Health and Safety Concerns

Because the number of wind turbines in the United States is climbing every year, concern over public health and safety has grown as well. Citizens are questioning whether a renewable source of energy is worth risking their well-being. Scientists are exploring the health hazards posed by turbines and the safety of wind turbines from a functional standpoint has been questioned. Overall, most of these worries are unfounded. Wind turbines offer a solution to climate change, which has proven to be dangerous for the well-being of our bodies and the earth itself.

Health Concerns

The primary health concern associated with wind turbines is infrasound. The large wind turbine blades can spin at speeds of up to about 180 mph. In high winds, rapid spinning can produce sound and vibration as well as disruptions in air pressure. Some theorize that bats die near wind turbines due to the extremely low air pressure causing their blood vessels to burst. There are mixed opinions on whether turbines emit infrasound and if the amount emitted is more than that of diesel engines, waves crashing on the beach, and so on (Layton).

Infrasound is part of a larger issue: wind-turbine syndrome. Symptoms of the syndrome include headaches, sleep problems, night terrors or learning disabilities in children, ringing in ears, mood problems, concentration and memory problems, and issues with equilibrium. It should be noted that these symptoms have been observed by a limited number of sicentists studying small groups of people. The scientific community has not concluded whether the syndrome even exists (Layton).

Safety Issues

Most safety issues regarding wind turbines relate to their design and durability. The number of wind turbine failures is limited; however, when turbines are destroyed by strong winds, the press very heavily covers the incident. For example, gale force winds of 112 mph ripped off the blades of three wind turbines during a storm in the UK earlier this year. While no one has been hurt by a wind turbine accident in over a decade there, turbines received major criticism across the pond for this failure (Gray).

Image

One of the damaged wind turbines in Scotland.

Preventing Climate Change for a Better Life and World

Wind turbines reduce emissions, thereby decreasing climate change. Despite health and safety concerns from the public, the threat of climate change should be of paramount importance. Ultimately, the effects of climate change will do far greater damage to our bodies and our environment if left unchecked.

According to the EPA, the prevalence of many diseases and other threats to human health depend largely on local climate. Extreme temperatures can lead directly to loss of life. Climate change can disturb ecological systems as well. While that may seem less harmful to humans, it actually changes the range of infective parasites that cause often fatal diseases (EPA).

Humans are directly exposed to climate change through changing weather patterns. Extreme weather events, like hurricanes and floods, result in deaths, injuries, infectious diseases, and stress-related disorders. Indirect exposure takes place through changes in water, air, food quality and quantity, ecosystems, agriculture, and economy. Though the effects seem small at first, they will progressively increase with time (EPA).

Image

Are we ready to face the destruction and devastation wrought by climate change-induced natural disasters? Pictured above: Japan.

The choice is ours to make. Would you rather support wind turbines that reduce climate change and risk the unproven health and safety concerns, or face the numerous proven consequences associated with climate change?

Cartooning About Change

Political cartoons are a medium of communication that achieved widespread popularity in America during the Boss Tweed era in the 19th century. These illustrations still provide commentary on political, economic, and sociocultural issues- and the wind turbine controversy is no exception. Below are a few of many wind energy cartoons, each of which emphasizes a prevalent theme surrounding the issue.

Wind Energy Reliability

Image

This cartoon comments on the questioned reliability of wind turbines. A major criticism is that they cannot be depended upon for a consistent supply of energy. As we discussed in the post on myths, wind turbines are as reliable as other sources of energy.

“Not In My Backyard” Mentality

 Image

This cartoon is brilliant in both message and execution. Anti-wind activists and residents have a total “Not In My Backyard” mentality that is completely unjustified considering the harm and danger posed energy sourced from nuclear, oil, and coal.

Ecological Effects

Image

Wind turbines face opposition due to their ecological impact as well. As noted in the cartoon above, bird deaths are cited as a key reason against the use of wind turbines. The fallacy in this comparison between bird deaths is that it equates truly catastrophic events like the British Petroleum oil spill with wind turbines that cause no other environmental problems and actually offer many benefits to the communities in which they are constructed.

Financial Costs of Wind Energy

Image Wind energy is disparaged for being too costly. While the upfront capital costs for developing wind turbines and farms are high, the cost-savings they yield in the long-term render it less expensive than the current energy sources used in the United States.

Wind Energy is a Better Energy

Image

This cartoon is modeled on the British Petroleum oil spill. By replicating the event using wind turbines instead of an oil tanker, the cartoonist conveys the message that wind turbines lack the negative effects associated with traditional energy sources.

