Positive effects of wind energy
Wind energy is one of the cleanest, most environmentally friendly energy sources. It has a long-term positive impact on our environment as:
- It emits no greenhouse gases, and therefore reduces the threat posed by climate change – the single largest threat to biodiversity;
- It has one of the lowest CO2 emissions and energy used throughout its all life cycle as showed in the IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energies (Figure SMP8, p.19);
- It emits no air pollutants, which cause acid rain;
- It emits no micro-particles, which cause cancer and respiratory diseases;
- It uses almost no water, a resource that will be even scarcer in the future;
- Turbines are almost fully recyclable.
At the local level, wind energy can also have positive effects on biodiversity, and offers an opportunity to practice ecological restoration. Offshore windfarms, for example, are quickly populated by sea life.
Potential site-specific impacts on birds or bats can be avoided and minimised by careful planning and siting, or else mitigated or compensated. In fact, wind farm developers are required to undertake Environmental Impact Assessments to gauge all potential significant environmental effects and meet all requirements of EU legislation before construction can start. Birdlife International confirms their support for high wind and renewable use and 2030 targets in their report – Meeting Europe’s Renewable Energy Targets in Harmony with Nature. Moreover, a new study entitled “Delivering Synergies between Renewable Energy and Nature Conservation” produced by the Institute for European Environmental Policy shows that the impact of wind farms on most habitats and species are typically very low if the wind farms are well planned, sited and managed intelligently.
Wind energy can also be developed in protected Natura 2000 sites as confirmed by the European Commission in its Guidelines on Wind energy and Natura 2000.
- EWEA position – ‘Fitness check’ for EU nature legislation (Birds Directive, Habitats Directive)
- Wind energy industry position paper – Review of the EIA Directive
- Research note – Turbine recycling(Members area only)
- Briefing –Positive environmental impacts of offshore wind energy (Members area only)
- Research Note – Underwater noise and offshore wind farms (Members area only)
- Research Note – Birds and offshore wind farms(Members area only)
- Saving water with wind energy
Planning wind energy
Permitting and grid connection
Administrative and permitting procedures are amongst the most important obstacles to the development of wind energy projects. Fair and shorter permitting and connection procedures would significantly reduce project development costs. According to WindBarriers, a project conducted by EWEA during 2009 and 2010, project developers face average lead times for administrative authorisation of almost 55 months and grid connection procedures of aproximately 26 months. The European wind industry’s objective is to shorten these periods to 24 and 6 months respectively and stays engaged to achieve this goal.
How loud are wind turbines?
The closest that a wind turbine is typically placed to a home is 300 metres or more. At that distance, a turbine will have a sound pressure level of 43 decibels, which is a little more than a refrigerator and lower than the average air conditioner. At 500 metres, that sound pressure level drops to 38 decibels. In rural areas, this can drop to 30 decibels.
Impact on health
Some studies have associated concerns over noise with possible health risks.
A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended reducing noise levels produced by wind turbines to below 45 dB, as wind turbine noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.
The number of people exposed to wind turbines noise is far lower than for many other sources of noise (such as road traffic). Therefore, the WHO estimated the burden on health from exposure to wind turbine noise to be low, concluding that any benefit from specifically reducing population exposure to wind turbine noise in all situations remains unclear.
As the evidence on the adverse effects of wind turbine noise was rated ‘low quality’ by the WHO itself, it made a ‘conditional’ recommendation. The WHO recommends ‘suitable measures’ to reduce noise exposure to wind turbines.
Most European countries already have national legislation in place to deal with noise. Allowable environmental noise limits are categorised by area and timing. Minimum and maximum levels usually vary between 40 to 55 dB during the day and are reduced by 5 to 10 dB during the night. Noise limits in recreational areas vary from 40 to 48 dB during the day and are reduced by approximately 5 dB during the night. So the new limits from the WHO appear to be in line with current European regulations:
Table 1 Allowable environmental noise limits across Europe
|Type of area||dB(A) near houses|
|Residential areas/ dwellings||40||55||35||45|
The wind industry takes the issue of noise extremely seriously. The industry uses mitigation and compensation techniques to reduce noise emissions. Noise modelling, acoustic data and detailed surveys during the planning phase are essential. Early community involvement and publication of noise model measurements are considered best practices. In most European countries, citizens can also address their concerns post-construction and request additional mitigation measures from the project developers.
- Noise regulation and wind energy deployment in EU Member States (Members area only)
Public acceptance of wind energy
According to a 2011 Eurobarometer survey, Europeans were more favourable to renewable energy than other energy sources, particularly solar (94%), wind (89%) and hydroelectric (85%).
Several EU-funded projects (GP Wind, Reshare) and initiatives (IEA’s Wind Task 28) assist with demonstration and dissemination of best practices, collection of current knowledge and promotion of social acceptance of wind farms.
Wind energy delivers a multitude of benefits to communities: It is sustainable and creates local jobs, wealth and economic revival, it helps fight climate change and improves our energy security. What is more, renting out land for wind farms can provide income. Taxes from a wind energy business can be used for social and cultural services in the community, and a wind project might also provide local infrastructure improvements such as roads and electricity transmission lines.
There is no evidence of wind energy projects affecting property prices, and once the farm is built, trends suggest that people who live near a wind farm become more favourable towards wind energy. Awareness campaigns such as the Global Wind Day help inform Europeans and people around the world about the benefits of wind energy.
EWEA is coordinating the WISE Power project, an IEE funded project which aims at increasing local awareness and participation in the planning process with the aim of reducing social resistance that often results in creating unnecessary obstacles to the deployment of wind energy projects. The project has a strong focus on alternative measures of funding, such as community and cooperative innovative forms of funding wind farms.