Common Myths Debunked

Despite the increasing popularity of wind turbines, many Americans know little about them other than that they generate clean, renewable energy. Due to this unfamiliarity, it is all too easy for myths that are detrimental to the growth of the wind energy industry to spread. I hope to put some of these rumors to rest and provide you with the truth on wind turbines.

Myth: “Turbines are Noisy”

Fact: Wind turbines are quiet. As we discussed earlier, they are far from noisy, especially in comparison to other sounds we hear on a daily basis. An operating modern wind farm at a distance of 750 to 1000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbine Lighting is Excessive”

Fact: Lights at wind farms are non-intrusive, and improvements in design will make them even less so as the technology expands. Lighting is a necessity because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends it for most structures taller than 200 feet to ensure aviation safety (“Myths vs. Facts”).

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Wind turbine lights, pictured above, are no more intrusive than things like holiday decorations and street lights.

Myth: “Nearby Residences Will Be Affected by Shadow Flicker”

Fact: Shadow flicker is a term describing the moving shadow caused by rotating turbine blades coming between the viewer and the sun. Shadow flicker is almost never a problem for residences near new wind farms, and in the few cases where it could be, it is easily avoided (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbines Interfere with Television and Other Communications Signals”

Fact: Interference is rare and easily avoided. Large wind turbines can interfere with radio and television signals only if the turbine is in the “line of sight.” Improving a receiver’s antenna or installing relays to transmit signals around the wind farm can easily resolve this issue (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Turbines are Ugly”

Fact: That’s simply a matter of opinion. Some people find wind turbines to be majestic. Whether one considers them beautiful or an eye sore, you cannot deny that they represent progress and a better future for our world (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Projects Depress Tourism”

Fact: There is no evidence to indicate that wind turbines drive tourists away. In fact, wind turbines can even draw tourists. As you know, I grew up in a beach town with heavy tourism during the summer months. I work at a souvenir shop in town, and we even sell custom-made t-shirts and coffee mugs bragging about Hull Wind! People love our two wind turbines, and I am certain that tourism has only increased since their inception (“Myths vs. Facts”).

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The t-shirts sold at Carousels and Ships Gift Shop, a beachfront store in Hull, MA.

Myth: “Wind Projects Don’t Contribute to the Local Tax Base”

Fact: Installing millions of dollars of equipment in most areas significantly increases the local taxes assessed. Wind farms support the local tax base, helping to pay for schools and roads far more than their impact to local facilities. Indeed, economic development associated with a new wind farm extends far beyond taxes to increased employment (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines aren’t Safe”

Fact: While people argue that blades can cause dangerous ice throws and that turbines may throw blades or collapse, that is not the case. Ice throw, while it can occur under certain conditions, is of little danger. Modern wind turbines are so safe that they successfully operate near schools, in urban settings and densely populated areas, and in rural communities. In Hull, Hull Wind 1 is located right next to the local high school. Hull Wind 2 sits amidst residential homes and a very large condominium complex. Turbines are perfectly safe (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines Harm Wildlife”

Fact: While I will delve deeper into this topic in later posts, suffice it to say that wind energy’s overall impact on birds is very low compared to other human-related activities. People also assert that wind projects fragment wildlife habitats; however, most wind farms are built in areas close to transmissions lines, where habitats have already been modified and fragmented (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines are Unreliable”

Fact: A common misconception is that back-up generation is needed for all wind turbines. On the contrary, the inherent design of the grid makes it unnecessary to back up every megawatt of wind energy with a megawatt of fossil fuel or dispatchable power. Some believe that wind turbines only operate a small fraction of the time, but in actuality they generate electricity most (65-85%) of the time. While the output amount is variable, it is still a dependable energy source. Finally, people posit that wind energy will never provide more than a little electricity. As I have demonstrated, we have the ability to supply all of our energy needs if we implemented enough turbines. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that America’s wind energy potential is much larger than total U.S. electricity consumption today (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Myth: “Wind Turbines are Inefficient, Expensive, and Heavily Subsidized”

Fact: Part of the wind turbine’s underlying beauty is the fact that it is incredibly efficient. The energy payback time for wind is perhaps even better than that of conventional power plants. In the larger sense, wind turbines are highly efficient because they generate electricity from a natural, renewable resource. Wind energy is inaccurately perceived as expensive because it has higher up-front capital costs. However, wind energy is now in a range that is competitive with power from new conventional power plants. In the long run, wind turbines are the more cost-effective choice. And while wind energy is indeed subsidized, the fact that every energy technology is subsidized is largely ignored (“Myths vs. Facts”).

Did you believe any of these myths until reading the post? Why do you think that the facts about wind turbines are being misrepresented?

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A Welcomed “Disruption”

A major argument by the anti-wind turbine camp is that these energy-producing giants are aesthetically unpleasant and noisy. Despite the thousands of dollars in savings for local communities, their “disruptive” presence has allegedly has harmed property values.

