OK so it is Friday and I miss Weird Bird Friday.
5 Myths About Wind Energy
By Michael Schirber
Wind energy might be the simplest renewable energy to understand. Yet there are misconceptions about what makes the wind industry turn.
The United States now has nearly 17,000 megawatts of wind power installed, which can supply about 1.2 percent of the nation’s demand for electricity, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy (DOE).
With these numbers projected to grow in the coming years, it might be good to be aware of a few myths that are blowing in the wind.
1. Wind is cheap
No one owns the wind, so it might seem like wind energy should cost less than other technologies that require costly fuel, such as coal or natural gas, to operate.
However, the initial investment for wind energy is high.
2. America is way behind the rest of the world
Denmark gets 20 percent of its energy from wind. Germany has the most wind turbines of any country. China is set to nearly double its wind energy capacity in just one year.
3. Wind turbines are loud
Wind turbines used to be loud, but newer designs are less so.
4. Wind turbines kill birds
This one is actually true, but the problem is not as bad as some people claim.
The impression that all turbines are dangerous to birds comes from Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in California. This was one of the first big wind farms, and unfortunately it was placed in a migratory bird pathway, Moriarty said.
5. Any house can own a windmill
Unless you have a good chunk of land around your house, it’s probably not a good idea to get a wind turbine. If it’s too close to buildings or trees, the wind will be turbulent and won’t produce the power that it’s supposed to.
And if you think that isn’t enough Myths well hell:
Top Myths About Wind Energy
Many people make many claims about wind turbines and the effects that they allegedly have. We’ve collated our favourites and given the answers.
- Myth: Tens of thousands of wind turbines will be cluttering the British countryside
Fact: Government legislation requires that by 2010, 10% of electricity supply must come from renewable sources. Wind power is currently the most cost effective renewable energy technology in a position to help do that. Around 3,500 additional modern wind turbines are all that would be needed to deliver 8% of the UK’s electricity by 2010, roughly 2,000 onshore and 1,500 offshore.
- Myth: Wind farms won’t help climate change
Fact: Wind power is a clean, renewable source of energy which produces no greenhouse gas emissions or waste products. The UK currently emits 560 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the key greenhouse gas culprit, every year and the Government target is to cut this by 60% by 20501. Power stations are the largest contributor to carbon emissions, producing 170 million tonnes of CO2 each year2. We need to switch to forms of energy that do not produce CO2. Just one modern wind turbine will save over 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually3.
- Myth: Building a wind farm takes more energy than it ever makes
Fact: The average wind farm will pay back the energy used in its manufacture within 3-5 months of operation4. This compares favourably with coal or nuclear power stations, which take about six months. A modern wind turbine is designed to operate for more than 20 years and at the end of its working life, the area can be restored at low financial and environmental costs. Wind energy is a form of development which is essentially reversible – in contrast to fossil fuel or nuclear power stations.
- Myth: Wind farms are inefficient and only work 30% of the time
Fact: A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed. Over the course of a year, it will typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output. This is known as its load factor. The load factor of conventional power stations is on average 50%5 . A modern wind turbine will generate enough to meet the electricity demands of more than a thousand homes over the course of a year.
- Myth: Wind energy needs back-up to work
Fact: All forms of power generation require back up and no energy technology can be relied upon 100%. The UK’s transmission system already operates with enough back-up to manage the instantaneous loss of a large power station. Variations in the output from wind farms are barely noticeable over and above the normal fluctuation in supply and demand, seen when the nation’s workforce goes home, or if lightning brings down a high-voltage transmission line. Therefore, at present there is no need for additional back-up because of wind energy.
Even for wind power to provide 10% of our nation’s electricity needs, only a small amount of additional conventional back-up would be required, in the region of 300-500 megawatts (MW). This would add only 0.2 pence per kilowatt hour to the generation cost of wind energy and would not in any way threaten the security of our grid6. In fact, this is unlikely to become a significant issue until wind generates over 20% of total electricity supply.
- Myth: Installing wind farms will never shut down power stations
Fact: The simple fact is that power plants in the UK are being shut down, either through European legislation on emissions or sheer old age. We need to act now to find replacement power sources: wind is an abundant resource, indigenous to the UK and therefore has a vital role to play in the new energy portfolio.
