Despite some beliefs, climate change is real and humans are the ones to blame for. The increase of greenhouse gases – mainly CO2 – in the atmosphere, is the key driver of climate change. Emissions from human activities are responsible for 100% of the warming observed since 19501. One such activity is the production of energy. All processes of the energy production – from the extraction to the product delivered to the end-users – contribute highly to the greenhouse gas emissions2.
Luckily, many countries have been adopting renewable energy sources for the production of energy. Denmark is an exceptional case as it has more than 4,500 wind turbines, which in 2019 produced around 47% of the total energy consumption of the country3. These are indeed remarkable numbers.
Greece on the other hand is a country that was mainly using lignite (a low efficiency fossil fuel) to produce electricity. Since 2010, Greece has been investing in renewable energy, resulting in 50% reduction of lignite consumption in 20174. Greece is investing a lot in wind energy, no wonder why since local average wind speed often exceeds the 8-10m/s, especially in the Aegean Sea.
Undoubtedly wind farms have an advantage over fossil fuel5, but maybe Greece is overdoing it a bit. Unlike Denmark, Greece is among the richest in biodiversity European countries, and still has a few places unattached from humans. A map (Figure 1) created by the Hellenic Ornithological Society shows all wind farm locations that have a license to get build, the ones that have been built and the ones that are operating and producing energy.
Wind farm locations, as seen in the map, are covering almost the whole country. Interestingly, most of the wind turbines are placed in mountains and islands. Even if it makes sense to place them there, as mountains and islands are the places in which wind reaches the highest speed in Greece, these are the main places where most of the biodiversity of Greece still survives. More interesting is that some of these mountain tops and islets are the only pristine places left in the country. These places have unique biodiversity and are almost untouched by humans. Two examples of those pristine places that wind turbines are going to be built are the mountain range of Agrafa and 14 islets in the South Aegean.
Agrafa is located in central Greece and is the most isolated mountain in the country. It has more than 1,300 plant species, a rich diversity of birds and reptiles, it comprises permanent territory for the wolf and it is a place that the brown bear is recolonizing. Two wind turbines are going to be built in Agrafa inside Natura 2000 sites. These turbines are going to be connected to the wind farm network in Greece through high voltage cables in the air.
The 14 islets located in the South Aegean are inside 10 Natura 2000 sites. These islets are also called the Galapagos of the Mediterranean in Greece, due to the rich biodiversity and high levels of endemism they contain. Only a few people have ever step foot on them. Ports, roads and helipads are planned to be built to support the 104 wind turbines that are going to be placed in these islets. This will cause an unprecedented destruction to the biodiversity of this place.
Like this wasn’t enough, the Greek government is proposing a legislation with the title “Modernization of the Environmental Legislation” that will have tremendous consequences to the biodiversity of Greece. Among other detrimental regulations for the environment, this legislation allows the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals within Natura 2000 sites and it gives easier permission to build wind turbines, also inside Natura 2000 sites.
Apart from the apparent consequences windfarms have on biodiversity – such as destruction of habitats and increased mortality for birds7, 8 – in order to build a wind turbine especially in places that no other turbine is present, it is required to deforest a big area and create new roads in order to transfer the turbines. The new roads will make it easier for people to visit those places and then all of the sudden the biodiversity of the area is deteriorating. In addition to this, chances are high that species will be introduced in isolated islands that humans will visit regularly to preserve the turbines. Island biodiversity is very susceptible to changes, and introduced species might cause the extinction of endemic species.
It is very encouraging that the Greek government is investing in renewable energy, but why not invest more in another type of renewable energy? Why decide to go against studies that depict the clear destruction some wind turbines will cause? Why go after pristine places, and not invest more in the places that are already modified by humans? Why do more harm than good?
- Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, L.V. Alexander, S.K. Allen, N.L. Bindoff, F.-M. Bréon, J.A. Church, U. Cubasch, S. Emori, P. Forster, P. Friedlingstein, N. Gillett, J.M. Gregory, D.L. Hartmann, E. Jansen, B. Kirtman, R. Knutti, K. Krishna Kumar, P. Lemke, J. Marotzke, V. Masson-Delmotte, G.A. Meehl, I.I. Mokhov, S. Piao, V. Ramaswamy, D. Randall, M. Rhein, M. Rojas, C. Sabine, D. Shindell, L.D. Talley, D.G. Vaughan and S.-P. Xie, 2013: Technical Summary. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- Bruckner T., I.A. Bashmakov, Y. Mulugetta, H. Chum, A. de la Vega Navarro, J. Edmonds, A. Faaij, B. Fungtammasan, A. Garg, E. Hertwich, D. Honnery, D. Infield, M. Kainuma, S. Khennas, S. Kim, H.B. Nimir, K. Riahi, N. Strachan, R. Wiser, and X. Zhang, 2014: Energy Systems. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- “Denmark sources record 47% of power from wind in 2019”. Reuters. 2020-01-02. Retrieved 2020-03-14.
- Rovolis, A. & Kalimeris, P., (2016): Technical Report. The way to an era without lignite for the Western Macedonia region (in Greek). WWF Hellas. Athens, Greece.
- Kubiszewski, I., Cleveland, C. J., & Endres, P. K. (2010). Meta-analysis of net energy return for wind power systems. Renewable energy, 35(1), 218-225.
- HOS (2020). All you wanted to know about wind farms inside Natura 2000 sites (in Greek). http://files.ornithologiki.gr/docs/Aiolika_se_Natura_ORNITHOLOGIKI_web.pdf
- Schuster, E., Bulling, L., & Köppel, J. (2015). Consolidating the state of knowledge: A synoptical review of wind energy’s wildlife effects. Environmental Management, 56(2), 300–331.
- Korner‐Nievergelt, F., Brinkmann, R., Niermann, I., & Behr, O. (2013). Estimating bat and bird mortality occurring at wind energy turbines from covariates and carcass searches using mixture models. PLOS ONE, 8, e67997.