KEY WIND ENERGY FACTS
by Mark J. Cool
K e y f a c t s
Like the wind itself, wind power is intermittent and extremely unreliable. the wind must be strong enough, but not too strong, to generate power. In other words, wind cannot be used for base-load generation nor to meet peak demand.
The National Academy of Sciences has reported that wind power would not significantly reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide. Its carbon dioxide emissions impact would be miniscule.
Wind power would have no effect on energy independence. Electricity generation accounted for only 1.5 percent of all petroleum consumption in the United states.
Wind power plants take up to 88 times more land than coal plants. To generate 1,000 MW of electricity would require, allowing for industry recommended turbine spacing, acreage the size of Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee, Bourne, and Barnstable combined.
Wind power plants have proven to be exceedingly deadly to wildlife, especially birds and bats. The U.S. Government accountability Office reports that recent efforts to mitigate bird and bat deaths have failed.
The noise effects of wind power plants are potentially so severe to people that both the French National Academy of Medicine and the United Kingdom Noise Association (to name a few) recommend against building wind turbines within a mile of residences, at least until further research has been conducted.
Wind energy: Reliability and Production
Is wind power a reliable source of electricity generation?
No, wind’s unreliable nature is the major reason why it is a poor source of electricity. Wind power does not provide base-load electricity generation, which is the regular and consistent electricity needed to meet constant demand.
Since wind is intermittent and variable, wind power also does not provide a dispatchable source of electricity to meet peak demand—it is not a source that can be called upon to meet excess demand for electricity.
These weaknesses make other sources of electricity, such as coal, nuclear, and gas, far more valuable in meeting the demand for electricity. Since wind power is so unreliable, there needs to be reliable backup electricity sources. These backup sources, such as natural gas plants, must be put in what is called “spinning standby mode.” When they are in standby mode, they still burn fuel and emit pollutants.
Wind turbine power provides negligible useful electricity and make negligible reduction to emissions from power generation.
Indeed, a wind farm is the true source of emissions from a thermal power station operating spinning standby as spare capacity in support of the windfarm.
(Courtney, Richard S., “Wind Farms Provide Negligible Useful Electricity,” Center for Science and Public Policy, March 2006, p. 14, http://www.ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/20060331_wind.pdf)
How much electricity would the wind power plant generate?
Wind power plants do not generate electricity that comes even close to their maximum capacity. To generate electricity, there must be enough wind but not too much wind—the wind speed has to be just right. To be generous, the wind power plant may generate 30 percent of its capacity.
(“Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects,” National Research Council, May 2007 (Prepublication copy), p. 34, http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11935#toc)
Wind Power: Little If any Benefits
*Don’t we need a more diverse mix of electricity resources?
First, in and of itself, greater electricity diversity is not a benefit. Massachusetts has no problem meeting its electricity needs. The state has cost competitive and more importantly, reliable electricity, and there is no reason absent government intervention, for that to change in the long term. If there were need for more diversity, it should come about as a result of market choices, not a government mandate (i.e the governor's 2,000 MW by 2020 goal).
Energy diversity proponents believe that a more diverse mix of energy resources is necessary to reduce air pollution, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, or promote energy independence.
*Would wind power reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide associated with high ozone levels, acid rain, and fine particles in the atmosphere?
The National Academy of Sciences has stated that wind power would not significantly reduce these emissions, largely due to existing regulations on conventional sources of electricity.
(“Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects,” National Research Council, May 2007 (Prepublication copy), p. 46, http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11935#toc)
*Would wind power reduce carbon dioxide emissions?
Applying the data used in the National Academy of Sciences study, carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 would only be 0.5 percent to 1.8 percent less than it otherwise would have been if not for wind power.
(“Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects,” National Research Council, May 2007 (Prepublication copy), http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11935#toc
note - The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimated that wind power would offset carbon dioxide emissions from electricity sources by about 1.2 percent to 4.5 percent. In 2005, according to the study, electricity generation accounted for 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Assuming that electricity generation remains at 39 percent in 2020, the carbon dioxide emissions from all energy use would be 0.5 percent to 1.8 percent.)
In other words, there would be a miniscule difference in carbon dioxide emissions.
*Would wind power help reduce our dependence on foreign oil?
Electricity generation simply does not require any meaningful amount of petroleum. In 2006, electricity generation accounted for only 1.5 percent of all petroleum consumption in the country.
(total petroleum consumption for electricity generation can be found on the US Energy Information Administration site at www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epa/epat4p1.html).
In other words, alternative energy sources related to electricity generation, such as wind, play an insignificant role in energy independence. The United States already is energy independent when it comes to electricity generation.
The costs of Wind Power: Land Use
*How much land does wind power require?
According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a coal plant that generates 1,000 MW of electricity (a large baseload generation plant) would require 1,700 acres. To produce the same amount of electricity with wind power, it would require 150,000 acres, or about 88 times more land.
(“Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants” (NUREG-1437 Vol. 1), United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, May 1996, www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/staff/sr1437/v1/index.html. While the NRC report is from 1996, the estimates likely are conservative when it comes to determining acres required for electricity generation. See, e.g., H. Sterling Burnett, “Wind power puffery,” The Washington Times, February 4, 2004, www.ncpa.org/prs/cd/2004/020404wpp.htm; also see this Texas State Energy Conservation Office web page discussing a wind farm (Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center) in Texas, www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_wind.htm)
For perspective, this is an area encompassing the whole of the Upper Cape plus the town of Barnstable or, for the Metro folks, the cities of Marblehead, Swampscott, Lynn, Revere, Chelsea, Boston, Quincy, Braintree and Hingham combined.
The costs of Wind Power: Noise
*Are wind turbines very noisy?
According to the United Kingdom Noise Association: Research by medical doctors has unearthed persistent complaints from people saying they not only hear the noise from wind turbines, but can “feel” disturbance in their bodies. This has lead to complaints of illness. The symptoms people are complaining about are very similar to those associated with vibro-acoustic disease. The suggestion is that the unique combination of noise (containing an element of low-frequency) and the strobing effects of the flickering blades, is having a physical effect on some people. Not all, but some people.
(“Location, Location, Location, The Noise Association (UK), July 2006,http://www.countryguardian.net/Location.pdf)