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Review of National Research Council of the National Academies: Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC (2007). 376 pp., ISBN-10: 0-309-10834-9
Luleå University of Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences, Social Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7199-7843
2009 (English)In: Environmental Science and Policy, ISSN 1462-9011, E-ISSN 1873-6416, Vol. 12, no 7, p. 1073-1074Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]

Wind power still amounts to a tiny proportion of total electricity generation in the United States (only 1 percent in 2006), but the growth in capacity to generate electricity from wind has increased rapidly during the last decade, from 1.8 MW in 1998 to 11.6 MW in 2006.The United States are thus in their early stages of developing knowledge on how to plan for and regulate wind power facilities. This study is conducted by the National Research Council on the commission of the Congress as part of this learning process. The task to the Council was threefold. Firstly, they were asked to conduct an assessment of the environmental impacts of wind-energy installations using the Mid-Atlantic Highlands (MAH), a mountainous region in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia, as a case study. Secondly, the committee was requested to develop an analytical framework for evaluating the beneficial and adverse effects associated with wind-energy in order to support and improve the planning and regulation process regarding future wind-energy installations, and thirdly, they were to identify major areas where more research and development is necessary. The study is a comprehensive piece of work; it deals with a number of factors that add to the complexity of the planning and regulating process of wind-energy developments. The committee accomplishing the study represents knowledge and expertise from a wide range of areas and subjects including numerous natural and social science disciplines.A significant part of the study is devoted to delineating and discussing the positive and negative impacts associated with wind-energy. When assessing the environmental benefits of wind power, the committee focuses on the extent to which it displaces electricity generated by other sources, and thereby on the extent to which it reduces hazardous emissions, including carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. They conclude that estimates of the potential for future development of wind-energy in the USA - as well as its contribution to reduced emissions - are highly uncertain. According the projections used in the study, wind-energy will contribute to between 1.2 and 4.5 percent of estimated electricity generation in 2020 in the United States. Such an outcome would imply reduced carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation sources by about 4.5 percent. However, given the prevailing total caps on the emissions of oxides of nitrogen and sulfur dioxide from electricity generation in the eastern part of the country, the estimated increase in electricity production stemming from wind is not likely to contribute to additional reductions of the emissions of these substances in any significant way. When discussing adverse ecological effects of wind-energy development the main focus is on bird and bat fatalities. The authors state that there is insufficient knowledge available at present to be able to draw any conclusions on the likely effects of the planned wind-power installations in the MAH on the bird and bat populations. This is accordingly one area identified where more research is considered necessary. The human impacts considered in the report include a number of aspects such as aesthetic impacts, cultural impacts (affecting historical, sacred or archeological or recreational sites), impacts on human health and well being (e.g., noise and flicker) economic and fiscal impacts, and the risk of electromagnetic interference. The authors recommend that established methods that are available for assessing the positive and negative impacts of wind power projects on humans should be used more frequently so as to develop a better informed and more transparent decision making process. Such methods include systematic methods for evaluating aesthetic impacts, which often are among the most loud-voiced protests expressed among local population in opposition of proposed wind-energy schemes.The last part of the study, where the planning and regulation process is described and discussed, was the part of the report I found the most interesting. It is established that wind-energy regulation on the national level is minimal in the United States and that there are large differences on the state/regional or the local level with respect to how proposed wind-energy developments are reviewed. These differences span over, for instance: (1) the locus of the regulatory review (national, state/regional or local); (2) whether utility and environmental issues are separated or integrated in the review process; (3) the amount and quality of information required; (4) the procedures for integrating public participation into the process; and (5) how positive and negative effects of wind-power installations are weighted. Clearly, the differences in practices and the minimal amount of guidance that is available for developers, regulators, and the public makes it difficult for all the actors to predict whether a specific project will be approved or not.The authors argue that it is unlikely that the United States would plan for wind-energy at the national level as many other countries do; as a result of both its geographically diversion and its confidence in the superiority of the outcome of free markets. Still, they argue, the present situation is characterized with too much uncertainty about what future policy tools will be in force. Therefore, national policies (implemented through e.g., subsidies, regulations and guidelines) could enhance a proactive planning for future wind-energy installations.One of the directives to the committee was to develop an analytical framework for evaluating environmental and socio-economic impacts of wind-energy developments. Such guidance would of course be a very useful tool in the decision making process. An ideal such framework would address all impacts associated with wind power across both spatial and temporal scales - it would require more information than is available - or even exists. Therefore the committee stopped short of a complete framework and instead offers what is called an evaluation guide that can be used to aid the process of reviewing proposed and evaluating existing wind-energy developments. The evaluation guide addresses procedural considerations (both related to planning, public relations and to legal issues) as well as environmental and socio-economic impacts of wind power facilities. The guide can be used as a check-list; it consists of a set of questions to each area to aid evaluation at different jurisdictional levels.It is convincing that the use of such an evaluation guide has the potential to improve the review process and reduce uncertainty for all parties involved. If the review processes are documented in a transparent way it would in itself gradually add to the knowledge stock about how wind-energy installations affect the environment and is perceived and valued by the public. Such knowledge would be useful both for regulators, developers and the public. Still, the key issues on how the positive and negative impacts associated with wind-energy development - as well as the conflicts of interest that often emerge - should be weighted against each other is still an open question. This issue is also highlighted in the very final recommendation in the report where the authors recommend that "Representatives of federal, state and local governments should work with wind-energy developers, non-governmental organizations, and other interests groups and experts to develop guidelines for addressing tradeoffs between benefits and costs of wind-energy generation" (p. 218).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2009. Vol. 12, no 7, p. 1073-1074
National Category
Economics
Research subject
Economics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:ltu:diva-14063DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2009.06.005Local ID: d6084fd0-8825-11de-8da0-000ea68e967bOAI: oai:DiVA.org:ltu-14063DiVA, id: diva2:987017
Note
Godkänd; 2009; 20090813 (ysko)Available from: 2016-09-29 Created: 2016-09-29 Last updated: 2018-02-16Bibliographically approved

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