- Myth: Wind power is expensive
Fact: The cost of generating electricity from wind has fallen dramatically over the past few years. Between 1990 and 2002, world wind energy capacity doubled every three years and with every doubling prices fell by 15%7. Wind energy is competitive with new coal and new nuclear capacity, even before any environmental costs of fossil fuel and nuclear generation8 are taken into account. The average cost of generating electricity from onshore wind is now around 3-4p per kilowatt hour, competitive with new coal (2.5-4.5p) and cheaper than new nuclear (4-7p)9. As gas prices increase and wind power costs fall – both of which are very likely – wind becomes even more competitive, so much so that some time after 2010 wind should challenge gas as the lowest cost power source.
Furthermore, the wind is a free and widely available fuel source, therefore once the wind farm is in place, there are no fuel or waste related costs.
- Myth: The UK should invest in other renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency instead of wind power
Fact: Wind energy’s role in combating climate change is not a matter of either/or. The UK will need a mix of new and existing renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency measures, and as quickly as possible. Significant amounts of investment have been allocated for wave and tidal energy development, and these technologies, along with solar and biomass energy, will have an important role in the UK’s future energy mix. However, wind energy is the most cost effective renewable energy technology available to generate clean electricity and help combat climate change right now. Furthermore, developing a strong wind industry will facilitate other renewable technologies which have not reached commercialisation yet, accumulating valuable experience in dealing with issues such as grid connection, supply chain and finance.
- Myth: Wind farms should all be put out at sea
Fact: We will need a mix of both onshore and offshore wind energy to meet the UK’s challenging targets on climate change. At present, onshore wind is more economical than development offshore. However, more offshore wind farms are now under construction, with the first of the large-scale projects operational at the end of 2003, and prices will fall as the industry gains more experience. Furthermore, offshore wind farms take longer to develop, as the sea is inherently a more hostile environment. To expect offshore to be the only form of wind generation allowed would therefore be to condemn us to missing our renewable energy targets and commitment to tackle climate change.
- Myth: Wind farms are ugly and unpopular
Fact: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and whether you think a wind turbine is attractive or not will always be your personal opinion. However, studies regularly show that most people find turbines an interesting feature of the landscape10. On average 80% of the public support wind energy, less than 10% are against it, with the remainder undecided. Surveys conducted since the early 1990’s across the country near existing wind farms have consistently found that most people are in favour of wind energy , with support increasing among those living closer to the wind farms.
- Myth: Wind farms negatively affect tourism
Fact: There is no evidence to suggest this. The UK’s first commercial wind farm at Delabole received 350,000 visitors in its first ten years of operation, while 10,000 visitors a year come to take the turbine tour at the EcoTech Centre in Swaffham, Norfolk. A MORI poll in Scotland showed that 80% of tourists would be interested in visiting a wind farm. Wind farm developers are often asked to provide visitor centres, viewing platforms and rights of way to their sites.
- Myth: Wind farms harm property prices
Fact: There is currently no evidence in the UK showing that wind farms impact house prices. However, there is evidence following a comprehensive study by the Scottish Executive that those living nearest to wind farms are their strongest advocates12.
- Myth: Wind farms kill birds
Fact: The RSPB stated in its 2004 information leaflet Wind farms and birds13, that “in the UK, we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms“. Wind farms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment and BWEA members follow the industry’s Best Practice Guidelines and work closely with organisations such as English Nature and the RSPB to ensure that wind farm design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites. Moreover, a recent report published in the journal Nature confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change14.
- Myth: Wind farms are dangerous to humans
Fact: Wind energy is a benign technology with no associated emissions, harmful pollutants or waste products. In over 25 years and with more than 68,000 machines installed around the world15, no member of the public has ever been harmed by the normal operation of wind turbines. In response to recent unscientific accusations that wind turbines emit infrasound and cause associated health problems, Dr Geoff Leventhall, Consultant in Noise Vibration and Acoustics and author of the Defra Report on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects16, says: “I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines. To say that there is an infrasound problem is one of the hares which objectors to wind farms like to run. There will not be any effects from infrasound from the turbines.”
