Major wind-power siting issues haven’t changed a lot over the last few years. Fundamental issues are interwoven with economic, political, environmental, and social complexities.
Technological advancements have occurred, but wind power is still more expensive and less reliable than fossil fuel alternatives, according to Jay Maki, a Business Development lead at Land Solutions in Canada. Still, he believes the overwhelming benefits outweigh the risks and cost.
“Wind is recognized worldwide as the ‘preferred’ energy source, yet when it comes to project development, millions of Canadians take a ‘not in my backyard’ position, resisting the development,” said Maki. “Wide-scale development will require meaningful public involvement to help inform and address stakeholder input, as well as political involvement in the form of long-term subsidies and incentives.”
Understanding wildlife and human considerations are important when siting wind facilities, said Ellen Crivella, global head of Practice, Environmental and Permitting Services at DNV GL – Energy.
“Over the last few years, multiple government-funded studies in countries such as Japan, Canada, and Sweden concluded that sounds generated at wind facilities do not pose physiological concern to humans or wildlife,” said Crivella. However, some are still reporting noise complaints associated with close proximity to wind farms. The concern continues to be addressed through public outreach, education, and maintaining distance from receptor-to-wind turbine.
In the case of wildlife, all developers undertake many pre-construction desktop and field studies to properly site their facilities, Crivella noted. These studies help to inform the local agency and the public during consultation meetings. During construction and post-construction, environmental monitors are employed on sites with sensitive ground-dwelling species, large amounts of sensitive areas that must be avoided, and other habitats such as wetlands and watercourses.
“A number of recent studies suggest that properly-sited wind farms have a lesser impact on avian species than tall buildings, communication towers, and house cats,” according to Crivella. As more data is collected about migratory birds, wind farm developers are better able to site and design wind facilities. Bats continue to be a species where additional studies and mitigation measures are implemented to reduce population impacts.
“What most people don’t realize is wind power provides the lowest total risk to wildlife among all major industrial sources,” said Maki. “The industry has mitigated risks by avoiding construction in sensitive areas, restricting operation during migratory periods, providing adequate setbacks from key habitats and using technology such as lasers to deter bird flight away from turbines.”
More recently, airspace and navigational-radar-system interference have become a concern for North American wind farms.
When siting a wind farm, a developer must ensure there is economic justification for the project by targeting areas with reliable wind resource and grid access to maximize economic value. Developers must also engage the public to inform and obtain acceptance. Political regulatory approval is often a concern for developers, but there is hope for increased government support in the future, said Maki.
“Balancing the placement of facilities, which leads to low environmental and human impact, in addition to capitalizing on strong wind resources and close proximity to transmission, are keys to successful development,” Crivella said.
Preparing for an efficient permitting process requires a strong understanding of what interest stakeholders have in a project. It is essential to ensure that the appropriate landowners and occupants, as well as all title complexities, are identified early-on, according to Maki.
“Developers should be sure they undertake the necessary pre-construction studies to fully understand the potential for sensitive species and habitats, resources and human interactions,” advised Crivella. “It is also important to fully grasp the national, state and local regulations, as well as financing requirements associated with siting.”