What messages found in wind turbine cartoons do you agree or disagree with? What themes have you noticed that I didn’t mention?

Consistency with America’s Green Values

Research has shown that Americans are generally supportive of green initiatives. While some still try to undermine the positive aspects of wind turbines as a source of renewable energy, the overall agreement is that wind energy should be utilized.

Research on American Environmental Values

In October 2006, ecoAmerica published a research summary titled “The American Environmental Values Survey: American Views on the Environment in an Era of Polarization and Conflicting Priorities.” The impetus for the research was that 77 percent of Americans are worried about the environment, but it is not a priority for them on a personal or public policy level. To better understand this paradox, the AEVS was conducted (AEVS).

Points of consensus concerned the outdoors, the environment in general, and the economic effects. 93 percent say they love to be outdoors, 92 percent think children should spend more time outside, and 85 percent think every town should have land with nature trails. In regard to the environment, over 80 percent worry about it in general. Specifically, they are concerned about poisons, extinction of large animals, asthma, health in general, and the well-being of future generations. Finally, 87 percent express interest in the impact of gas taxes on the poor, while 83 percent believe environmental protection and economic growth can be achieved simultaneously (AEVS).

Environmental differences are mostly related to politics. Generally, Republics are less concerned about the environment, especially global warming. They tend to prioritize the economy more highly than environmental issues. Independents aligned more closely with Democrats. Regardless of political party, the majority of Americans think that global warming is happening and express concern about it. Below are some of the select statistics:

  • 66% believe it will impact them during their lifetimes
  • 66% of Americans believe we can control global warming
  • 57% believe we are not doing enough to control it
  • 45% believe global warming is a bigger threat to America than terrorism
  • 40% would be willing to see taxes raised to address global warming (AEVS)

Criticisms of Wind Energy

With the increasing value Americans are placing on the environment, it would seem logical that wind energy would receive unanimous support from the public. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Arguments against wind turbines threaten to stop the usage of this valuable source of renewable energy from growing.

Homeowners are one of the major groups in opposition to wind turbines. Larry Lamont, who lives near 88 industrial wind turbines, actually described their installment as a “life sentence.” Others share similar sentiments (Flietner). In all honesty, these claims are a bit ridiculous. The sight and sounds of wind turbines, as I will discuss in future posts, do not detract from neither residents’ quality of life nor their property values. Comparisons of average sale prices per square foot are inaccurate despite similarities in the types of homes. Property values are assessed based on a wide range of criteria, including the location, quality of the school systems, the age of the houses, and so on. Attributing all variations in sale prices to the presence of wind turbines is erroneous.

And the Majority Say “Go Wind!”

As reflected in a poll released by the AWEA, only clean energy sources like wind, solar, and natural gas receive a favorable opinion from Americans. Coal and oil are given unfavorable ratings, while nuclear energy had split ratings with no majority opinion (Windustry).

Anna Bennett and Neil Newhouse, partners with Bennett, Petts & Normington and Public Opinion Strategies, concluded “The poll’s bottom line is clear: An overwhelming majority of American voters, on a bipartisan basis, want more wind power and support a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) to increase its use” (Windustry).

Some findings from the poll:

  • An overwhelming, bipartisan majority—89%—of American voters (including 84% of Republicans, 88% of Independents and 93% of Democrats)—believe increasing the amount of energy the nation gets from wind is a good idea.
  • A majority of Americans—56%—disapprove of the job Congress is doing on renewable energy and 67% believe Congress is not doing enoughto increase renewable energy sources such as wind.
  • A majority of Americans—82%—believe the nation’s economy would be stronger (52%) or the same (30%) if we used more renewable energy sources like wind.
  • A majority of Americans—77%—support a national Renewable Electricity Standard. This support extends across party lines and includes 65% of Republicans, 69% of Independents, 92% of Democrats (Windustry).

According to AWEA CEO Denise Bode, wind works for America. Voters desire a strong national Renewable Energy Standard that will result in new manufacturing jobs, lesser dependence on imported oil, and clean, affordable renewable energy (Windustry). Who wouldn’t want these outcomes?

Image

Acceptance of wind turbines as an energy source constantly on the rise in the United States.

It is natural for controversy to exist surrounding topics that will profoundly alter how our society functions. However, with the multitude of advantages to wind power, how can we refuse to accept their presence?