- Myth: Wind farms are noisy
Fact: The evolution of wind farm technology over the past decade has rendered mechanical noise from turbines almost undetectable with the main sound being the aerodynamic swoosh of the blades passing the tower. There are strict guidelines on wind turbines and noise emissions to ensure the protection of residential amenity. These are contained in the scientifically informed ETSU Working Group guidelines 199617 and must be followed by wind farm developers, as referenced in national planning policy for renewables18. The best advice for any doubter is to go and hear for yourself!
THERE ARE JUST SOOOO MANY MYTHS – STELLA STELLA ok so there really only is a lot of talk sigh…
Dispelling Common Myths
about Wind Power
Compiled by the Wind Working Group
Myth #1: Wind turbines are unusually harmful to birds.
Although birds do infrequently collide with turbines, wind energy poses less of a threat to birds than many other commonplace structures. In fact, the National Audubon Society has stated that it supports the development and use of wind power. Based on numerous studies that have taken place in New York, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, and California, collision with turbines result in 1-2 bird deaths or less per turbine per year. For comparison, each year at least 60 million birds die in collisions with vehicles; at least 98 million in collisions with buildings and windows; and at least 4 million in collisions with communication towers. Important consideration should be given to placement of wind turbines to ensure that turbines are not located along migratory bird flight paths or the flight paths of threatened or rare species.
Consider the alternatives; bird deaths that result from fossil energy based power production:
- Tall smokestacks- A study at a single Florida coal fired power plant with four smokestacks recorded an estimated 3,000 bird kills in a single night during a fall migration.
- Oil spills at sea – In a single oil shipping accident, – the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound – more than 500,000 migratory birds perished, or about 1,000 times the estimated annual total in California’s wind power plants.
- Additional threats to birds from other energy sources include: mercury emissions from coal fired power plants; global climate change resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels; acid rain resulting from coal fired power plant emissions of SO2 and NOx and; destruction of habitat as a result of mining activities associated with the coal, gas, oil and uranium industries.
Myth #2: Wind turbines are noisy.
Today’s large wind turbines make less noise (about 45 decibels-dB) than the background noise you hear in your own home (50 dB)! According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), today an operating wind farm at a distance of about 750 to 1,000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room.
Myth #3: Many wind turbines are necessary for minimal power generation.
Improved technology has enabled far fewer turbines to produce more electricity. The standard output of a turbine grew from .5 mW in 1995 to 1.5 mW in 2003.
Myth #4: Wind turbines are unattractive
In North Carolina, a study to determine public attitudes towards wind energy was recently conducted. The study found that 77.1% of participants who had seen first hand a utility scale turbine said that they liked its appearance. Studies from numerous US states and other countries report that a majority of people think wind turbines are graceful, elegant structures. Many people find turbines to be interesting features in the landscape, enhancing the vista overall. In the UK, the British Wind Energy Association notes that wind farms are popular tourist attractions, with thousands of people each year flocking to visit attractions.
Myth #5: Conventional power sources are less unsightly and environmentally harmful than wind turbines.
Wind turbines cause little damage to the surrounding environments beyond the footprint of the facility and transmissions system and are much less unsightly than conventional power sources.
For comparison, consider the following:
- Conventional power sources require acres and acres of land for unsightly power plants that spew pollutants from smokestacks. In addition to the electric generating facility itself, the plants also require on-site fuel storage facilities and access to cooling water, both of which require additional land.
- Construction of hydropower dams floods riverside lands, permanently eliminating riparian and upland habitat.
- Most generating facilities also produce solid waste by-products of combustion that can be toxic. Solid wastes from power plants are typically dumped into a landfill, another way in which a generating facility impacts land as it extends its environmental footprint beyond the boundaries of the power plant site.
- Mountain top removal strip mining – the process of blasting off entire mountaintops in order to extract thin seams of coal – can strip up to 10 square miles and dump hundreds of millions of waste into as many as 12 valley fills that can be 1,000 feet wide and 1 mile long.
