Without a doubt, one of my favourite drives is secondary highway 884 between Highway 9 and Jenner.
I love the prairies. There’s the ever-present antelopes, deer and coyotes and the beauty of blowing prairie wool or snow swept landscapes.
The horizon and being able to see forever is peaceful and beautiful.
That people are upset with the rapid expansion of wind farms in east central Alberta, twirling noisy turbines and flashing red lights marring the beauty of the prairies and killing birds, I empathize.
There is nothing inviting about giant wind turbines.
East central Alberta has been quite insulated from huge economic projects that destroy lands, waterways and environmental beauty.
The two power plants in the area, Sheerness and the Battle River plant have done a good job reclaiming the land after the coal is mined. They have also been proactive in investing in clean technology.
Unfortunately, time marches on and the decision by the government to buyout and shutter these operations was inevitable.
The fact remains, coal burning facilities are the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and it is incumbent on first world countries to show leadership.
But if you don’t believe in manmade climate change then the new wind turbines and the soon-to-be shuttered coal mines would be insanity at its highest order.
The comforting news is you’re not alone. Many communities over the years have gone through a similar and often painful transition. You now can share and empathize with the First Nations people who populate the remote areas of northeastern Alberta.
As a former Executive Secretary to the Vice President of Finance at Syncrude, I had the shoreline tour of operating tailings ponds next to the Athabasca River.
I was able to look at the massive displacement of overburden, wet lands and dirt from the bottom of a huge pit.
Going back to the same site many years later, the area looks pristine.
However, unlike our coal mine operations, even with their best efforts, oil sands operators haven’t successfully restored large tracks of land back to the First Nations and animals as it was originally.
Wetlands, former tailings ponds and a strong flowing Athabasca River have been hard to reinstate.
I’m not sure how the wind turbines will affect the migration patterns of deer and antelope in east central Alberta, but I do know that caribou populations are in critical decline in Wood Buffalo. Biologists have seen caribou migratory paths severely interrupted by oil sands operations.
In the same vein, wind turbines, like tailings ponds, will kill birds. The oil sands industry has found many unique ways to mitigate bird loss and hopefully wind turbines have bird saving devices as well.
Most people will be displeased with this column. Climate change deniers will call me out as a left-wing nut and environmentalists will say I’m soft on industry and no friend of the environment.
I’m not an ideologue, I’m a moderate pragmatist. Yes, my years of study and reading have convinced me that manmade climate change is real and the number one enemy facing our future generations. But my business degree and work experience also rejects the folly that we can immediately shutter our oil sands operations and stop pipeline construction.
It’s a big complex world out there and nobody has all the right answers. But one thing is for sure, nothing remains static, even if that is our deepest wish.