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February 01, 2007

Large scale wind power has environmental impact

We still should make more wind power but we should perform environmental simulations. Local simulations and large scale simulations by blocking significant amounts of wind we can effect not just regional climate but larger weather patterns. This is the butterfly effect the size of Super-mothra.

Some ecologists are warning that unless we think carefully about where wind farms are sited, they could disrupt fragile ecosystems and even contribute to global warming. In 2005, the world's installed wind power generation capacity increased by 43 per cent to almost 60,000 megawatts - that's more than 12 times Ireland's total electricity demand. Almost 70 per cent of this is in Europe, and while less than 20 per cent is in North America that figure is rising rapidly. Last year alone, US companies spent $3 billion on 2300 megawatts of new wind energy capacity, bringing its total to 9149 megawatts - a little more than 1 per cent of total US generating capacity. Other countries are also catching up fast. India is already fourth in the wind-energy league table, having overtaken Denmark, and China has plans to build 5000 megawatts of wind power capacity by 2010.

Worldwide, wind energy still accounts for little more than 0.5 per cent of total electricity generation, but expectations are high. The US government believes wind could supply up to 20 per cent of the country's electricity. Other estimates are even more impressive. Last year, Christina Archer and Mark Jacobson from Stanford University in California produced a global wind-energy resource map that estimated the global potential for wind-generated energy at 72 terawatts - that's 40 times the worldwide demand in 2000.

But there is a problem. Where do you put hundreds, if not thousands, of wind turbines? The obvious answer is a windy place in the middle of nowhere. In crowded Europe, at least, that often means taking the same option as the Derrybrien developers and building wind farms on peat bogs.

"Yet peatlands represent the one land-based habitat in the world that is a major long-term carbon store. By building on peat, we release this carbon store as carbon emissions into the atmosphere."
"Peat bogs store three times as much carbon as is held in tropical rainforests"

This can happen in several ways. Peat dug out for foundations and service roads is stacked up and allowed to dry, and as it does so the carbon it contains - 55 kilograms per cubic metre - oxidises and is released into the atmosphere as CO2. Construction on peat can also lead to widespread damage of a bog's integrity.

In Europe, the main alternative to peat bog sites is to go offshore. Research into the ecological impact of offshore renewable energy developments is even sparser than for onshore projects.

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