The Scottish government recently announced plans to build the world’s largest floating turbine farm, but at what cost? Despite being one of the cleanest energy solutions, it is also dangerous to wildlife. How do we live best now with the global issue of climate change in mind? (via Scotland.gov.uk)
The Scottish government recently announced plans to build the largest floating wind turbine farm in the world. Following in the footsteps of Japan and Denmark, the UK hopes to greatly reduce energy costs while decreasing the nation’s ecological footprint. Given the detriment wind turbines due to the natural habitat, progress at what cost?
According to a public statement made by the Scottish government, the country plans to build five 6 MW turbines 25km off the coast of Peterhead. The pilot park, Hywind Scotland, is expected to produce roughly 135GWh of electric power every year – enough to power up to 19,900 homes.
The wind turbines will be attached to the seabed directly using an anchoring system based on three-point mooring. The turbines will also be connected to a direct electricity supply, using inter-array and export cables onshore at Peterhead.
The project is expected to reduce electricity generation to below £100MWh commercially, with a target goal of lower costs to £85-£96MWh. The government did not, however, comment on how it plans to address the effect of the wind farm on the local ecological habitat.
According to Manhattan Institute Fellow Robert Bryce, wind turbines generate cleaner energy through murdering aerial creatures – namely bats and birds. His claims are not unfounded. According to a 2013 study published in The Wildlife Bulletin, land-based wind turbines killed as many as half a million birds in 2012.
Elliot Negin, senior writer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, combated Bryce’s claims head on in a compelling article published in the Huffington Post. He argued other energy technologies kill over 176 million birds per year, including death by electrocution and drowning in fluid waste pits.
While the environmental price of wind turbines may not be as high as other energy technologies (not even addressing the benefits related to carbon), the Scottish government has not addressed the potential consequences of invading a natural habitat with the largest offshore wind farm in the world.
Would you like to see these cute little birds dead for clean energy?
According to The Scottish Wildlife Trust, the shores of Peterhead are known for spectacular seabird colonies, including the Puffin. The waters surrounding Scotland are also the most rich in the UK for marine life. The coastal seas are home to many marine animals, including the grey seal, common dolphin, minke whale, killer whale and bottlenose dolphin. The introduction of wind turbines to this area will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the marine habitat, due to the noise made by the turbines and the physical harm to birds flying nearby.
The National Wildlife Federation has considered the consequences of offshore wind farms on wildlife. According to the organization, there is an undeniable risk in building the farms offshore, due to the potential of permanently damaging the sensitive hearing of sea creatures and the aforementioned potential harm to aerial animals, but there are steps that can reduce these risks.
The NWF believes if offshore farms are places in areas with minimal known wildlife, such deep in the sea, away from coral reefs and other known habitats, the risk of harming marine wildlife will be greatly decreased. The organization also argues if nothing is done to counter global warming, at least 30 percent of the earth’s species will be at risk.
As a global society, what do we do? In reality, the issue is complicated. It is a concern from an economical, political, social and environmental perspective, and it is the classic tale of sacrificing the variable for the good of the whole. But which variable should we sacrifice? Is an entire species worth sacrificing for the sake of advancing technology, or continuing to live in luxury? That answer depends largely on who you ask.
In truth, the Scottish government is likely making the jump to wind power because of the economical benefits, without regard for the environment. In other places in the world, deforestation might be necessary to the short-term survival of local communities. These communities cannot be concerned with the longevity of the planet in the future, if they cannot eat today.
The issue scales far beyond Scotland, in this case. It is a question of how long our planet will sustain our lifestyle, civilizations and people, if we do not change. No one has a ‘right’ answer, because one doesn’t exist on a grand scale. The ‘right’ thing to do varies based on location. The future is a hazy one, powered by the quest for economical sovereignty and power.
Even the greatest life & civilizations have perished, from the dinosaurs to the Mayans. We should take caution, as we too may go the same way.
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