FILLING A VOID: DOCUMENTING RURAL WIND ENERGY PERSPECTIVESCategory: 2013, Climate, Completed, Grant, Major Project
Pembina Foundation for Environmental Research and Education
Alberta’s coal-based electricity system is the most polluting of any province in Canada. For instance, over 60 per cent of all airborne mercury emissions in Alberta are due to Alberta’s electricity generation, which also has the most GHG-intensive electricity in Canada. Electricity generation in Alberta emits almost as much GHGs as all oilsands operations (mining, upgrading and in situ extraction) combined.
Therefore, cleaning Alberta’s electricity grid with wider deployment of non-emitting renewable energy offers significant improvement for Alberta’s air and climate pollution. New wind energy development has been a leading technology for cleaning electricity generation in Alberta and around the world. Since new wind energy is very cost competitive in Alberta compared to other options, this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as wind energy represents far-and-away the largest amount of renewable energy currently planned in Alberta.
However, many of these planned projects are at risk of falling prey to a variety of obstacles, including social barriers. Recent studies show that when misinformation around the local impacts of wind energy takes hold in a region, anti-wind sentiments can spread quickly. As the most visible renewable energy on the rural landscape, wind energy is also the most vulnerable to opposition campaigns. At the same time, there are numerous communities and individual landowners actively seeking out opportunities to attract wind energy projects.
There is very little documentation of the existing status of rural views on wind energy in Alberta. This situation is disadvantageous in that it impedes a fulsome understanding of the actual concerns of rural Albertans and the improvements they are seeking. Moreover, the situation fails to provide documentation of the existing rural-wind energy relationship, leaving control of this narrative to hearsay and anecdotal information. This lack of information leaves advocates, developers, policy-makers and local decision makers dealing with issues in an ad hoc manner, and potentially facing avoidable conflicts.
At the highest level, this long-term initiative aims to document and understand rural perspectives on wind energy development, then to find solutions to problematic development techniques and misinformation that can impede further development. The impact that will indicate success will be the prevention and mitigation of social friction for wind energy projects, while avoiding locally damaging projects. More precisely, there will be a reduced need for regulatory challenges to wind energy projects from surrounding landowners, allaying these debilitating obstacles and delays.