electricity from wind energy has been rapid, growing from almost none in 1980 to 11,603 megawatts (MW) in 2009 in the United States and about 60,000 MW globally. Despite this rapid growth, wind energy amounted to less than 1% of U.S. electricity generation in 2006. Generation of electricity by wind energy is attractive to many governments, organizations, and individuals. But there are adverse environmental impacts of wind-energy facilities, which include aesthetic and other impacts on humans and effects on ecosystems, including the killing of wildlife, especially birds and bats, noise and construction pollution.

Some environmental effects of wind-energy, especially those from transportation (roads to and from the plant site) and transmission (roads or clearings for transmission lines), are common to all electricity-generating plants; other effects, such as aesthetic impacts, are specific to wind-energy facilities. This means to understand and evaluate positive and negative environmental effects of wind-energy facilities, you have to consider other non-environmental issues, such as energy independence, foreign-policy considerations, resource utilization, and the balance of international trade. Wind power is not the only answer – it needs to be part of a bigger plan.


"It's the perfect off grid solution for remote villages."

Dr Balgis Osman, IPCC Panel Member, UNEP Champion of the Earth and 2008 Nobel Prize Winner

The African Development Bank (AfDB) sees it's role as the "motor" to drive economic integration across the continent, necessary for achieving sustained and shared growth. Four areas of focus on which the AfDB will be concentrating it's resources include investing in infrastructure, and developing skills. There is no doubt the AfDB should help Africa build infrastructure to help mitigate and adapt to climate change through clean energies (hydro and wind power), all-weather transport, and irrigation projects. As such the Bank is currently sourcing support for developing a climate risk management strategy to provide the framework for these undertakings, as part of ongoing use of the newest technology to help improve the quality of life through provision of items like LED lights, mobile phones and computers for schoolchildren – things that can only happen if there is local power supplied to villages. Wind power would seem to be a perfect off-grid solution in many of the remote villages that we researched.


such the Bank is currently sourcing support for developing a climate risk management strategy to provide the framework for these undertakings, as part of ongoing use of the newest technology to help improve the quality of life through provision of items


"Dirty power plants still needed due to wind variability."

Eric Rosenbloom, President, National Wind Watch

A little research reveals that wind power does not in fact live up to the claims made by its advocates, that its impact on the environment and people's lives is far from benign and that with such a poor record and prospect that the money spent on it could be much more effectively directed. Links to research are provided throughout this paper (see below). In 1998, Norway commissioned a study of wind power in Denmark
and concluded that it has "serious environmental

effects, insufficient production, and high production costs." They decided not to go with it as a national policy. Denmark (population 5.3 million) has over 6,000 turbines that produced electricity equal to 19% of what the country used in 2002.

Yet despite this, not a single conventional power plant has been shut down. Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants must be kept running at full capacity to meet the real life demand for electricity. Most cannot simply be turned on and off as the wind dies and rises, and the quick ramping up and down of those that can be would actually increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide (the primary "greenhouse" gas). So when the wind is blowing just right for the turbines, the power they generate is usually a surplus and sold to other countries at an extremely discounted price, or the turbines are simply shut off.  Good idea? I don’t think so.


"Wind will be part of Timor-Leste's structured power solution"

Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor Leste and 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Jose Ramos Horta, President of Timor Leste and Nobel Prizewinner
In East Timor, excess oil and gas from Greater Sunrise and other fields in the region can be sold to generate revenue for infrastructure, and luckily for us we already earn some $100 million from oil and gas exports each month. This has allowed us to build up foreign currency reserves of almost $5 billion while having almost no debt. Some of that money could be invested into other forms of energy production such as solar and wind power as part of an ambitious plan to become energy

independent and contribute to efforts to reduce climate change. But it is up to countries like East Timor to take matters into their own hands rather than wait for rich polluters to help with so-called eco-aid. We do not have any illusions that the rich are going to help us mitigate the impact of climate change on our country, and although we see the benefits of using renewable energy, we have to be realistic about what we can do right now, with limited infrastructure and little local capability. There is no doubt we will look at wind power, but we have to make sure it is part of a structured and workable national system, not just an ad-hoc patchwork that helps only those that can afford it.

"Good infrastructure and trade agreements needed."

Thomas Ackermann, CEO of Energynautics; lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Thomas Ackermann, CEO of Energynautics; lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
Most experts agree that 10 per cent of wind power on the grid, or even more, is unlikely to need significant new infrastructure, but Denmark has shown that much higher levels are possible. The country routinely gets more than 20 per cent of its power from the wind, and for the month of January 2007 the figure was
36 per cent. According to the Danish transport and energy ministry, by 2025 wind could account for half of all electricity generated. Denmark achieves this remarkable performance by exchanging power with Norway, Sweden and Germany. West Denmark, for instance, can export its entire wind generating capacity of 2.3 GW, and takes advantage of this whenever winds are strong and Danish demand is low.
The exported power saves Norwegian and Swedish hydroelectric resources, which can then generate green

power that Denmark imports when wind is scarce. So the key to making good use of wind power is therefore good international infrastructure and trade agreements – not standalone systems.





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