Set a Google Alert for “windpower” and it finds many stories – some are positive, some critical, and some quite unfair. Fair criticism from honest people can be useful because it lets then you know what issues to address. But a lot of the criticism aimed at the wind industry is based on half truths that reveal bias and sloppy thinking.
The bias comes from anti-wind (NIMBY) groups and of course ignores serious drawbacks of their preferred energy sources while highlighting to those in wind. This “debate” solves nothing. The truth is, there’s need for all domestic energy sources.
Wind power’s great advantage is that it’s home-grown and kind to the environment. True, there are downsides to wind, but they are neither serious nor insurmountable. Playing the role of myth buster, let’s look at five common criticisms that just don’t stand up to fair scrutiny or the truth.
Wind turbines need online back-up capacity: All power sources are connected to the grid so that each backs up every other power plant in case of emergencies. That means when a nuclear plant shuts down after a “scram” or shut down, as one in New York did last November, wind farms and other sources will be supplying power to keep factories working and homes lit. In the NY incident, a transformer exploded at a nuclear plant north of NYC, leading to an emergency shut down of one reactor. Similarly, when the ice storm hit Texas in February, fossil-fuel plants when off line while at least 3,500 MW of wind power kept flowing.
Conventional power plants have gone off-line before and will do so again. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates about one scram per 14,000 operating hours.
Wind is unpredictable: Sufficiently reliable and commercially available forecasts of 24 and 48 hours are enough for utilities to make good use of wind power.
Health issues: Wind turbines sited near communities get blamed for ailments such as dizziness, nausea, and headaches. All serious inquiries into such complaints have found no scientific link to wind turbines. The ‘whooshing’ sound made by rotors is often cited as annoying. This is legitimate when turbines are sited too close to homes. Observing recommended offsets is sufficient to eliminate such problems. There are far more serious, widespread, and unreported health hazards of conventional power generation.
Carbon and construction: Wind farms require large amounts of steel and concrete for towers and foundations. Isn’t that good news for steel mills and concrete manufacturers? Critics say cement is responsible for 5% to 10% of all human sources of CO2. But we are a carbon-based planet so that is inevitable. Building more coal and nuclear plants, along with office buildings, roadways, and bridges will also generate such emissions and without the benefits of wind power.
Wind power is harmful to some wildlife: For a small number of birds, the statement is true. What’s more true is that picture windows, office buildings, and 80-million cars wipe out many more birds than wind turbines do. Some say offshore wind turbines may be worse. The comment is unfounded. In truth, offshore turbines will be havens for fish and fishermen.
Turbines ruin the landscape: This is purely a matter of opinion. All things considered, they’re beautiful.
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