According to the Renewable Energy Program (REP), Alberta is positioned to be Canada’s largest market for new wind energy investments over the next 10 years as Alberta aims to achieve its goal of 30 per cent renewable energy by 2030—but what are the pros and cons of this new strategy?
Pros of wind energy
There are a number of pros to switching to wind energy as opposed to other non-renewable energy sources.
1) Cleaning up the grid
Wind energy provides a clean source of energy that doesn’t pollute the air or require destructive chemicals. Investing in wind means relying less on non-renewable and environmentally harmful fossil fuels.
2) A replenishing resource
Wind is free and, thanks to the rotation of the Earth, continually available.
3) Cost effective
As the technology develops to allow a lower cost of harnessing and accessing the energy, it is becoming more and more viable. Plus, unlike other renewable energy sources, you don’t need to install a wind turbine to benefit from it, and multiple homes or businesses can benefit from just one, making it much more user accessible.
Wind farms require space, but they don’t necessarily require newly cleared space. In fact, farmers can get paid to rent field access for wind turbines—and the turbines won’t interfere with their ability to work the land.
5) Massive growth potential
Wind energy has enormous growth potential. It has been increasing steadily by 30 per cent a year. Currently, wind power accounts for 2.5 per cent of worldwide electricity production.
Cons of wind energy
It isn’t always consistently windy, which means the capacity of wind generation is going to change with the weather, meaning it may be difficult to rely solely on wind energy.
Wind turbines aren’t practical in every location (such as heavily forested areas or in urban centres), which hinders their accessibility. Further, some areas may need to be clear-cut in order for wind farms to be set up. They are good when they can add dual usage to areas like farmland; otherwise, they may require some destruction of the environment.
Most people like how wind turbines look, but there are some who don’t. Wind turbines also emit a sound (between 50 and 60 decibels), which some believe can be harmful (akin to living under power lines).
The technology is still improving, and government incentives are helping, but as of yet, it may still be difficult to budget the installation of your own personal turbine, although there are ways to access wind energy through many electricity providers.
While wind turbines are built to a safety standard, there are concerns that they may pose a risk to birds, and that, if damaged (i.e.: by a storm), they could also pose a safety risk to people.
What could they mean for Alberta, though?
Those, however are the general pros and cons of wind turbine investment. There are some Alberta-specific pros of an investment in wind energy as well.
1) Higher Investment
As the “Alberta Wind Energy Supply Chain Study” reports, “If wind energy were to be awarded with contracts for 4,500 MW, it would result in $8.27 billion in investments by wind energy developers.”
2) Increased energy capacity in Alberta
A new renewable resource could add significant amounts of electricity to meet the province’s demand. Alberta’s current capacity already meets 6 per cent of our electricity demand (enough to power 625,000 homes for a whole year). Think of the cost-effective potential we are about to unlock as that capacity increases.
3) Job opportunities
The potential contracts would result in 15,000 job years of employment for a skilled workforce (engineering, construction, operations, and maintenance) in a growing sector, many of which would be transferable from the oil and gas sector.
4) Increases in local spending and other economic opportunities
The increased capacity could increase local spending on related project development and construction to as much as $3.7 billion with an added $25.5 million contribution to municipal and property taxes and a $13.5 million in land lease payments.
5) Technological development and economic diversification
Technological developments necessary to improving wind energy efficiency could have benefits outside the sector, and that could further help with diversification from the oil and gas industry’s boom-and-bust cycles.
6) Export opportunities
China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has stated that it will invest $361 billion in renewable power generation over the next three years alone. If Alberta ups its wind capacity now, it will gain access to huge energy export potential.