Wind Energy - Environment

There are numerous benefits to using wind to produce energy rather than fossil fuels, especially to the environment. Wind energy offers a pollution-free, infinitely sustainable form of energy and a solution that supplements and can reduce our reliance on traditional fossil-based power generation. In the last few decades we have seen the remarkable impact and changes in air quality, global warming, atmospheric instability (results in higher concentration of air pollutants) and extreme weather events from the use of fossil fuels.

Air Pollution

A single fossil fuel power plant can emit as much as one million tons of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, annually. Wind turbines are powered solely by wind and don't require any form of fuel to operate. The production of energy through wind power creates zero air emissions resulting in no further contributions to smog, acid rain or climate change.

Using wind to produce enough power for over 200 homes (2,000,000 kWh) of electricity instead of burning coal will leave 900,000 kilograms of coal in the ground and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2,000 tonnes. This is equivalent to taking 417 cars off the road or planting 10,000 trees. One direct result of emissions being released into the air is acid rain. It has harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals and buildings and city infrastructure. The principal cause of acid rain is sulfur- and nitrogen compounds from human sources, such as electricity generation, factories and motor vehicles. Coal power plants are one of the most polluting. The gases can be carried hundreds of kilometres in the atmosphere before they are converted to acids and deposited.

Our reliance on these fuels for energy does not only effect the environment during power generation, but also during exploration, extraction, production and transportation of resources such as oil, coal and natural gas. The effects on marine ecology and wildlife habitat from oil and gas exploration have been well documented and at times devastating.

Government agencies have been putting forth initiatives to increase the use of renewable energy and lessen reliance on fossil fuels. In particular, the state of California has implemented the 2010 Renewable Portfolio Standards whereby California utility companies are required to to generate 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. California is now considering an even higher goal of 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.


Water consumption, especially in areas similar to the southwestern US where water conservation is crucial, is another major concern. A typical coal plant consumes approximately 0.49 gallons (1.90 litres)* and an oil plant consumes approximately 0.43 gallons (1.60 litres) of pure water per kilowatt hour produced. Comparatively, wind energy requires 0.001 gallons (0.004 litres)* per kWh, this water is used to clean the turbine rotor blades when rainfall is insufficient to clear off dust and insect buildup which would deform the shape of the airfoil and degrade performance.

* from the American Wind Energy Association website copyright 1996 - 2007

Link to Economy

More so now than ever, we are able to see the link between a healthy environment and a sustainable, strong economy. Global warming and air pollution can affect economies in many ways. The US spends more than $20 billion a year on lung-related illnesses associated with degraded air quality due to fossil-based power generation. Insurance companies estimate that if a major US city that is directly hit by a global warming-intensified hurricane could equate to a $50 billion cost in insured losses.

The global wind energy potential, even excluding environmentally sensitive areas, is roughly five times current global electricity use.

Many lakes in northeastern US have become biologically dead because of pollution from fossil fuel plants.

The build-up of greenhouse gases is not only causing a gradual rise in average temperatures, but also seems to be increasing fluctuations in weather patterns and causing more frequent and severe droughts and floods.

Its presence in the air along with other pollutants has contributed to make asthma one of the fastest growing childhood ailments in industrial and developing countries alike, and it has also recently been linked to lung cancer.

Similarly, urban smog has been linked to low birth weight, premature births, stillbirths and infant deaths.

A number of states have banned or limited the eating of fish from fresh-water lakes because of concerns about mercury, a toxic heavy metal, accumulating in their tissue.

Wind power plants, like all other energy technologies, have some environmental impacts. However, unlike most conventional technologies (which have regional and even global impacts due to their emissions and fuel imports), the impacts of wind energy systems are minimal and local. This makes them easier for local communities to monitor and, if necessary, mitigate.

The local environmental impacts that can result from wind power development include:

    • Erosion can be prevented through proper installation and landscaping techniques.
    • Erosion can be a concern in certain habitats such as the desert, where a hard-packed soil surface must be disturbed to install wind turbines.
    • Erosion has also been raised as a concern in the eastern U.S., where wind farms typically must be installed on mountain ridgelines.

However, standard engineering practices used by ski areas on the same kind of terrain are adequate to deal with any erosion issues that might be raised by construction of a wind farm and its service road.