Much has been written about wind turbines and health. Numerous peer reviewed studies have been unable to find any connection between wind turbines and negative health impacts.
Wind energy has many health benefits. A unit of electricity from a wind turbine in Saskatchewan will displace a unit of electricity from coal-fired power stations. That is a good thing because the combustion of coal poses a significant public health risk.
Coal, in addition to oil and biomass, emits carbon particulates when it is burned. Those particulates cause upper respiratory distress and that manifests itself as increased incidences of cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and the like. The burning of coal also releases large quantities of Mercury, a neurotoxin, as well as various other toxic elements including Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead and others.
In 2012 Forbes published an article ('How Deadly is Your Kilowatt') which draws on multiple reputable data sources to estimate the mortality rate associated with the use of different fuels to generate electricity.
Using the Forbes data we estimate that 190 premature deaths occur, every year, across Saskatchewan as a result of the combustion of coal and gas in the power generation sector (coal and gas together generate 75% of our electricity). The graphic is shown at the top of this article.
There is also a mortality rate associated with hydro-electric power generation and wind power. That is obviously not caused by their fuels (since they are water and wind!). However the mortalities associated with these two types of generators arise from accidents during construction and operation. Using the same Forbes data, we estimate that approximately one death every two years can be attributed to the use of hydro-electricity and wind to generate our electricity. Hydro and wind combined generate 23% of our electricity.
It is the environmental risks associated with burning coal which is led, last year, to Ontario becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to stop using coal for power generation. Many other jurisdictions across North America are following its lead - the same also true in Europe. The following two graphics, which show the change in installed electricity generation capacity in the United States and Europe, illustrate the trend;
It would be technically feasible and economically attractive to generate at least 20 percent of Saskatchewan's electricity using wind turbines (the current figure is 2.8 percent). Pulling all this data together we estimate that if wind was used to generate 20% of all our electricity and if wind additions were used to displace only coal, it would be possible to prevent 70 premature deaths every year.
70 lives: Isn't that worth it?
If you'd like more information check out our 'Wind turbines and human health' page.