With the world looking for climate change solutions, renewable energy is one option that helps build a zero-carbon future—and farmers are closer to the energy conversation than most. Throughout Alberta, energy companies like Vision Quest Power, Trans Alta Power, and Renewable Energy System (RES) are partnering with communities, farmers, and landowners to build wind farms.
Wind farms generate electricity by harnessing the wind around them. Turbines on wind farms use the kinetic energy of wind and convert it to mechanical energy. Wind rotates the blades of a turbine that is connected to a driveshaft, which then spins a generator and produces electricity. In total, Alberta has thirty-eight operating wind projects producing 1,685 MW of energy, ranking the province third in Canada for integrating wind energy.(1)
RES, one of the largest independent renewable energy companies in the world, has been developing renewable energy and storage systems since 1981. Operating in ten different countries, RES has developed or built over 20 per cent of large-scale wind farms operating in Canada, including Rattlesnake Ridge and Halkirk, two wind farm projects based right in Alberta.
By leasing a small portion of their land to RES, farmers are contributing to a cleaner electrical grid system. Wind-generated electricity emits zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, no air pollution, and no water pollution, ultimately helping to offset the effects of climate change.(2)
“The big challenge of our time is fighting climate change,” says Patrick Henn, senior development manager at RES. “The more you put wind farms and solar panels out there, the less you need to produce power from [other energy sources] and that’s an overall benefit.”
Along with the environmental benefits of wind farms, there are many economic opportunities that come with these types of projects, including job opportunities and a second income stream for farmers.
“THE CONSTRUCTION OF A LARGE˜SCALE WIND FARM WILL REQUIRE HUNDREDS OF WORKERS, SO THERE’S A LOT OF JOB CREATION,” HENN SAYS.
Even after the completion of a wind project, operation and maintenance jobs are needed to run the energy plant year-round.
For the farmers themselves, simply hosting wind farms on their land allows them to receive an annual income from RES. By diversifying their revenue sources, wind farms can be especially helpful to farmers during low-yield crop seasons.
Rob Welsh, producer at Blackacre Farms in southern Alberta, has been hosting wind projects on his farmland since 1998 when he first signed onto a project with Vision Quest Power. Then in 2007, he partnered with Trans Alta Power on the creation of a second wind farm.
For Welsh, the wind farms mainly serve as an extra stream of revenue for Blackacre Farms. The wind projects from Vision Quest Power and Trans Alta Power were both constructed on his grasslands, however these projects do not interfere with Welsh’s cattle herd.
“All the wind turbines have been placed in pasture land and the cows graze right to the base of them—very little land and imprint is taken up,” says Welsh.
In total, Blackacre Farms will accommodate three different wind projects with a new one set to be completed this fall. With these large-scale wind projects, there are many factors that companies, like RES, need to take into consideration before starting construction. For instance, RES needs to ensure that a farmer’s land is suitable for wind projects, which requires a great deal of research to be completed ahead of time.
In order for the land to qualify for a wind operation, it has to meet certain criteria. For one, the wind in that area needs to have sufficient speed to produce electricity, and the land has to be near an existing electrical grid. The ground also needs to support the wind farm infrastructure, so RES avoids anything near wetlands.
“All these things combined will make us decide where we want to target. And then it’s really a question of the landowners,” says Henn.
Henn advises farmers and landowners who enter into these agreements to take careful consideration as wind farms are long-term commitments lasting up to thirty-five years.
“It’s a big decision . . . So you have to really understand what you’re getting into, and it’s very important to read and review carefully the whole contract that you’re signing into,” says Henn.
This is a sentiment that Welsh echoes as wind farms might not be the right direction for every farmer. Welsh recommends that farmers educate themselves on the pros and cons of hosting wind farms before proceeding.
“I don’t believe hosting a wind farm is for everyone. Some want the economic benefits from them and others just want the natural beauty of the land left the way it is—to each their own,” says Welsh.
For farmers partnering up with RES, Henn finds that they want to help their local and global community by participating in the energy conversation.
“I BELIEVE ONE OF THE REASONS FARMERS GET INVOLVED IS THAT THEY WANT TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS FIGHT,” SAYS HENN. “FARMERS ARE VERY CLOSE TO THE ENVIRONMENT, SO IT’S SYMBOLIC THAT THEY’RE PART OF A PROJECT THAT IS REDUCING THE IMPACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE.”
By: Kiah Lucero
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1 Wind Energy in Alberta—Canadian Wind Energy Association
2 Wind Energy—Canadian Renewable Energy Association