Research Findings & Conclusion
Socioeconomic Criteria and Constraints:
The economic, social, and safety aspects of the installation of Sharp Hills Wind Farm were accounted for through the consideration of slope, wind speed density, and agricultural land class, as well as proximity to airports, hospitals, tourism facilities, schools, urban areas, and roads. An MCE was conducted using these factors to identify the most suitable wind farm site based only on socioeconomic constraints and criteria. It was found that the site proposed by EDP Renewables falls within an area with a low suitability score (Figure 5). This indicates that EDP Renewables may not have taken into consideration one or more of the socioeconomic factors that were included in this study. Alternatively, this could be an indication that EDP Renewables did not assign the same weight values to criteria, use the same setback distances, or consider the same maximum slope value as this study.
Figure 5: The MCE output of socioeconomic constraints and criterion compared to the proposed EDP site.
Environmental Criteria and Constraints:
Through the consideration of proximity to lakes, provincial parks, rivers, forests, and wetlands, an MCE was conducted to determine the most environmentally suitable site for the installation of Sharp Hills Wind Farm. The majority of land within the Special Areas was found to have a high environmental suitability score for the installation of a wind farm (Figure 6). While there is some overlap with unsuitable area, most of EDP Renewables’ proposed site falls within the suitable area identified by this environmental MCE (Figure 6). This potentially indicates that EDP Renewables accounted for many of the same environmental constraints as those accounted for by this environmental MCE, as well as implemented similar setback distances. The slight overlap of EDP Renewables’ site with area indicated as unsuitable by this MCE demonstrates that either not all environmental constraints incorporated into this MCE were considered by EDP Renewables, or the setback distances of EDP Renewables differs from those implemented in this MCE.
Figure 6: The MCE output of environmental constraints and criterion compared to the proposed EDP site.
Environmental & Socioeconomic Criteria and Constraints:
Through an overlay analysis of the environmental and socioeconomic MCE outputs, both environmental and socioeconomic criteria and constraints were considered to identify the most suitable locations within the Special Areas for the development of the Sharp Hills Wind Farm. There were multiple suitable sites identified, with the majority of the suitable area falling in the southern portions of Special Area 2 and Special Area 3 (Figure 7). When overlaying this final output map with EDP Renewables’ proposed site, it was found that EDP Renewables’ site is located on area with a low suitability score (Figure 7). This indicates that the constraints, criteria, or setback distances considered in this study may differ from those considered by EDP Renewables. The site chosen by EDP Renewables is located on and in close proximity to multiple wetland and forested areas, as well as urbanized areas and roads. When examining the suitable regions identified by this study in satellite imagery retrieved from Google Earth, many appear to be located on agricultural or barren land. This therefore confirms that the sites identified by this MCE are void of features that may limit wind farm development.
EDP Renewables’ proposal requires approximately 125 km2 of land for the installation of the Sharp Hills Wind Farm. With the consideration of both environmental and socioeconomic criteria and constraints, the model of this study indicates a total of approximately 2401 km2 throughout the entirety of all three Special Areas. The amount of suitable land identified by this model is therefore enough to accommodate the requirements of EDP Renewables’ plans. While there is enough suitable area within the Special Areas to execute EDP Renewables’ plans, their chosen site does not fall within a suitable area. These results highlight the potential negative socioeconomic and environmental consequences that could arise as a result of EDP Renewables’ siting method.
When evaluating the most suitable area for development it is essential to prioritize both environmental and socioeconomic aspects. Therefore, the most appropriate map to use when siting the Sharp Hills Wind Farm is the map that considers both environmental and socioeconomic factors. Because EDP Renewables’ site falls within an unsuitable area, it may be indicated that EDP Renewables should re-evaluate their siting process. However, it is also important to recognize that tradeoffs will always be necessary when multiple environmental and socioeconomic factors need to be accounted for, and EDP Renewables may have chosen their proposed site as a result of prioritizing other factors not considered in this study.
Figure 7: The MCE output of environmental and socioeconomic constraints and criterion compared to the proposed EDP site.
Environmental Factors - Removed Setback Distances:
In order to determine the degree of limitation imposed by the environmental constraint setback distances on the final suitability map, an additional MCE was conducted in which the setback distances for environmental constraints were excluded. After removing the buffers surrounding the lakes, provincial parks, rivers, forests, and wetlands from the environmental constraints, only the features themselves were designated as unsuitable to build on. The MCE’s resulting output map indicated that even when buffers were removed from around environmental features, EDP Renewables’ site still fell within unsuitable area (Figure 8). This could therefore indicate that the buffers surrounding the socioeconomic features were more constraining than those surrounding the environmental features in terms of suitability scores.
