The true costs of wind energy are too often (deliberately?) ignored or underestimated
Dr. Jay Lehr and Tom Harris
Wind energy can never replace fossil fuels, despite claims of environmentalists and advocates of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal (GND). It’s not environment-friendly either. Indeed, wind power is hampered by many limitations, including:
* its intermittent and inefficient nature
* insufficient sites with adequate, reliable wind
* acreage required to erect turbines and harness wind
* excessive expenses, many of them rarely mentioned
* dangers to bird and bat populations
* dangers to human health from light flicker and low frequency throbbing noise (infrasound).
* costs, limitations, and health and environmental impacts of batteries and other back-up systems
Wind turbines are highly inefficient. Large industrial wind turbines (IWT) typically produce about 2.5 megawatts of power when wind speed is between about 8 and 25 miles per hour. However, most of the time it’s not, even at the best locations.
Today’s wind farms have a 30–40% average “capacity factor.” That means their average annual output is only 30–40% of “nameplate” capacity, or what they would produce if the wind were blowing 8–25 mph 24/7/365. As we erect more turbines, they must be placed in less optimal locations, and capacity numbers will drop, perhaps dramatically. And no one can predict when they will generate electricity.
When the wind isn’t blowing, the electricity grid cannot provide the energy we need to operate and maintain our standard of living. Today fossil fuels stand ready to step in when wind speeds decline. But under the GND, virtually all fossil fuels would be eliminated, making it impossible to keep the lights on without a major increase in nuclear power, which environmental activists hate even more than fossil fuels.
To generate significant wind energy, facilities must be located where there is steady wind most of the time. Such areas exist along the West Coast of the United States and a strip of the Midwest from the Dakotas to Texas. But 75% of the conterminous 48 states have only half the wind of these locations. Offshore areas have higher wind potential but are be at least three times more expensive to develop.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to relying on wind power is the immense amount of land required. IWTs must be placed far apart so they don’t interfere with each turbine’s “wind capture area.”
In his keynote address at the 2018 America First Energy Conference , Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry explained that generating enough electricity to power just the Houston metropolitan area would require almost 900 square miles of wind turbines. This is six-times more land than an equivalent solar farm of photovoltaic cells, assuming they operate at full efficiency 24/7/365; dozens of times the land required for an equivalent nuclear power plant; and 16 times the size of Washington, DC.
Wind is also much more expensive than existing conventional energy sources. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) claims that wind power can generate electricity for 8¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh). However, this is based on poor assumptions and glossing over important realities.
It assumes average wind turbine lifetime is 30 years, the same as a conventional fossil fuel power plant. In reality, most turbines last only 15 years, and less offshore. It ignores the cost of backup power. It includes no cost for transmission lines from wind farms to distant cities. Most significantly, it omits subsidies.
A 2016 Utah State University study shows the following extra costs omitted or miscalculated by the EIA for wind power: 15-years not 30-year life expectancies (US 7¢ per kWh), backup power (at least 2.3¢ cents if the back-up is natural gas), transmission costs (2.7¢), government subsidies (23¢). All that means the real cost of wind power is a staggering 43¢ per kilowatt hour! That’s seven times the cost of natural gas-generated electricity! What family, factory, hospital, office, church or school can afford this?
GND promoters would like wind farms everywhere, but even the most supposedly environmentally friendly communities often do not want wind turbines in their own neighborhoods: they spoil the landscape and cause serious environmental impacts, such as killing many birds and bats each year.
In 2013, Loss, Will and Marra estimated that 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed each year in the contiguous United States by wind turbines. The Audubon Society says that makes wind “the most threatening form of green energy.” Other sources say the death tolls are far higher.
Bat deaths are even worse and potentially more threatening to human health and welfare. Spain’s Save the Eagles International says industrial wind turbines “kill millions of bats & birds, worsening an environmental and epidemiological crisis.” The 2016 study “Multiple mortality events in bats: A global review” reports that since 2000 industrial wind turbines have overtaken all other causes of mass mortality for bats in North America and Europe.
A conservative estimate of bat mortality in the USA is that at least 4 million bats have been killed by wind turbines since 2012. Bats are our primary natural defense in keeping mosquito and crop-damaging insect populations in check. One bat can eat between 500 and 1,000 mosquitoes and other insects in just one hour, or about 6,000 per night.
Fish and wildlife specialists were stunned at the number of dead bats they found at industrial wind turbines in the eastern US. About half were due to barotrauma: a bat only has to come close to a spinning blade, and the pressure change bursts the blood vessels in its lungs.
Save the Eagles explains that killing millions of bats results in billions of extra mosquitoes. It is no coincidence that mosquito populations have increased up to tenfold over the last 50 years, according to long-term mosquito monitoring programs, which also note that increased urbanization and reduced use of insecticides were the main drivers of this change.
Finally, noise generated by wind turbines is akin to that of a helicopter, affecting quality of life and causing serious health problems for people living within a quarter-mile of a turbine. A 2013 Canadian paper reported, “People who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression and cognitive dysfunction.” Other studies report the same problems.
A woman who was forced out of her Ontario, Canada home said “the problem is not just cyclical audible noise keeping people awake, but also low frequency infrasound, which can travel many kilometres.” The former operator of the Wind Victims Ontario website added, “Infrasound goes right through walls. It pummels your body.” Sherri Lange, CEO of North American Platform Against Wind, says she has “personally received hundreds of phone calls from distressed people who need to vacate their homes.”
Across the world, governments have received tens of thousands of complaints. They rarely even try to address the problems raised. “It is my experience from talking to doctors, researchers and other high-level professionals, that governments seem to be [under the influence of] the industry,” Lange says.
Less frequent but more serious are 192 deaths over the past decade, primarily from massive failures of turbine blades. The deaths have prompted Finland, Bavaria and Scotland to propose legislation that no wind farm be allowed within 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) of any housing.
Many Americans think wind energy is cheap, eco-friendly and wonderful. But that’s because few are ever exposed to the real human, animal, scenic and environmental costs. Green New Deal supporters are counting on people to remain in the dark about these serious problems, to turn their plans into law.
We all need to do more to get the truth out, and confront activists, legislators, regulators and journalists with tough questions and hard realities.
Dr. Jay Lehr is Senior Policy Analyst for the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition. Tom Harris is Executive Director of the ICSC. (Some of the information for this article was derived from the 2018 book The Mythology of Global Warming by Bruce Bunker PhD, published by Moonshine Cove. The authors recommend this book as an excellent source of information on the climate change debate.)