July 17, 2007

Q & A: Wind Energy

The president of National Wind Watch sent us these answers to questions recently posed by a student in Texas.

1.  Most of the prevailing literature on wind energy has been relatively positive, can you comment as to why your organization has chosen to take an oppositional approach?

Answer:  Most of the prevailing literature on wind energy is wishful thinking. If you read it objectively, you begin to notice that all claims of success (other than sales figures) are not backed up by actual data. This is combined with a tendency to dismiss adverse impacts as insignificant or unlikely. Faced with the evidence of adverse impacts, many advocates of wind energy simply deny them. After a while, one realizes that the arguments for large-scale wind energy are for the most part intellectually dishonest and unable to withstand scrutiny.

Since there is little (if any) evidence of good from wind energy, it is our duty to oppose the fruitless and extensive industrialization of rural and wild places by the wind industry.

2.  As of late, Texas has taken the lead in wind energy production. Reports have highlighted the beneficial impact -- both economically and environmentally -- of this relatively recent wind energy "boom". The vast expanse of Texas lands seem ideal for wind farms. So, where is the problem?

Answer:  Where is the proof of these claimed economic and environmental benefits?

Economically, there may be local effects of rents paid to landowners and pay-offs to communities, but that is all paid for by federal and state taxpayers and local ratepayers, who must still pay for keeping up the rest of the grid as much as before along with the added burden of backing up the wind turbines and overbuilding transmission lines to accomodate their occasional surges and shunt their unpredictable supply somewhere it might be needed or until it dissipates as heat.

The environmental benefit is presumably in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which is assumed (though again without proof) to outweigh local negative impacts on wildlife and landscape. But the savings of greenhouse gas emissions that are claimed are theoretical only and ignore many aspects of the grid that complicate such a possible effect -- namely, an intermittent, variable, unpredictable source such as wind has to itself be balanced to maintain a steady voltage on the line. This adds inefficiencies to the use of fuel by other sources (from more frequent starting or ramping) or may require other sources to "stand by" -- burning fuel to keep the steam ready to generate electricity when the wind drops. In addition, hydropower is the most ideal source to balance wind, or wind's variations are simply allowed to modulate the line voltage within acceptable tolerances -- either case obviously does not affect the burning of fossil fuels.

Even in pro-wind theory, wind energy will never have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In isolated systems, even the AWEA claims only that wind will slightly slow the growth of emissions, not reduce them. Globally, wind would barely keep up with expanding electricity needs to maintain its less than 0.5% contribution, according to the International Energy Agency's modeling to 2030 ("Renewables in Global Energy Supply", January 2007). Considering that electricity is but one source of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, even the most hopeful theoretical benefit fades toward nothing. In reality, it's likely even less.

Until a significant global environmental benefit can be proven, we must act on the assumption that the local environmental effects can not be justified.

3.  Recently, the Texas General Land Office received funding and permission to start testing and research for offshore wind energy production and technology. What are your views on offshore wind farming?

Answer:  While siting them far offshore mitigates the impact on human neighbors, impacts on seascape and wildlife remain (besides interfering with birds, the turbines' low-frequency noise is likely to disturb fish and sea mammals), as do the very low possible benefits. Offshore construction is more difficult and expensive, and wear and tear on the turbines is much greater -- promising to make offshore wind even more of a boondoggle than onshore.

wind power, wind energy, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights