The expansion of wind farms and turbines is a topic of controversy in many corners of Canada. Mostly proposed in rural areas and the outskirts of small to medium-sized cities, it is not uncommon in these areas to see lawn signs protesting turbine construction. Concerns include the impact on property value, the costs of absorbing new infrastructure into consumer electric bills or paying new taxes, damage to skyline aesthetics, sound, and even health effects to humans and wildlife. They can promote a sense of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) similar to that of proposing a waste disposal site, but perhaps with a little less resistance – wind generators smell much better than garbage dumps after all.
Chatham-Kent, Ontario has filled its southern skyline with 124 turbines, producing 270 Megawatts with the potential to power 100,000 homes in Ontario. Pattern Energy Group’s ‘South Kent Wind’ is the largest Wind Energy project in the country currently. Farmland was co-opted for the placement of many of these turbines, with inlet roads created for construction and future site maintenance. There exists even greater potential to use our aerial real estate, while using less land space and assuaging some of the objections communities may have with traditional wind turbines. We just have to lift our eyes a bit higher on the horizon.
High-altitude wind turbines and kite technology can at least supplement or perhaps replace the standard wind turbine. Though they would not be deployed to areas where there is air traffic, designs such as Altaeros’ Buoyant Airborne Turbine (BAT) and KITEnergy’s air foil use cable tethering to collect wind 600-1200 metres off the ground. The wind density at that altitude is much higher than their counterparts closer to the ground. When there is also the ability to more densely pack high altitude turbines across the same amount of real estate, the comparative production is much more than the traditional turbines. KITEnergy claims that in a wind farm installation they can achieve seven times the production of low altitude towers.
Within this new technology also comes the ability to reach remote areas with both electricity and communications such as cellular and internet networks. When adapted for mobile deployment, this technology can also be deployed for disaster and emergency relief. Given Canada’s dispersal of communities across a vast geography, it can also represent a cost effective infrastructure for reaching remote areas with long corridors of power, phone and gas lines. In addressing resident concerns, higher altitude turbines means greater distances from citizens, reducing noise. Higher altitude and the tethering means less disturbance to a skyline’s aesthetics – except in the distance. Cost factors will vary based on the installation and the surrounding area’s demand, but considering wind is abundant and never sends a bill, customers should likely see lower energy bills in the long run. To top it all off, it displaces carbon that would have otherwise been pumped into our atmosphere.