Turbines Spreading Around the World

Wind turbines generate between 17 and 39 times as much power as they consume (Pennsylvania Wind). In one year’s time, a single MW of energy from a wind turbine (enough to power around 250 to 300 households with ease) instead of a conventional source reduces year emissions by over 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 6.5 tons of sulfur dioxide, 3.2 tons of nitrogen dioxide, and 60 pounds of mercury (Buzzle, Pennsylvania Wind). With every megawatt of wind energy produced, approximately $1 million is added toward economic development (Pennsylvania Wind). Clearly, these turbines have the ability to drastically alter energy consumption and its impact on both the environment and the economy. Due to their many benefits, wind turbines are becoming increasingly popular across the globe and in the United States.

Global Wind Energy

The United States is the leading producer of wind power in the world, followed by Germany, Spain, and China. Only a few years ago, Germany and Spain were the leading producers in the world. At that time, 55 percent of the total wind power generation was attributable to European nations. Indeed, wind power generation in our country has increased thirteen fold from what it was in 2000. Texas is home to today’s largest wind farm in the world, the Roscoe Wind Farm. This wind farm hosts 627 wind turbines totaling a capacity of 781.5MW (Buzzle).

Image

The Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, USA.

North America and South America account for 17 percent of the global wind power generation, but North American constitutes 98 percent of it. As of 2008, a third of global wind power generation is attributable to Asia. China is the leading Asian country in regard to total wind power produced, followed by India. By 2020, China projects it will achieve its 100 GW energy target. Some countries may contribute less in terms of global wind energy generation, but may be meeting their energy requirements better relatively. For example, Denmark is ranked ninth in terms of wind energy generation, but wind energy actually constitutes 20 percent of its total energy requirements (Buzzle).

Wind Energy in the United States

Worldwide, wind energy production totals 65,000,000,000 kWh per year. This is enough to power 6 million homes in the United States. Currently, approximately 16,000,000,000 kWh per year are produced, enough to power 1.6 million American households (Pennsylvania Wind).

In the United States, 46 of the 50 states have the potential of harnessing wind energy to generate electricity. Texas currently is the leading producer of wind power in the country, followed by California, Minnesota, Iowa, and Washington (Buzzle).

Image

Current wind turbine locations and sizes by capacity in the United States.

A total of 71 billion kW-hrs of wind power was produced in 2009. Though this only represents 1.8 percent of the total energy produced that year, it provided electricity to roughly 6.4 million households (Buzzle).

What are your thoughts on the increasing acceptance of wind turbines as a renewable source of energy globally and in our country specifically?

Design, Functionality, and the Future

We know that wind turbines can generate energy, but many of us are clueless as to how they are designed to do so and how harnessed wind is utilized to produce power. As the need for energy increases, more efficient designs are being engineered.

The Design of Today’s Wind Turbines

When the wind blows, yaw motors turn a wind turbine’s nacelle so that the rotor and blades face directly into the wind. The blades are shaped with an aerofoil cross section, causing air to move more quickly over one side than the other. This difference is speed changes the pressure, resulting in the blade moving, the rotor turning, and the generation of a rotational force, or torque (Coriolis Energy).

Here is a breakdown of the parts comprising a typical wind turbine, refer to the diagram below to identify the various components:

Image

Wind turbine diagram.

  1. Rotor: Assembly of three blades mounted on a hub that is connected via the main shaft to the gearbox.
  2. Pinch motors: Change the angle of attack of the blades to control rotational speed and torque.
  3. Gearbox: Converts the rotational speed of the rotor (~10-20rpm) to a suitable speed for the generator (~1500rpm)
  4. Yaw motors: Continually turn the nacelle so as to ensure the rotor faces into wind
  5. Tower: Steel cylinder supporting nacelle and rotor. Contains cables to export electricity and access ladders.
  6. Generator: Converts the torque generated by the rotor into electrical energy
  7. Anemometers/vanes: Measure the wind speed and direction, used as inputs to the wind turbine control system.
  8. Nacelle: Housing in which the main components are located (Coriolis Energy).

Check out this video documenting a wind turbine construction. The footage was edited into a time lapse, it is quite a sight!

Transforming Wind into Energy

The rotor of the wind turbine is connected to a gear box and a generator located in the nacelle. This generator converts the torque into electricity. The electricity is fed into a transformer located either inside or just outside the wind turbine that reduces losses in transportation by stepping up the voltage. Then, the electricity travels through underground cables to a small-sub-station where the voltage is stepped up even further through transformers and exported to the local grid (Coriolis Energy).

