Wind Pros and Cons, Myths and Misconceptions


Myths and Misconceptions


Myths about birds: Turbines kill: Today, turbines are built larger and more efficiently, and as a consequence, they rotate much more slowly than earlier versions (see them spin! Link to video). Even Audubon supports the development and use of wind power. (bird mortality stats p. 155-6, Berger; also, AWEA Wind Energy Fact Sheet: Facts About Wind Energy & Birds)

A bird will collide with a given wind machine about once every 8-15 years; higher incidences may occur in locations with large concentrations of waterfowl or in areas of high migration

The only place where high mortality was found near wind facilities was Altamont (7,000 turbines), where 182 birds were found dead over a two year study. Collisions accounted for most of the deaths; the remainder were attributed to electrocutions from power lines, collisions with wires, and unknown causes

Each year, an estimated 57 million birds dies in collisions with vehicles, 1.25 million in collisions with tall structures (buildings, towers), and 97.5 million in collisions with plate glass. (1994 Kenetech Windpower study results reprinted on AWEA fact sheet.)

Contrast this with deaths from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, when more than 500,000 migratory birds perished (1,000 times the amount that die in California's plants each year); Or the 3,000 recorded bird deaths on one fall evening near a coal-fired power plant in Florida (AWEA Fact Sheet)

Myths about Turbines:

Noise - Again, technological advances enable more wind to be converted to rotational torque, which results in less noise. (dB comparison from AWEA slide presentation

Unsafe - The only hazardous materials involved are small amounts of lubricating oils, and hydraulic and insulating fluids. As a result, soil contamination is minimal. Wind energy generators do, however, produce electric and magnetic fields (like all electrical generating facilities).

Expensive - Even without subsidies (due to expire in 2001), wind energy has become competitive with gas

Unreliable - while this might have been true in the 1980s, it's not true now. Modern turbines operate 98% of the time.

Unsightly - Turbines are no longer small and noisy. Far fewer produce the same if not more power. Consequently, they can be spread out over a larger area and are less unsightly. Whether one perceives them as an eyesore or a thing of beauty depends on ones values

Fossil fuels are cheaper than renewables like wind - the real reason they've been cheaper is the subsidies coal, oil and gas receive; plus, they don't account for environmental costs (in other words, fossil fuels are artificially cheap) - a carbon tax or tax breaks (government research and development funding) would even the playing field or even tip it in renewables' direction

It's difficult to integrate wind energy into existing utilities systems (i.e., the power grid) - Utilities companies, especially those in California, have been doing this successfully since the 1980s. According to a DOE-sponsored study (year TK), operators and dispatchers say engineering issues such as intermittent availability or voltage regulation are of no concern. From an operational standpoint, utilities carry adequate energy reserves so that transmission disruptions (from turbine to supply lines, or from low wind conditions) would not result in power cuts to customers -- (from Wind Energy Weekly #680, 15 January 1996)

Photo by Bob Thresher of Searsburg, VT

Print out this table for easy reference. Then, see Myths & Misconceptions to answer wind power naysayers and inform others

PROS

CONS

Zero emissions - This means no CO2, sulfur, nitrogen oxide, particulates, trace metals, or solid waste associated with global warming, acid rain, pollution, asthma, and other negative enviro/health consequences

High initial investment - About 80% goes to machinery, and 20% to site preparation and installation. After that, however, there are minimal operating and routine maintenance expenses (no fuel to purchase!)

Renewable - Wind is in constant supply, unlike coal, oil, and gas, which are finite natural resources

Noise - Today's large wind turbines make less noise than the background noise you hear in your own home (45 dB versus 50 dB)! (1)

Free - Because wind (not fuel) powers production, operation costs are effectively zero

Aesthetic/visual impact - Today's turbines are sleek and appealing to most people

Declining costs - As installed capacity has increased, costs have dropped 85% in 15 years to <$0.05 per kWh. The DOE has set a goal of $0.025 per kWh by 2002 (1)

Avian mortality - See Myths and Misconceptions

Creates new jobsÉ and new businesses, strengthening the U.S. economy

Intermittent - Wind must blow between 16 mph and 60 mph for power generation (2). At present, wind energy cannot be easily stored. Electricity providers are trained to divert other energy sources to meet demand, however, and storage technology (batteries) should improve markedly over time.

Quick installation - Once a site has been selected and permits approved, wind turbine installation can be completed in months (compared to years for a gas, coal, or nuclear plant)

Distribution - Wind turbines must be situated nearby existing infrastructure (transmission lines), or else costs escalate.

Phased growth - You can increase production capacity as your needs grow


Mass appeal - Opinion polls consistently demonstrate strong popular support for clean-burning, renewable technologies like wind power


Self-sufficiency - Because it can be developed domestically, wind power reduces U.S. reliance on imported energy


Price stability - Unlike fossil fuel prices, which fluctuate due to factors beyond our control, wind power comes with a relatively fixed price, one likely to drop considerably over time


Small footprint - Wind turbine towers interfere little with surface activity (e.g., farming, livestock)


Low impact - Wind turbine operation offers little threat to wildlife and natural habitat