Tuesday, July 14

Winds of Change


Alberta has long been known for its oil and ranching. Natural resources are what keeps Alberta's engine running. Unfortunately, the oil and gas business depends on non renewable resources, and bitumen extraction in the Athabasca tarsands has the reputation of being one of the major polluters in northern Alberta.With the price of oil hovering around $50-$60 a barrel, it is becoming less and less profitable to extract oil from the oilsands of Northern Alberta.

An even more serious culprit in regards to polluting the air is the burning of coal to fuel our electric plants. According to the Clean Air Alliance in Ontario, coal-fired power plants are the single largest industrial contributors to this crisis. Coal-fired power plants are major producers of:

-Nitrogen oxides, which combine with other pollutants to form ground-level ozone, one of the most noxious parts of the smog brew.
-Sulphur dioxide, which contributes to the yellow haze that hangs over Southern Ontario and is a major factor in causing acid-rain damage to our lakes, rivers and forests.
-Mercury, which can in even tiny amounts have a devastating impact on the human nervous system, especially for children and the unborn. Exposure to mercury can cause brain and kidney damage and even death. Mercury exposure has also been linked to impairment of children's reasoning skills.
-Lead, which is also particularly harmful to children and can cause brain damage, impair growth, damage kidneys and cause learning and behavioral problems.
-Heavy metals, including cadmium and chromium, which are known cancer-causing toxins.
The Nanticoke coal-fired electricity generating station on Lake Erie is Canada's single largest source of air pollution. This gigantic coal-fired power plant -- the largest in North America -- produces a toxic brew of pollutants, including sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead, cancerous heavy metals and arsenic. (Nanticoke is owned by Ontario Power Generation -- formerly Ontario Hydro -- which, in turn, is 100% owned by the Government of Ontario.)

The pollution coming out of Nanticoke's giant smokestacks is the equivalent of the pollution produced by 3.3 million cars. Its emissions contribute not only to the choking smog that lies over Southern Ontario every summer, but also to the potentially devastating impacts of global climate change and to the well-known problems caused by acid rain.

Coal Energy is Dirty Energy.

Its time to seek out greener and renewable energy resources. The most obvious is Wind Power.

Southern Alberta is home to the Chinook wind. The warm Pacific air is drawn up from the coast and travels at high altitudes until it blows down the Eastern slopes of the Rockies. The temperature can change from sub zero to double digit positive numbers in an hour. The First Nations call the Chinook the 'snow eater' as snow literally disappears from the ground.

The Chinook wind blows at about 60 km/hour and in some places in southern Alberta it can reach gusts of 100 km /hour.These prime conditions make Alberta a player in wind energy. In my opinion, it is a no-brainer. Wind blows constantly in some places and the trees are actually dwarfed due to the high speed and consistency of the wind.

Near the town of Halkirk, Alberta, the wind doesn't stop. I had the opportunity to visit the area with Dan Tocher, VP of Stakeholder Relations at Greengate Power Corporation. Greengate is a wind energy developer from Calgary, currently developing over 1550 MW of wind power on approxiamately 200,000 acres of land in Alberta. These projects are close to existing transmission lines. This allows Greengate to exploit some of Alberta's wind rich areas with little or no upgrades needed to the existing transmission lines.

Wind power is clean energy and is beneficial in many ways. It is non-polluting, it doesn't endanger the natural habitat where the turbines are located,and it will create jobs for the area around the projects.

In the end, windpower could compensate for the bad image of the oilsands and give us more green credibility in the eyes of the world.It will also neutralize the deep carbon footprint left by coal-fired power plants that are scattered across Canada.

There is a proverb from Africa that states:

"The earth is not ours; it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations."

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