PRODUCING ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY WIND ELECTRICITY

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Feb 02 - 08, 2009

Environment impact assessment of wind turbines is an essential and preliminary step before starting a project of electricity generation on a site. Although impact of wind electricity plants varies area to area, it must be considered beforehand to stave off future cost of environmental damages caused by venture oblivion of ecology. The assessment is necessary by an authority in a given area and therefore it is a subject under purview of a separate entity which analyses potential threats wind farms pose to socio-environment conditions. In developed economies where winds are becoming parallel energy source to generate electricity external costs of the renewable system are predetermined and thoroughly studied. In Pakistan utilization of renewable energy has not reached to an extent that can be called commercial to make realization of importance that environment impact assessment has.

As a result, one may find dearth of environmental studies pertaining to wind energy in the country and that environment protection agency deals in this subject along with myriad of others, seemingly marginalizing the subject. That share of wind electricity is negligible in national energy mix and what little has been done is individual attempt might decrease likelihood of concerted efforts to study impact of wind turbines on environment.

Commercial distribution of wind electricity has not yet been taken place across the country. One may recall that inauguration of first such commercial generation of wind electricity by a Turkish company in Jhimpir, Sindh was to be done by December, 2008. Till now there prevails stillness. Five wind turbines each having capacity of 1.2 MW would cumulatively produce 6MW, according to the project. Howsoever, this volume is a peanut in front of present gigantic shortfall in demand and supply of power.

Wind is a commercial and viable source of renewable energy and has vast practically exploitable potential of 50,000MW in Pakistan with wind corridor 60 km wide from Gharo to Keti Bandar and 180 km long up to Hyderabad, according to Pakistan Metrological Department. With all this positive prospects, there are also some environmental risks involved. Nonetheless, the risk can subside.

Director General Pakistan Environment Protection Agency, Asif Khan says generation of electricity by wind does affect on avian culture and agriculture and site study has to be undertaken prior to allow installation of wind turbines. Without green signal of PEPA no project can progress. Not a single EIA for wind energy has been endorsed in the province of Punjab by the agency, he said while talking to PAGE. Coastal belt and windy areas are compatible with wind power production. Birds are influenced by establishment of wind farms. Often their collision with blades is citied as an anti-environmental dispensability of wind turbines. However, monitoring studies at operational wind farms in UK suggested that birds could rear themselves in presence of wind plants.

According to a Western Ecosystem Technology study conducted few years ago in US to evaluate avian mortality, 100 million to 1 billion birds were killed following collision with manmade structures including wind turbines, vehicles, buildings, power lines, and communication towers. It was found in the study that numbers of death caused by collision with vehicles were higher and that by wind turbines lowest in all. It was also mentioned in another report that there were minor instances of injuries and casualties of operation staff in wind farms. It is gainsaying the fact mere extreme cautiousness, vigilant monitoring, flawless environmental studies before installation of wind turbines could prevent accidents and ecological hazards.

Tall structures erecting in open space and non residential areas can undo other cacophonous fundamentals of wind-run power plants. Aerodynamic and mechanical noises are environment unfriendly and unerringly irksome to one's ear. In spite of all these, commercial wind turbines need minimum cost for installation initially and can produce free of cost energy for a long time. In a state of inertia, monitoring and environmental study institutes in Pakistan have not introduced project determining possible civic problems associated with the wind plants. In contrast, monitoring studies in western world are appraising in threadbare impacts in all possible dimensions.

The concern that engineering of turbines releases hefty quantity of Co2 was put in secondary position in a research report which asserted that amount of electricity produced through wind could compensate cost caused by greenhouse gas emissions. A 10-year long research study known as ExternE (external cost of energy) found cost of wind electricity 16th time lowest than that of coal-generated in EU countries. Beside, there is no waste produced as a result of wind power production process, it said. Nor, there is depletion of natural resources like fossil fuel and water needed extensively for coal.

Sulfur dioxides, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxide can be restrained from harming climate in case of higher dependence over wind turbines for electricity generation. Lately, Government of Pakistan is preparing energy policy in consultation with US experts. This policy would cover alternative energy options in detail, informed Asif. The policy would be chalked out positively within two to three months, "but would take time in coming on front", he added. He could not disclose the reason of this buffer. A detailed and consolidated energy policy can accelerate exploitation of alternative modes of energy for meeting rising demand of electricity of the nation. Its focus on practical and cost effective substitutes of energy may enhance applicability of the policy. No perpetual cost to produce electricity is a comparative advantage of wind source of energy. To make it able to contain environmental detriments, it is essential to conduct and follow research studies on locations where wind turbines are to be erected.