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The energy sector greatly contributes to climate change and atmospheric pollution. In the EU, 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) come from this sector, according to the EEA. A proposed European Directive promoting renewable energy sources recognizes their contribution to climate change mitigation through the reduction of GHGs. Renewable energies are also much more sustainable than conventional power sources. In addition, they can help provide a more secure supply of energy, they can be competitive economically, and they can be both regional and local. Wind energy is playing an important role in helping nations reach Kyoto Protocol targets. The 97 GW of wind energy capacity installed at the end of 2007 will save 122 million tonnes of CO2 every year (GWEC), helping to combat climate change.

Wind energy is a clean and environmentally friendly technology that produces electricity. Its renewable character and the fact it does not pollute during the operational phase makes it one of the most promising energy systems in reducing environmental problems at the global and local level. However, wind energy, as any other industrial activity, may cause impacts on the environment which should be analysed and mitigated. The possible implications of wind energy development may be analysed from different perspectives and views.

Accordingly, this volume covers the following topics: environmental benefits and impacts, policy measures to combat climate change, externalities, and social acceptance and public opinion.

Environmental benefits of wind energy will be assessed in terms of the avoided environmental impacts compared to energy generation from other technologies. In order to compute these avoided environmental impacts, the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology has been used. LCA, described in the international standards series ISO 14040-44, accounts for the impacts from all the stages implied in the wind farm cycle. The analysis of the environmental impacts along the entire chain, from raw materials acquisition through production, use and disposal, provides a global picture determining where the most polluting stages of the cycle can be detected. The general categories of environmental impacts considered in LCA are resource use, human health and ecological consequences.

Focusing on the local level, the environmental impacts of wind energy are frequently site specific and thus strongly dependent on the location selected for the wind farm installation.

Wind energy has a key role to play in combating climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from power generation. The emergence of international carbon markets, which were spurred by the flexible mechanisms introduced by the Kyoto Protocol as well as various regional emissions trading schemes such as the EU ETS, and could eventually provide an additional incentive for the development and deployment of renewable energy technologies and specifically wind energy. Chapter 3 of this Part V pinpoints the potential of wind energy in reducing CO2 emissions from the power sector, gives an overview of the development of international carbon markets, assesses the impact of CDM and JI on wind energy, and outlines the path towards a post-2012 climate regime.

Wind energy is not only a favourable electricity generation technology that reduces emissions (CO2, SO2, NOx), but it also avoids significant amounts on external costs of conventional fossil-fuel based electricity generation. However, at present electricity markets do not include external effects and/or their costs. It is therefore important to identify the external effects of different electricity generation technologies and then to monetise the related external costs. Then it is possible to compare the external costs with the internal costs of electricity, and to compare competing energy systems, such as conventional electricity generation technologies and wind energy. Chapters 4 and 5 present the results of the empirical analyses of the avoided emissions and avoided external costs due to the replacement of conventional fossil-fuel based electricity generation by wind energy in each of the EU27 Member States (as well as on aggregated EU27 level) for the year 2007 as well as for future projections of conventional electricity generation and wind deployment (EWEA scenarios) in 2020 and 2030.

Wind energy, being a clean and renewable energy, is traditionally linked to strong and stable public support. Experience in the implementation of wind projects in the EU shows that social acceptance is crucial for the successful development of wind energy. Understanding the divergence between strong levels of general support towards wind energy and local effects linked to specific wind developments has been a key challenge for researchers. Consequently, social research on wind energy has traditionally focussed on two main purposes: the assessment of the levels of public support to wind energy (by means of opinion polls), and the identification and understanding of the dimensions underlying the social aspects at the local level (by means of case studies) (onshore and offshore).

The chapter 5 on the social acceptance of wind energy and wind farms presents the key findings from the most recent research in this regard; and it does so in the light of the latest and most comprehensive formulations to the concept of "social acceptance" of energy innovations.

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