If wind power is to achieve its potential in the western Lake Erie region, the wind industry must concede the risks such generation poses and address them sensitively. Denial and rationalization will work to the industry’s detriment.
BP – yes, the company responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – appears to understand the importance of candor by the wind industry. David van Hoogstraten, BP Wind Energy’s director of policy and regulatory affairs for North America, stated during a recent seminar in Washington that the industry must face up to wind power’s potential effects on birds and bats.
It must mitigate those effects, he added, even if many people believe that power lines, buildings, and cats pose as much as or more of a threat to these species.
This is not a game-changing epiphany. Yet the debate over wind farms planned for and under construction in Michigan’s Lenawee County and near the Ohio-Indiana state line remains polarized.
In four Lenawee County townships that are grappling with proposals for wind power, some residents express concerns about the endangered Indiana brown bat. But the avian part of the debate hasn’t been much of a factor.
Imagine how much more divisive the issue could become if wind developers push for construction along the western Lake Erie shoreline or in water near the lake shore. That area is the Great Lakes region’s most coveted for development because of its wind, shallowness, and proximity to the regional electrical grid.
But it also lies in the middle of major North American bird flyways. Although developers appear content for now to explore other options, the industry is not likely to ignore the region’s biggest prize.
That makes proper siting and development techniques all the more important to wind-power development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that federal authority in such matters is not always clear. So the wildlife agency wisely promotes a “smart from the start” concept for wind developers.
A few years ago, wind power produced a fraction of 1 percent of the nation’s electricity. Soon, that figure is expected to grow to 4 percent. Wind is the nation’s fastest-growing form of electricity production. With that growth, wind power has become more liable to criticism.
The wind industry generates pollution – albeit unconventional forms of it, such as noise, light, and visual pollution. It will attract the same animosity as more traditional, dirty forms of energy production if the industry fails to acknowledge, and address, its responsibilities.