The Answer My Friend, is Blowing in the Wind

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Wind Turbines Near Glasgow
I am currently vacationing in Scotland, a special place I fell in love with over 10 years ago when I first came over to deliver Community-Based Social Marketing webinars in partnership with Caledonian University. Since then I have visited often and forged strong friendships, but I have always been visiting on business. This is the first time I have had the freedom to do whatever I want, and I am enjoying 15 days of showing my children around Scotland and visiting with good friends.

I have seen the growth of Scottish windfarms over the years, and have had the opportunity to visit them. Last week I visited the Whitelee Wind Farm (http://www NULL.whiteleewindfarm, a huge project near Glasgow with 140 turbines producing 322MW of electricity. That is enough to power 180,000 homes.

While walking among the turbines, I recalled a previous visit to another windfarm, just last October. On that occasion, as I walked with my friend Jim Baird, I took note of some homes that were nearby. I asked if people complained about getting sick from windfarms. Jim looked at me like I had 2 heads. Despite the vast implementation of windfarms in Scotland, he had never heard of someone complaining about health issues arising from them.

Further, Jim is an avid birder. On his visits to windfarms he always brings his binoculars and scouts out the birds that are flying around. Jim has never expressed concern about the impact of turbines on birds.

The facts around windfarms in Canada, and particularly in my home province of Nova Scotia, have been muddled by extreme claims of adverse health effects and catastrophic bird deaths, largely by people who don’t want them im their backyard. The basis for these claims is sketchy. Adverse health effects are often based on anecdotal, not scientific, evidence. The argument on bird deaths often includes extrapolations from a single study of the massive Altamont wind farm, constructed 30 years ago in California, which has admittedly had a terrible impact on birds and is being revamped with new technology to protect them. In the past 3 decades, changes to turbine design and siting have reduced the threat to birds, and it makes sense to make decisions on the basis of current technology, not the earliest.

The bottom line? We need to continue to be alert to the impacts of windfarms, and the industry must continue to improve best practices in designing and siting windfarms with minimal risk to the environment. But we also need political leaders who make informed decisions based on current science and facts (http://www2 NULL.lse NULL.pdf), not on the histrionics of Chicken Little. The sky is not falling, and it is full of wind that, if harnessed, will allow us to reduce our dependency on coal and oil, which have far greater impacts on our health and environment.