The idea of a wind farm on the northern end of Vancouver Island is attractive and trendy – a source of clean, renewable energy that will eventually provide enough electricity for 100,000 people.
Any advance in the development of “green” energy is welcome, but we shouldn’t forget that all energy, no matter what form, comes at a cost and has an environmental impact.
Components for the Knob Hill wind farm began arriving at Nanaimo this week, and will be trucked to the site west of Port Hardy. It will generate employment during the construction phase, as well as about a dozen permanent jobs when the complex is operational. When the project is completed, 55 turbines will harvest the wind that blows over Cape Scott, producing electricity to supply 30,000 homes. B.C. Hydro has a 20-year contract with the developer for the power, and the wind farm will tie into the grid at Port Hardy.
British Columbia is a relative newcomer to wind-generated electricity, but it has great potential. A 2002 study by the Tides Foundation and Greenpeace showed three coastal regions could produce an estimated 7,500 megawatts from wind power. A subsequent study by the World Energy Council identified the B.C. coast as having the best wind resource for power generation in the world.
That doesn’t mean we can soon dismantle all the hydroelectric dams (from which B.C. gets the bulk of its electricity) and revel in the knowledge that our electricity is obtained with little environmental cost.
Wind farms, while infinitely preferable to coal-fired generating plants, still carry environmental costs. They tend to kill birds and other wildlife – commercial wind turbines at Alta-Gas’s Bear Mountain wind farm in northeastern B.C. are being blamed for the deaths of endangered bats.
They can also leave a hefty mark on the landscape. California’s Tehachapi Pass region is forested with thousands of wind turbines, and the mountains and ridges have been horribly carved up by roads used to install and service the turbines. An industrial complex, even though it is considered “green,” has completely disrupted the natural landscape there.
Sea Breeze Power Corp., the developer of the Knob Hill site, has done its homework, spending several years doing environmental studies and testing, including consulting with First Nations groups affected by the project. It is the first wind-energy project to receive a certificate of approval from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of environmental impact is unavoidable, something we consumers need to keep in mind as we use electricity. The power may be generated in a remote location, sparing us its visual blight and noise pollution, but we are still contributing to those effects.
While wind power holds much promise in B.C. and it can augment the electricity supply, it is not reliable enough to replace conventional sources – backup will always be needed for when the wind doesn’t blow.
We may dream of one day living in a world where our energy is cheap and completely clean, but the reality dictates that our power will always come at a cost.
We shouldn’t give up trying to make things better, but meanwhile, the best way to reduce the environmental footprint of our energy consumption is by using less of it. Of all the energy strategies available or contemplated, conservation holds the most potential.
Turn out the lights when not needed. Insulate buildings properly. Cut down on unnecessary use of electrical appliances and gadgets. Take shorter showers. Wash clothes in cold water. These strategies aren’t as sexy as wind turbines or an impressive as solar panels, but they are things everyone can do.
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