Questioning the environmental impact of wind farms

Are some wind farms a waste of resources?

Are some wind farms a waste of resources?

An interesting article over at Guardian.co.uk today which draws attention to the environmental impact caused by building wind farms on top of peat bogs.  This raises a topic that has been brought up before in various circles and deserves continued attention - could some of our environmental initiatives actually cause more harm then good?

Wind farms are  a hot topic in the alternative energy arena at the moment, with many corporations and institutions boasting of their links to such renewable sources of energy.  As green-friendly attitudes begin to take hold amongst the general population, such projects are increasingly being seen as beneficial for those corporations who involve themselves in various ways.  Carbon off-setting credits often come from such sources and the PR opportunities of such connections are easy to see.  Of course, there are many individuals and corporations who really do want to make a difference for the better – but we must understand that another major factor can often be found because of the impact on public image and even bottom-line profit.

With such trends we often find poor implementation, and the article linked discusses one such problem which is  encountered.  In this particular example, building the wind farms on peat bogs quite often causes a very large amount of carbon to be released into the atmosphere as the bogs are dried up and decay.  Optimists say that quite often this effect is compensated after 2 – 4 years of operation, however there are others who are a bit more cynical and say that it could take well over a decade to do so.  In some cases, this means that over half of the wind farms lifespan is a pointless exercise as its construction and operation released more carbon into the atmosphere then it offset.  When you factor in many of the other carbon-creating aspects of wind farm construction (transportation, concrete, materials etc.) the positive benefit of such projects can come into question if they are not carefully implemented.

I am certainly not trying to dismiss the idea of alternative energy sources – as I do believe that we absolutely must pursue such avenues immediately.  What I am trying to do though, is make people question projects such as the one referenced here and not just blindly accept them because they seem on the surface to be environmentally friendly.  In many instances, the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in construction would be better off spent in research and development of further alternatives.  Lateral thinking and a more critical eye is needed in many instances, not just doing what looks/sounds/feels like the right thing at the time.  When issues such as the environment become politicised as they have been we enter an area of great danger, where bandwagons are created without truly understanding whether or not they are the most beneficial use of our efforts.

Really, what I want to get across is that it must not become taboo to question these projects.  We need to ask questions about whether or not they are the best use of our time and resources, whether we might not gain more benefit for our planet and its environment by spending the resources developing other solutions.  Wind farms can certainly be constructed and used efficiently, but they will only do so if there is a culture of due diligence surrounding their creation.  Unfortuntely, in many instances this just does not exist as we rush blindly towards anything that we feel might be making a difference.

What do you think?  Should we take a bit more time to question these carbon-emission solutions to see whether or not they really are the best way forwards?  Which forms of alternative energy do you feel are worth promoting over others?  Or should we just use anything that we can?

3 Responses to Questioning the environmental impact of wind farms

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  2. andyd says:

    The interesting thing about alternative energies is there is a group that is against any alternative energy you can come up with. Wind farms aren't as efficient as many claim they are, they take up space, and may have other minuses as you point out here. Which brings up the question: When everything is factored in, are they really any better than traditional sources of energy? I think this question must go hand in hand with the critical eye towards these projects you call for.

  3. RAGordon says:

    Thanks for the comment Andy, and I agree with you completely. I think the biggest problem that I can foresee is that we become panicked about alternative energies and then rush forwards without proper due diligence. When the environment becomes politicised, unfortunately projects can get rushed through to suite various agendas…which means that many of the downfalls of such projects are overlooked or ignored.

    Many of these alternative energy projects are fantastic – but that doesn't mean that they all are by definition!

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