Wind turbines usually begin producing electricity in wind speeds of 7 to 9 miles per hour. The amount of torque, and thus the amount of electricity, generated increases with wind speed until about 34 mph. At this point, the maximum capacity of the turbine has been reached, and output is maintained at this level until the wind turbine is shut down. While turbines are designed and certified to withstand wind speeds up to 157 mph, shut down typically occurs at high speeds of about 57 mph in order to protect them from excessive loads (Coriolis Energy).

A New Look for the Future

According to the International Clean Energy Analysis (ICEA) gateway, the United States possesses approximately 2.2 million square kilometers of high wind potential. With roughly 850,000 square miles of land, the United States is like a Saudi Arabia for wind energy. In fact, it is ranked third in the world for total wind energy potential (Burkart).

A new breakthrough in Japan, the wind lens, has the potential to triple the energy output of wind turbines. If the wind lens were utilized, we could theoretically supply the total annual energy needs of the United States simply by exploiting a mere 20% of our available wind resources (Burkart).

Image

Kyushu University’s wind lens.

Yes, it would require about 2,640,000 of these wind lenses to meet this threshold. However, the country has endless miles of prairie and agricultural lands, rendering it one of the few nations that could actually establish such a vast wind turbine network without disrupting the current productivity of the land. On another note, the economy would be stimulated as millions of jobs are created to construct the network, maintain the turbines, and build an energy distribution center (Burkart).

What do you think about Japan’s new wind lenses? Would you be opposed to living in a country that supports 100% of its energy needs with cheap, renewable sources  of energy?

Reducing Climate Change

What is the largest industrial source of air pollution is in the United States? You guessed it: electricity generation. Approximately 40% of CO2 emissions are produced by the electric power sector. If we do not take measures to stop these emissions, it could reach 6.75 billion tons per year by 2030 (American Wind Energy Association).

Image

CO2 emissions per capita by country.

Wind as a Solution

Wind power generates no emissions and displaces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. One megawatt hour (MWh) of wind energy produced reduces CO2 emissions by about 1,200 pounds. One 1.67-MW turbine produces 5,000 MWh of electricity per year, meaning that it reduces CO2 emissions by over 3,000 tons (American Wind Energy Association).

The ‘Global Wind Energy Outlook 2006’ report by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) and Greenpeace International demonstrates that over one third of the world’s electricity can be realistically supplied through wind energy by the year 2050. If wind turbines were employed on this scale, an estimated 114 billion tons of CO2 by that time (Green Peace).

To put things in perspective, if we accomplished 20% wind energy by 2030, the Department of Energy estimates we could avoid 825 million tons of CO2 annually. This is the equivalent of getting 140 million vehicles off the streets! Needless to say, wind power has the potential to substantially limit climate change (American Wind Energy Association).

Debate over Wind Power’s Effect on Climate Change

A recent study conducted by Liming Zhou, Research Associate Professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of New York, was published in the journal Nature Climate Change earlier this week. It reported that in a large area of Texas covered by four of the world’s largest wind farms had local temperature increases of up to .72C, or 1.37F (Gray).

Image

Numerous wind farms have been constructed across Texas.

On the surface, this finding recognizes a distinct possibility that wind turbines actually worsen climate change. However, the facts of the study are being misconstrued. This “significant warming trend” was noted to be taking place particularly at night-time. During the night, the ground becomes much cooler than the air a few hundred meters above the surface.  The gentle turbulence generated by the wind mixes the two together, so the ground does not become as cool (Gray).

Says Zhou, “The wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air’s heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” This study simply observed that the fan-like action of wind turbines causes warm air to move back down to the ground. The warm air is always present, it simply is higher up. In areas with wind farms, the wind turbines cause the air to move downward. Farmers have been aware of this occurrence for many years, and use large fans to direct the hot air downward for protection of their crops from frost (Kraemer).

Ultimately, wind power has a positive, not negative, impact on climate change. While fossil funded think tanks like Fox Nation, Rush Limbaugh and Jim Host can attempt to distort research on wind turbines, the fact that they reduce climate change is irrefutable (Kraemer).

We have a solution to climate change, and it is wind power. There is no need to wait to fully implement this emissions-reducing option. Do you believe we should expand wind power usage now to drastically reduce CO2 emissions and consequently climate change in the future?