Is large-scale wind power production environmentally friendly?
The National Audubon Society, a nonprofit organization aimed at restoring natural ecosystems with a focus on birds, in a section on its website, www.audubon.org titled "Audubon's Position on Wind Power" (accessed Oct. 23, 2008), wrote the following:
"Wind power is an important part of the strategy to combat global warming. Wind power is currently the most economically competitive form of renewable energy. It provides nearly 15,000 megawatts of power in the United States, enough power for more than 3 million households, and could provide up to 20 percent of the country's electricity needs. Every megawatt-hour produced by wind energy avoids an average of 1,220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. If the United States obtains 20 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2020, it will reduce global warming emissions equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road or planting 104 million acres of trees. Expanding wind power instead of fossil fuels also avoids the wildlife and human health impacts of oil and gas drilling, coal mining and fossil fuel burning.
While Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes it will not be without some impact, production and transmission facilities must be planned, sited and operated in concert with other actions needed to minimize and mitigate their impacts on birds and other wildlife populations... These impacts can be avoided or significantly reduced, however, with proper siting, operation and mitigation."
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a national trade association representing the wind power industry, in a section on its website, www.awea.org, titled "Wildlife Frequently Asked Questions" (accessed Nov. 4, 2008), wrote the following:
"A reasonable, conservative estimate is that of every 10,000 human-related bird deaths in the U.S. today, wind plants cause less than one. The National Academy of Sciences estimated in 2006 that wind energy is responsible for less than 0.003% of (3 of every 100,000) bird deaths caused by human (and feline) activities...
A single 1-MW turbine displaces 1,800 tons of carbon dioxide, the primary global warming pollutant, each year (equivalent to planting a square mile of forest), based on the current average U.S. utility fuel mix.
To generate the same amount of electricity as today's U.S. wind turbine fleet (16,818 MW) would require burning 23 million tons of coal (a line of 10-ton trucks over 9,000 miles long) or 75 million barrels of oil each year..."
Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), Ireland's National Energy Agency, in a section of its website, www.sei.ie, titled "Wind Farms and the Environment" (accessed Oct. 23, 2008), wrote the following:
"Wind energy is the ultimate clean energy. It would be hard to find anything more ecologically sound than a wind turbine in action. All methods of power generation have an impact on the environment, but the effects of wind power, in contrast with conventional energy technologies, are negligible.
Wind turbines produce no pollutants, no harmful gas emissions, no effluent, no waste products and no radioactivity. There are no ill effects to populations elsewhere in the world, or to future generations.
For every megawatt of Irish wind energy that displaces fossil fuel power production each year, the environmental, economic and social benefits include:
- Clean electricity to meet the electricity needs of 650 homes
- Removes the need to import 6,450 barrels of oil
- The avoidance of 2700 tonnes of CO2 [carbon dioxide]
- The avoidance of 49 tonnes of SO2 [sulfur dioxide]
- The avoidance of 5.5 tonnes of NOx [nitrogen oxide]
- The avoidance of 175 tonnes of slag [byproduct of metal smelting] and ash for landfill..."
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in a section titled "Wind Energy" in its Jan. 2000 report available on its website "Climate Change Technologies," wrote the following:
"Since no combustion occurs in wind power generation, there are no direct emissions of greenhouse gases or other pollutants...
Every megawatt-hour (1,000 kilowatt-hours) of electricity generated by a wind turbine offsets the equivalent of 1,100 to 2,200 pounds of carbon dioxide, depending on the type of fuel used to generate the electricity. Based on the national average fuel mix, wind energy also offsets up to 15 pounds of sulfur and nitrogen oxides and particulates, 3.5 ounces of trace metals (e.g., mercury), and more than 440 pounds of solid waste from fossil-fueled generation..."
H. Sterling Burnett, PhD, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), in his Feb. 23, 2004 article "Wind Power: Red Not Green," published on the NCPA website, wrote the following:
"When combined with the CO2 emitted and pollutants released in the manufacture and maintenance of wind towers and their associated infrastructure, substituting wind power for fossil fuels does little to reduce air pollution...
...- A comparison of 'footprints' is telling: to produce 1,000 MW of power, a wind farm would require approximately 192,000 acres, or 300 square miles; a nuclear plant needs less than 1,700 acres, or 2.65 square miles (within its security perimeter fence); and a coal powered plant takes up about 1,950 acres, 3.05 square miles...
Wind farms must be located where the wind blows fairly constantly. Unfortunately, such locations are often prime travel routes for migratory birds, including protected species like Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles. The Sierra Club labeled wind towers 'the Cuisinarts of the air.'...
Wind power is expensive, doesn't deliver the environmental benefits it promises and imposes substantial environmental costs."
Robert L. Bradley Jr., PhD, Chairman of the Institute for Energy Research, in his Aug. 27, 1997 policy analysis titled "Renewable Energy: Not Cheap, Not 'Green'," published on the Cato Institute's website, wrote the following:
"The universal rationale for the massive public commitment to wind power is that it is environmentally benign. But wind power has at least one major environmental problem -- the killing of bird populations -- that has begun to cause serious concern among mainstream environmentalist.
Wind blades have killed thousands of birds in the Unites States and abroad in the last decade, including endangered species, which is a federal offense subject to criminal prosecution...
A distinct air-emission problem of wind capacity is created when a new project is built where there is surplus electricity-generating capacity. Because wind farms require hundreds of tons of energy-intensive materials, virtually all of the air emissions associated with the gas or electricity used to make the materials (such as cement or steel) must be counted against the 'saved' air emissions once the farm comes online and displaces fossil-fuel-generated output...
...[T]he air emissions associated with the construction of wind capacity that is not needed to meet either peak or baseload demand would be substantial enough to create an environmental externality [the application of economics to environmental issues such as the effects of an activity (ie. pollution) that are not taken into account when the activity is priced.] from the viewpoint of its proponents.
Wind power's land disturbance, noise, and unsightly turbines also present environmental drawbacks..."
The National Research Council's (NRC) Committee on Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy's 2007 report titled "Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects," available on its website, wrote the following:
"Construction and operation of wind-energy facilities directly influence ecosystem structure. Site preparation activities, large machinery, transportation of turbine elements, and 'feeder lines,' transmission lines that lead from the wind-energy facility to the electricity grid, all can lead to removal of vegetation, disturbance, and compaction of soil, soil erosion, and changes in hydrologic features. Although many of these activities are relatively local and short-term in practice (e.g., construction), there may be substantial effects on habitat quality for a variety of organisms... Wind-energy development that is focused on topographic features that are limited in extent (e.g., ridgelines) and that represent key habitat features for some species may have disproportionately detrimental impacts on those species that depend on or are closely associated with these habitats."
James Taylor, JD, Senior Fellow of Environmental Policy at the Heartland Institute, in his May 1, 2005 article titled "Wind Farms Costly for Kansans, New Study Finds," published in the Environment & Climate News, wrote the following:
"...Against all this economic cost, windpower might still be desirable if it provided substantial environmental benefits. Although touted as a 'green' alternative to conventional power plants, windpower merely supplements them, displacing very little conventional power plant pollution...
...But windpower imposes its own unique price on the environment. Wind turbines already in place across the U.S. directly kill hundreds of thousands of bats and birds (including endangered species) each year. The turbines disrupt aviary migration patterns and despoil landscapes..."