Wind Turbine Aesthetics

While most Americans support the implementation of wind turbines, there is a “Not in My Backyard” mentality held by many people who believe wind farms affect residential property values. A study of US wind facilities on residential property value allowed the organization of potential effects into three classes: area stigma, scenic vista stigma, and nuisance stigma (Sethi).

The area stigma is the perception that the general area surrounding a wind energy facility will appear more developed regardless of whether a particular home has a view of the turbines. The scenic vista stigma refers to the perception that a home may be devalued because the view of a facility may damage an otherwise scenic vista. The nuisance stigma characterizes the perception that factors related to wind turbines, like sound and shadow flicker, will have an adverse effect on home values (Sethi).

Using several pricing models to analyze a sample of 7,459 sales on the open market located near 24 wind facilities across nine states, the results found will be surprising to all the wind haters. On average, the homes in these study areas were not measurably stigmatized by the arrival of a wind facility regardless of time or proximity. Despite the finding that scenic vista significantly affects property value, none of the models uncovered evidence of a wind farm negatively affecting views. Even the 25 homes in the sample with full views of the wind facility were totally unaffected (Sethi).

Resistance to wind turbines remains despite evidence that they do not impact property values. Wendie Howland, a Cape Cod resident, lives the all-around green lifestyle. She grows her own food, heats her own water with rooftop solar panels, and drives a Prius. But when she wanted to take the next step and install a 132-foot windmill that would generate enough power for her home, she was defeated in court. Says Howland, “We were trying to make our bills smaller as we got older, in a clean and responsible fashion, and it boggles my mind that ordinary people like us aren’t allowed to do that.” Indeed, Cape Cod was a battleground in the windmill debate long before Howland’s case came along. A proposal to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm was met with stiff opposition from those claiming it would ruin the natural beauty of Nantucket Sound (Goodnough). It is a tad bit ironic, to say the least. You cannot argue for the preservation of the natural scenery and in the same breath deny initiatives that are environmentally responsible.

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Howland wished to install a residential-scale turbine, like the one pictured above that belongs to Gary Harcourt of Vineyard Haven, MA. 

Noisy Neighbors?

In a society that loves loud noises, it’s surprising that wind turbines are receiving so much flack for the minimal amounts they produce. Let’s be honest, people blare the radio in their cars, watch movies with the surround sound on full blast, and so on. We are not exactly aiming for peace and quiet (Scott).

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A comparison among common noises we have accepted and wind turbines.

The fear people harbor over sounds from wind turbines is unjustified considering the adaptations we have made to auditory extremes like barking dogs, airplanes, trains, music, air conditioners, motorcycles, and the list goes on. New designs of wind turbine blades are becoming progressively quieter all the time. In addition, minimum distance requirements ensure that they are not too close to homes or workplaces (Scott).

This video comments on the relative quietness of wind turbines:

 

Based on the facts we’ve discussed, would you be opposed to wind turbines in your community based on their appearance and the sounds they generate?

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?

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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?

Wind Energy in the Local Community: Hull Wind

As I have mentioned before, I grew up in Hull, Massachusetts. This small seaside community is home to two wind turbines, one located inland at the edge of town and the other at the tip of the peninsula. Much to my surprise, I learned that my school, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, was a major participant in the Hull Wind projects. Hull Wind has a remarkable history, and the project has received well-deserved praise by the government and the local community.

A Profile of Hull

The town is located on a peninsula in Boston Harbor. Its population is about 10,500, but it increases to over 16,000 in the summer months as people flock to Nantasket Beach (Community Wind Case Study).

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Aerial shot of Hull, MA.

Electricity is supplied by the Hull Municipal Light Plant, a municipally-owned utility. On average, annual power consumption is about 6 MW. HMLP purchases the majority of its electricity at wholesale from the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company (MMWEC) (Community Wind Case Study).

Hull’s ties to energy use data back at least 200 years, when wind was used to produce salt. In fact, the site of Hull Wind One was referred to as “Windmill Point” back in the day. In the 1980s, the town’s first electricity-producing energy machine was installed (Community Wind Case Study).

History and Results of Hull Wind

The first wind turbine, a 40 KW on an 80-foot tower adjacent to Hull High School, was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. The turbine’s cost was $78,000. By the spring of 1985, it was generating energy. The turbine survived until early March of 1997, when a windstorm damaged it beyond repair due to its low threshold for wind speed. This is no longer problematic for today’s wind turbines, which can tolerate over 100 mph (Hull Wind.org).

Even in the turbine’s final three years of production, when it was no longer performing as effectively, it still reduced the school’s electric bill over 28 percent, or $21,200. Over its lifetime, it had saved the town nearly $70,000 (Hull Wind.org).