- Conventional power sources rely on the combustion of fossil fuels which are largely responsible for the 78% decrease in visibility from natural levels that has occurred in the southern Appalachian Mountains. In the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, summertime visibility averages only 16 miles, and on many days air pollution reduces the visibility range to less than 5 miles. In this case, one might prefer to see a few turbines on top of a mountain than not be able to see the mountains at all.
Myth #6: Wind power will destroy mountain vistas.
Placement of wind turbines should be restricted so as to not detract from places of important scenic beauty. Potential areas that should be excluded from turbine placement consideration are:
- National Parks
- State Parks
- National Forest lands
- View shed buffers along the Appalachian Trail
- View shed buffer zones along the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Spruce-Fir Forest lands ( one of the most unique and endangered ecosystems in the Appalachian region)
Wind turbines should be located where there are:
- Existing communication towers
- Existing transmission lines
- Other forms of existing structures
Myth #7: Wind power will decrease property values in surrounding areas.
Views of wind turbines will not negatively impact property values. A recent study on the economic impacts of wind power states that, “based on a nation-wide survey conducted of tax assessors in other areas with wind power projects, we found no evidence supporting the claim that views of wind farms decrease property values.” Other studies, conducted in both the US and abroad, have made similar findings.
Myth #8: Wind Energy will negatively affect tourism.
Large turbines have been found more often to be a positive influence on tourism. The British Wind Energy Association notes that wind farms in the UK are popular tourist attractions, with thousands of people each year flocking to visit them. In Australia, the wind farms are highlighted as one of the attractions for visitors amongst other historical and scenic points of interest. A Scottish study found that nine out of ten tourists visiting some of Scotland’s top beauty spots say the presence of wind farms makes no difference to the enjoyment of their holiday, and twice as many people would return to an area because of the presence of a wind farm than would stay away. Yet another survey of more than 300 visitors to Argyll, Scotland found that 91% of visitors said the presence of wind farms in the area made no difference to whether they would return.
Myth #9: North Carolinians don’t support wind power.
North Carolinians are in favor of developing wind power in our state. A recent study on public attitudes towards wind power in Western North Carolina found that Western North Carolinians are favorably disposed toward the development of a wind energy industry in the Appalachian Mountains. They want more of their future electricity derived from renewable sources and less from fossil fuels. The study also found that, by over 2 to 1, western North Carolinians do not believe that ridge top turbines should be prohibited. 3 out of 4 study participants feel that if a ridge top already has existing cell towers, they would not mind adding a wind turbine to the clutter. An even higher ratio believes a person should be allowed to erect a turbine on his/her own property for residential use.
References and Contact Info
This fact sheet was prepared by the North Carolina Wind Energy Working Group, February 2003. For more information contact: Amber Lynn Munger (828) 216 2362 or Michael Shore (828) 254 7359
1“Facts about Wind Energy and Birds,” American Wind Energy Association. http://www.awea.org/pubs/factsheets/WEandBirds.pdf
2 “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A summary of existing studies and comparisons to other sources of avian collision mortality in the United States.” National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) Research Document, 2001. http://www.nationalwind.org/pubs/avian_collisions.pdf
3 “Facts about Wind Energy and Birds,” American Wind Energy Association. http://www.awea.org/pubs/factsheets/WEandBirds.pdf
4 National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Wind Power Market Update, Feb 2003 at http://www.eere.energy.gov/windpoweringamerica/pdfs/wpa/wpa_update.pdf
5 Grady, D., “Public Attitudes Toward Wind Energy in Western North Carolina: A Systematic Survey.” 2002.
16 From powerscorecard.org: http://www.powerscorecard.org/issue_detail.cfm?issue_id=7
7 “Blueprint for Breathing Easier; Southeast Strategy for Clean Air,” Environmental Defense, 2002. http://www.cleanenergy.org/air/breathingeasier.pdf
8 Grover, S. for EcoNorthwest, “Economic Impacts of Wind Power in Kittitas County.” Portland, OR, 2002.
9 View this study at: http://www.bwea.com/pdf/mori_briefing.pdf
10 Grady, D., “Public Attitudes Toward Wind Energy in Western North Carolina: A Systematic Survey.” 2002.