. "2 Context for Analysis of Effects of Wind-Powered Electricity Generation in the United States and the Mid-Atlantic Highlands." Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.
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Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects
electricity generation accrue through its displacement of electricity generation using other energy sources (e.g., fossil fuels), thus displacing the adverse effects of those other generators. Moreover, the only way to fully evaluate the environmental effects of generating electricity from wind energy is to understand all the adverse life-cycle effects of those electricity sources, and to compare them to all the adverse effects of wind energy. Because wind energy has some adverse impacts, the conclusion that a wind-powered EGU has net environmental benefits requires the conclusion that all its adverse effects are less than the adverse effects of the generation that it displaces. This committee’s charge was to focus on the generation of electricity from wind energy, however, and so it has not fully evaluated the effects of other electricity sources. In addition, it has not fully evaluated life-cycle effects (see discussion later in this chapter). Thus, in assessing environmental benefits, this committee has focused on the degree to which wind-generated electricity displaces or renders unnecessary electricity generated by other sources that produce atmospheric emissions, and hence the degree to which it displaces or reduces atmospheric emissions, which include greenhouse gases, mainly CO2 (carbon dioxide), NOx (oxides of nitrogen), SO2 (sulfur dioxide), and particulate matter. This focus on benefits accruing through reduction of atmospheric emissions, especially of greenhouse gas emissions, was adopted because those emissions are well characterized and the information is readily available; it also was adopted because much of the public discourse about the environmental benefits of wind energy focuses on its reduction of atmospheric emissions, especially greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, the focus on benefits accruing through reduction of atmospheric emissions was adopted because the relationships between air emissions and the amount of electricity generated by specified types of electricity-generating sources are well known. However, relationships between incremental changes in electricity generation and other environmental impacts, such as those on wildlife, viewsheds, or landscapes, are generally not known and are unlikely to be proportional. In addition, wind-powered generators of electricity share many kinds of adverse environmental impacts with other kinds of electricity generators. Therefore, calculating how much wind energy displaces other sources of electricity generation does not provide clear information on how much, or even whether, those other environmental impacts will be reduced. This report does, however, provide a guide to the methods and information needed to conduct a fuller analysis.
Although most evaluations of the beneficial effects of wind-generated electricity, including the present one, have addressed the degree to which they reduce (through displacement) atmospheric emissions, other important effects are potentially displaced as well. For example, obtaining fossil fuel through mining, drilling, and chemical modification of one form to another (e.g., gasification of coal) has a variety of environmental effects including