Figure 8: The MCE output of environmental and socioeconomic constraints and criterion compared to the proposed EDP site with the environmental buffers removed.
Socioeconomic Factors - Removed Setback Distances:
In order to determine the degree of limitation imposed by the socioeconomic constraint setback distances on the final suitability map, an additional MCE was conducted in which the setback distances for socioeconomic constraints were excluded. After removing the buffers surrounding the airports, hospitals, tourism facilities, schools, urban areas, and roads from the socioeconomic constraints, only the features themselves were designated as unsuitable to build on. The MCE’s resulting output map indicated that once buffers were removed from around socioeconomic features, EDP Renewables’ site was located within suitable area (Figure 9). This further provides evidence that the buffers surrounding the socioeconomic features were more constraining than those surrounding the environmental features in terms of suitability scores.
Figure 9: The MCE output of environmental and socioeconomic constraints and criterion compared to the proposed EDP site with the socioeconomic buffers removed.
Strengths and Weaknesses of this Research:
The wide range of both environmental and socioeconomic factors considered in this suitability analysis was deemed a strength, as it provided an evaluation of the study area and EDP Renewables’ proposed site from a multitude of perspectives. As a result, the interests of many different parties were considered for, which helped to avoid bias. Additionally, the suitability analysis was fairly rigorous, allowing for more in-depth output maps. Weaknesses of this research include the limited spatial data available on groundwater within the study area and the consequent lack of consideration for this factor. Additionally, due to the remoteness and ruralness of the study area, there is limited data available on population and individual dwellings. Population centres, as defined by Statistics Canada, consist of a minimum of 400 persons per km2. Because the population of the Special Areas is spread out and low, smaller populations and individual dwellings were missed by the analysis.
The implementation of the MCE process for the siting of Sharp Hills Wind Farm was deemed a strength, as the use of MCEs allowed for flexibility and adaptability with regards to the constraints and setback distances used. Because MCEs can be adjusted in terms of what constraints and setback distances to include or not include, as well as the weights assigned to each criterion, output maps could be evaluated and re-evaluated, and multiple iterations could easily be made.
Extensive socioeconomic and environmental factors were implemented in the multi-criteria and overlay analysis of siting Sharp Hills Wind Farm in Southeastern Alberta. The MCE suitability analysis for this study revealed approximately 2401 km2 of suitable development land within the three Special Areas, approximately 1800% more than the required 125 km2 proposed by the development plan of EDP Renewables. However, these two areas of suitability did not overlay one another, indicating either disparate methodology or divergent usage of factors and their designated weights.
Despite EDP Renewables' suitability analysis methodology not being publicly released, this study created two alternate output variations for determining spatial analysis decisions EDP may have made. This revealed that the buffers surrounding the socioeconomic variables of this study hindered the compatible overlay between the development plan of EDP Renewables and this study. This may imply that EDP Renewables did not use socioeconomic variables to the extent this study pursued. However, EDP may have also considered other factors unseen for this study, or they may have omitted/reduced in contrast to the weights of a variety of socioeconomic or environmental factors done in this GIS-based study.
There are a variety of environmental and socioeconomic data that would've been logical to include in the MCEs of thiss study, yet they could not be retrieved. For example, as discussed earlier, there is some scientific speculation to wind farm having negative effects on groundwater. There was no public access to any known groundwater data for the study area. Therefore, this study used lake and river data as a proxy as they tend to be adjacent to known groundwater supply. Due to the rural nature of the region, any census data regarding wind farm development, or other forms of renewable energy, could not be retrieved. Understanding the general perspective of the population of the Special Areas towards wind farm development would provide further insight towards development potential. For example, if many of the farmers, or other citizens owning a lot of land, were against the idea of wind farms, it may be very difficult to come to land-sharing and lease agreements.
In any study similar to this one, it is very unlikely for two parties to receive the same precise results when pursuing the same GIS goals, particularly when the methodology of the first is unbeknownst to the second. Both socioeconomic and environmental factors are important for the consideration of any type of land usage or development. One cannot adhere to all known environmental factors without overshadowing the importance of socioeconomic principles, and vice-versa. Thus, there are a variety of compromises to be made in such a task, as is the nature of suitability analyses, since the outputs reflect only the subjective bias of how the project leader views each suitability variable. Such high disparity between outputs demands the respectful and careful choice of spatial variables and their respective weight on the outputs, as many outputs may be reasonably correct for a variety of development goals.