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Wind power a concern for Alberta grasslands

Wind power has become an important part of Alberta’s energy network.

But wind turbines and transmission lines should not be allowed to destroy what little is remaining of southern Alberta’s undisturbed grasslands.

That’s the message from a retired electrical power executive, now living in the foothills near Pincher Creek.

Municipal councils and provincial regulators should be acting to preserve the threatened grasslands areas, said Bobbi Lambright. But so far they’ve seemed more interested in the wind projects’ economic benefits.

“I think they’re beginning to see there are other consequences,” she told the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs.

Grasslands once covered nearly all of the Palliser Triangle, but Lambright said the only significant area of undisturbed land now is in southern Alberta’s Livingstone and Porcupine Hills.

But that’s where power companies are proposing still more wind farms, she warned.

Speaking for the Livingstone Landowners Group, she said restricting the turbines to cultivated farmland would allow the survival of animals and plants that depend on grasslands habitat. Placing the turbines’ new transmission lines along roadways or already-designated corridors would also reduce their environmental impact.

New wind projects proposed for southern Alberta could nearly double the current generating capacity in coming years, Lambright pointed out. And while some of the early towers were 70 metres tall, the latest designs range up to 190 metres – the height of the Calgary Tower.

Though the impact on southern Alberta’s “viewscape” may be debated, she said, there is little doubt about the turbines’ deadly impact on bats and birds.

Human health impacts are also being researched, she told a questioner.

Lambright – who was involved in Australia’s transition away from coal-fired power generation – pointed out wind power is not a reliable replacement. Until technological advances offer efficient ways to store power being generated when the winds howl, utility companies will still need backup systems including natural gas-fuelled generation.

Pincher Creek residents were enthusiastic when companies began investing in wind farms in their area, she noted. Then they recognized some of the unexpected consequences.

They’re “a lot more negative now.”