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The energy supply is still dominated by fossil fuels, which contribute to the main environmental problems at the world level: climate change and air pollution. The use of renewable energies means lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced air pollution, representing a key solution to reach a sustainable future (European Commission, 2007).
Wind is clean, free, indigenous, and inexhaustible. Wind turbines do not need any type of fuel, so there are no environmental risks or degradation from the exploration, extraction, transport, shipment, processing or disposal of fuel. Not only is generation produced with zero emissions of carbon dioxide (during the operational phase) but it also does not release toxic pollutants (for example mercury) or conventional air pollutants (for example smog-forming nitrogen dioxide and acid rain-forming sulphur dioxide). Furthermore, the adverse impacts caused by mountain-top mining and strip mining of coal, including acid mine drainage and land subsidence are avoided, and the negative effects of nuclear power, including radioactive waste disposal, security risks, and nuclear proliferation risks, are not created. Finally, wind power can have a long-term positive impact on biodiversity by reducing the threat of climate change - the greatest threat to biodiversity.
At the same time, however, the construction and operation of both onshore and offshore wind turbines can result in potential negative local environmental impacts on birds and cetaceans, landscapes, sustainable land use (including protected areas), and the marine environment. The negative environmental impacts from wind energy installations are much lower in intensity than those produced by conventional energies, but they still have to assessed and mitigated when necessary.
The EU Directive 85/337 defines the environmental impact assessment (EIA) as the procedure which ensures that environmental consequences of projects are identified and assessed before authorisation is given. The main objective is to avoid or minimise negative effects from the beginning of a project rather than trying to counteract them later. Thus, the best environmental policy consists of preventing pollution or nuisances at source so the environment is not damaged. The procedure requires the developer to compile an environmental statement (ES) describing the likely significant effects of the development on the environment and proposed mitigation measures. The ES must be circulated to statutory consultation bodies and made available to the public for comment. Its contents, together with any comments, must be taken into account by the competent authority (for example local planning authority) before it may grant consent.
The strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is the procedure used to evaluate the adverse impacts of any plans and programmes on the environment. National, regional and local governments must undertake SEAs of all wind energy plans and programmes that have the potential for significant environmental effects. Appropriate Assessments (AA) have to be carried out in accordance with Habitats Directive to evaluate the effects on a Natura 2000 site. Where potential trans-boundary effects are foreseen, international cooperation with other governments should be sought. SEAs should be used to inform strategic site selection for renewable energy generation and identify the information requirements for individual EIAs.
Worldwide, biodiversity loss is in principle caused because of human activities on the environment (such as intensive production systems, construction, and extractive industries), global climate change, invasions of alien species, pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources. In 2005 the Transport and Energy (DG TREN) and Environment (DG ENV) Directorates at the European Commission created an ad hoc working group on wind energy and biodiversity. The group is composed of industry, governmental and non-governmental representatives. A draft guidance document is currently debated and aims at facilitating the development of wind energy while preserving biodiversity.
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