The wind turbine’s advantages were undeniable, and the community supported further involvement in harnessing wind energy. By the fall of 1997, a group of citizens and teachers at Hull High School collaborated on the planning of “re-powering” the site. In late 1998, a new group of citizens eager to see the project continue formed Citizen Advocates for Renewable Energy, or C.A.R.E., and petitioned Hull Light to take on the task (Hull Wind.org).

Working with UMass Amherst’s Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, a report was created on wind-resource assessments, regulatory issues, noise-level tabulations, and projected economic viability of various hardware options. Due to the project’s ability to serve as a template for other coastal communities in Massachusetts, special care went into completing this extensive report (Hull Wind.org).

The initiative attracted attention from newspapers like the Boston Globe, creating public intrigue and support. By 2001, a bid on the project by the Danish turbine manufacturer Vestas was accepted. Vestas had bid their model with a rotor-diameter of 47 meters, a hub-height of 50 meters, and a rated power of 660 KW. The turnkey bid price for this model was $698,699. During calendar year 2001, this particular Vestas turbine alone was sold to over 1,100 customers in the United States, a considerable jump from the 4 sold in 1997 (Hull Wind.org).

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Hull Wind 1 perched at the tip of the peninsula.

After several months of contract negotiations, the commissioning date was set to December 27, 2001. In its first year, the total energy generated was 1,597,367 KWh’s. In addition to zeroing out Hull’s street lighting bill, the Light Department’s sales of this energy totaled over $150,000. A survey by the light department returned 95 percent favorable reactions, prompting planning for another turbine (Hull Wind.org).

By 2003, planning had commenced for Hull Wind 2. In May 2006, Hull Wind 2, a Vestas V80 rated at 1.8 MW, was commissioned. In its first year alone, it produced 4,088,000 KWh’s. The townspeople were incredibly appreciative and proud of the new addition to the community (Hull Wind.org).

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Hull Wind 2 is truly a part of the neighborhood.

Community Response and Awards

My fellow residents and I are proud to come from a town that supports green initiatives. In line with our community’s environmental stance, a residential-scale windmill was even installed at the Weir River Estuary’s nature center in Hull at the town’s expense. We support Hull Wind completely and welcome the myriad benefits it has provided.

Children and adults alike have grown to appreciate these wind turbines. We do not see them as ugly or disruptive; their presence is symbolic of something beautiful: we are positively impacting our environment and reducing town expenses. We now consider our two turbines a valued part of the breathtaking landscape. Aly Clinton, then an eight-year-old resident of Hull, web-published a book in 2006 called “Our Neighbor Millie.” In the story, Aly discusses Hull Wind 2 (nicknamed by her as “Millie”), which stands about 400 yards from her family’s home. As someone who lives right by Hull Wind 2 as well, I have to agree with Aly. I see that turbine every day, and I cannot help but love it. It’s a member of my neighborhood now.

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A page from Aly Clinton’s book, “Our Neighbor Millie.”

The many awards given to Hull for its wind energy efforts are a testament to its success in the eyes of the public as well. Below is a list of these accolades:

  • Recognition from US Congressman Delahant in June 2002
  • 3-year contract to Hull Light for purchasing all of the Renewable credits awarded by MassEnergy in 2003
  • 2003 Climate Award for communities
  • Project proponent Malcolm receives Utility Leadership award for Hull Light from the American Wind Energy Association  in 2003
  • Honored at the EPA Earth Day festival in Boston in April 2003
  • MMA Award in January 2003
  • Hull Light receives the EPA Environmental Merit Award in May 2002
  • USDOE Award received in December 2002

What the Future Holds for Hull

Because Hull has exhausted its onshore wind harnessing capabilities, sights have been turned to the sea. Currently, Hull is evaluating options for constructing the first community-owned offshore wind farm in the United States. The project tentatively consists of four turbines capable of producing 12 to 15 MW. Pre-development work began in 2005, and the Environmental Impact Review was completed in December 2008 (“Hull Offshore Wind Energy”).

UMass Amherst has been instrumental in assisting with the project. Graduate students at the Wind Energy Center have conducted wind data collection at Little Brewster Island to characterize the details of the wind energy resource. An Acoustic Doppler Profiler was also lowered into the target site location’s water to study wave heights and frequencies that will gauge potential fatigue-inducing actions on future installations. The students investigated the potential impacts of the facility on the local grid as well (“Hull Offshore Wind Energy”).

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An offshore wind energy map for Hull.

In 2009, the project received federal funding to conduct the next phase of research and development and permitting activities (“Hull Offshore Wind Energy”). All of this progress would not have been possible without the excellent teamwork among government officials, the students and faculty of the flagship UMass campus, and the ambitious citizens of Hull, MA.

Is your town home to any wind turbines? If not, do you wish it were?

If you would like to support the non-profit Weir River Watershed Association, you can preview and purchase Aly Clinton’s “Our Neighbor Millie” here. The young author and her father are directing some of the proceeds to this organization.

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).

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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).

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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:

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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?