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WIND ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Environmentally Clean, No Emissions
Wind energy is clean energy. No emissions means it doesn't contribute to acid rain and snow, global climate change, smog, regional haze, mercury contamination, water withdrawal, and particulate-related health effects. Wind energy offsets the toxic emissions and profound impacts on air, water and land from fossil fuel energy generation.

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No Water Consumption
The only water required for wind generation is for periodic cleaning of the turbine blades. A typical 500-megawatt coal plan uses 2.2 billion gallons of water each year. (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)

Using fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- to make electricity dirties the nation's air, consumes and pollutes water, hurts plants and animal life, creates toxic wastes, and causes global warming. Energy production and use have profound impacts on air, water and land.

  • A typical 500-megawatt coal plant produces 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year -- enough to power a city of about 140,000 people. It burns 1.4 million tons of coal (the equivalent of 40 train cars of coal each day) and In an average year, this one plant also generates the following: (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)
  • 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide
  • 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide, equivalent to half a million late-model cars -
  • 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to cutting down 100 million trees
  • 500 tons of small particles
  • 220 tons of hydrocarbons
  • 720 tons of carbon monoxide
  • 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber
  • 170 pounds of mercury, 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals
  • Trace amounts of uranium

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Avian monitoring at Sunshine Wind Park site.

Avian and Biological Impact

Over the last 20 years, the wind industry has made giant strides toward better understanding the biological impacts of wind farms and specifically their potential impacts on birds and bats. Today's wind farms are sited to avoid especially sensitive areas and migratory bird flyways. Modern turbines and carefully designed wind farm layouts minimize biological impacts. Like any large construction project, wind farms will inevitably have some biological impacts, but the impacts of a wind farm represent a very small percentage of human-caused avian and bat mortalities, and are minimal relative to traditional energy plants such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants.

  • Foresight is committed to developing wind power projects that have minimal impacts on the local environment, including birds and bats. Foresight pursues this objective by avoiding sensitive habitats to the extent feasible and by working to site projects in ecosystems with relatively low biological diversity. Foresight is also committed to better understanding the biological impacts of wind farms and continuing to improve industry best practices to reduce already low impacts further.
  • Foresight carries out biological assessments for proposed wind project locations to confirm site suitability, better understand potential impacts, and to develop strategies to mitigate any potential negative impacts. Once a wind project is operational, Foresight requires biological monitoring as part of wind project operations. 
According to a new report released in September 2005 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the possible impacts of wind energy development on wildlife, many fewer birds fly into wind turbines than is generally thought, and more research is needed to assess the possible impacts of wind turbines on both birds and bats. Although several hundred utility-scale wind farms currently operate across the U.S. such problems remain limited to two project areas, according to the report. "In the context of other sources of avian [mortality], it does not appear that wind power is responsible for a significant number of bird deaths," the report states in its conclusion. Online copies of the report are available on the GAO Web site at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05906.pdf.

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Use of Materials

  • A modern wind turbine will typically generate enough electricity in its first year of operation to offset the energy used to smelt and manufacture its components and erect the turbine. The remainder of its operational life offsets the impacts of electrical generation from other, less sustainable and more polluting forms of generation.

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