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How to make wind power truly eco-friendly  

Wind power is generally regarded as an environmentally friendly source of energy. However, we often hear reports about “bird strikes,” in which birds hit wind turbines and get injured or killed.

Some of the headlines that have recently appeared include: “Wind turbines threaten birds”; and “Protect the white-tailed eagles from wind turbines.”

But actually, bird strikes are not the only negative impact on the environment caused by wind power generation.

The enactment of a special measures law to promote the use of new energy sources in 1997 started the introduction of wind power generation in earnest. At the end of fiscal 2005, the nation was producing more than 1 million kilowatts in installed wind-power capacity. There are plans to raise the figure to 3 million kilowatts in fiscal 2010, about 0.67 percent of the nation’s total power generation.

Meanwhile, in fiscal 2006, about half the projects that received subsidies from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy for new energy projects were those related to wind power generation.

Initially, wind turbines were constructed in coastal areas where it was relatively easy and cheap to bring in building materials and assemble them. However, as suitable sites along the coast became scarcer, a growing number of wind turbines began to be built in mountainous areas.

Blades, a tower and a nacelle (storage space for generators and other machinery) are the main components of wind turbines. Although people tend to think wind power generation systems take little space, as the turbines get bigger and the number of turbines to each power station grows, construction work has become a major undertaking.

To transport components such as blades and towers, new roads need to be built along mountain ridges or existing forest roads must be widened or extended. Space to assemble building materials is also required. In some cases, towers for power transmission also have to be built. Even seemingly minor construction projects split natural habitats and could trigger negative changes to important regional flora and fauna.

Nature conservation groups in areas where there are plans to build wind power plants are voicing concerns that they could have a negative impact not only on birds but on the local environment as a whole. Not everything about wind power generation is eco-friendly.

Key issues to be addressed are clear. Currently, the Environmental Impact Assessment Law does not apply to wind power generation projects. This situation must be changed.

It is true that many developers conduct voluntary surveys based on a manual published by the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization. But their level of awareness for nature conservation tends to be low. Furthermore, compared to a legal assessment, the way the surveys are carried out and the contents of the assessment and procedures are inadequate in most cases.

The second point that needs to be addressed is the way projects are advanced. In choosing construction sites, most developers only take into consideration such factors as whether there is strong wind and whether it is easy to build wind turbines. Such a method is inappropriate and must be changed. Developers are late in disclosing information, and few are making a serious efforts to dispel the anxieties of local residents.

In March, the Environment Ministry and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy have started working group on wind power generation facilities and nature conservation. Global warming is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with at once. For that, it is clear that we need to advance ways to save energy and promote the use of new energy sources.

However, at the same time, we need to protect and maintain a diverse natural environment in Japan, which is a small country. Where should we build wind turbines that can generate clean energy?

We need to resolve these problems and start an active debate in order to make wind power generation environmentally friendly in the true sense.

By Ai Kobayashi

The author is a staff of the Nature Conservation Society of Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun

asahi.com

6 April 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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