The use of wind energy has increased by about 32% over the last 5 years and continues to grow. More and more farmers are realizing the tremendous advantages, both financial and environmental, that wind farms have to offer.
Greenwing Energy believes that the world is in an energy crisis, and that there is technically enough wind to power the entire world.
Greenwing is currently considering embarking on projects in rural Saskatchewan due to the abundant wind resource it has to offer.
Jake Gray, Business Development Manager for Greenwing Energy, points out some key benefits in using wind power as opposed to some of the more common alternatives.
"You've got coal power, which is an environmental disaster," he says. "Both from a climate change perspective and a mining perspective. They talk about 'clean coal technology' but I can tell you right now-it does not exist. There's no such thing as clean coal."
Gas plants, though cleaner than coal mines, still exude greenhouse gases. They are also subject to price fluctuations depending on gas prices which, especially in recent years, have been extremely unpredictable. "The price of wind never changes, it's absolutely stable," he says. "So you know what the price is going to be for the next 40 years."
We think that as the old equipment reaches the end of its life-the old coal plants and the old nuclear plants-it really should be replaced with as much wind as can be intelligently installed."
Besides the financial and environmental benefits of wind power, Gray also feels that rural communities in particular can benefit from it.
"It brings investment to rural communities. A lot of the time these communities are really hurting for tax base, so it brings that tax base into these areas. That helps build roads, and helps build schools in rural communities that really have a need for that. It also creates some long-term, stable jobs in those areas as well."
Not every area is suitable for a wind farm, however. Before a single turbine can be constructed, a full environmental assessment is performed.
"They're very intensive," Gray says. "They take over a year to complete and they look at a whole lot of factors."
One such factor is the migration pattern of birds in the region. The idea is to ensure that as few birds as possible are harmed while flying through the area. When proper precautions are taken, Gray insists that the danger to bird species is extremely low.
"If you put up a building, say in downtown Regina, you'll actually kill more birds than a turbine will," he says.
He feels that they were given a bad rap due to earlier models built in the 1980's in the United States.
The main problem was that they were placed in poor locations directly in the path of migrating birds. The turbines were also much smaller at that time, meaning that the blades turned significantly faster, further increasing the danger to passing flocks.
"We do full surveys, and we're not going to stick (turbines) in the middle of a full migration."
The assessments also involve looking at all animals and plants in the area.
"We have to do things including making sure that we're not bringing in invasive plant species," he says.
They also have to consider whether the area is close enough to a transmission line for the project to be financially viable.
"We try to keep the cost as low as possible."
Once all the criteria have been met and a wind farm is established, the power that they are able to generate is astounding.
"A 100 megawatt wind farm, which is kind of an average-size farm, will produce enough power for about 35,000 homes," Gray says.
There are a few disadvantages associated with the use of turbines.
"You can't hide them," he says. "They're big and they're visible and there's no getting around that. "When I look at them I see what they're preventing. I see them as something that's producing energy from a clean, free source."
He also points out some common misconceptions, one of which being the noise-level.
"There's been some coverage of them as being loud, but they're actually not loud at all," he insists.
"The old designs that were installed in California in the 80's, they make a real racket. It has a lot to do with the speed that the blades are turning, and as you make them larger, they move slower. When they're moving slower they produce less noise."
He says that the actual noise level produced by the newer turbines used by Greenwing Energy is approximately 45 Decibels. That can be compared to the noise produced by leaves rustling in the trees.
"I've stood at the base of these things," Gray says. "And as soon as the wind is blowing strong enough that they're moving, the wind is louder than the turbine."
Saskatchewan, particularely Chester and Golden West, has recently caught the eye of Greenwing Energy due to the abundant wind resource it has to offer. "It's windy all the time and at consistently high speeds, which is just great for wind power," Gray says.
So far he is pleased with how receptive people in the region have been to the idea of wind farms in the area.
"The people both in Chester and Golden West have been absolutely fantastic and supportive," he says. "If we didn't have them on our side we wouldn't be able to even contemplate doing this. They're just great people."