Letters to the Editor – Questions over the environmental impacts of wind power

Editor,

I wish to compliment letter writers Ward and Lack (The Saint Criox Courier, May 18) for the suggestions to the Saint Andrews council, and hope residents will follow their example of letting their representatives and community know the issues they want council to address. It’s an important element of democratic process.

The suggestion of students engaging in studies of wind power generation, although having merit, could develop an inappropriate bias for that technology.

It is essential students study all aspects of wind power generation, not only that it reduces the use of fossil fuels. To generate electricity adequate for the demands of any sizeable community requires turbines whose size and number can easily overwhelm anyone having an environmental conscience.

Modern turbines are huge compared to familiar structures, and environmental features. In coastal areas of migration they can harm bird populations, especially if built as wind farms. They require massive foundations made of steel and concrete and contain lubricants subject to leakage, and have a risk of fire requiring fire-suppressing monitors and systems. Not mentioned is little of the materials are recyclable or reusable at end of life nor that materials for generators come mostly from mines in African countries whose workers suffer horrible conditions under authoritarian governments known for human rights abuses and deprive their citizens of the monetary profits.

Also, voracious over-harvesting of balsa wood used in the cores of the rotor blades causes unsustainable damage to tropical forests. None of this are is discussed by promoters of turbines, who are typically large businesses historically benefiting from taxpayer subsidies; businesses whose motive is not to generate sustainable energy, but make profit for shareholders.

Wind energy electricity generation also requires the production, installation, and maintenance of energy storage systems that may carry significant environmental costs.

Wind power generation on an industrial scale is not green or environmentally benign, it is simply an alternative to fossil fuels.

Of course other means of electricity generation have negative environmental and social impacts. The production of solar panels requires large amounts of materials and energy as does the required battery storage, not to mention enormous wastage of water in lithium production, with the country producing most of the panels burning enormous amounts of coal for industry. Nuclear generation depends on mining for uranium, but at least that resource is an indigenous Canadian resource, and production monitored and regulated, whereas almost all the costs and environmental and social damages of the others are outsourced to other countries; and a plant’s physical footprint is minor compared to other systems and neither birds nor other wildlife are threatened. Storage of irradiated fuel though technically manageable currently continues to be a polarizing topic.

Students must have an opportunity learn about, study, and discuss all these to make fully-informed decisions on future generation of electricity.

Just because it works and is supported elsewhere is not a sufficient reason to encourage wind power generation on a commercial scale in New Brunswick.

Christian W. (‘Chris’) Schulte

Saint Andrews, N.B.