Myths & Facts About Wind Power
Following relentless attacks on the solar industry in the wake of Solyndra's bankruptcy, wind power has become the latest target of the right-wing campaign against renewable energy. But contrary to the myths propagated by the conservative media, wind power is safe, increasingly affordable, and has the potential to significantly reduce pollution and U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.
- What Is The Impact Of Wind Farms On Wildlife?
- Do Wind Turbines Affect Human Health?
- Can Wind Power Compete With Fossil Fuels?
- What Portion Of Our Energy Needs Can Wind Realistically Satisfy?
- How Would Switching To Wind Power Impact The Climate?
- Have Federal Incentives For Wind Been Effective?
FACT: Fossil Fuels Pose Far Greater Threat To Wildlife
MYTH: Wind Turbines Are Bird-Killing Machines
- Fox News' Greg Gutfeld: “Wind power is the Ted Bundy of bird-killers.” [Fox News, The Five, 9/30/11, via Nexis]
- Marc Morano said on Fox News: “We've already known that windmills, as you mentioned, are killing birds. Estimates from 400,000 birds a year to almost a million... They're called bird blenders.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/30/12]
- The Hoover Institution's Deroy Murdock wrote: “The dirty secret about 'clean' wind power is that its turbines are giant whirling machetes.” He went on to claim that the Obama administration “wants to give wind-power companies long-term permits to butcher bald eagles on the altar of green energy.” [Washington Times, 5/18/12]
- In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce wrote that “as the bird carcasses pile up,” “the wind industry's unofficial license to kill wildlife is finally getting some serious scrutiny.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/7/12]
NRC: Wind Energy Accounts For “Minute Fraction” Of Human-Caused Bird Deaths. A 2007 report by the National Research Council concluded that wind turbine losses account for “a minute fraction” of bird deaths caused by human activities:
Collisions with buildings kill 97 to 976 million birds annually; collisions with high-tension lines kill at least 130 million birds, perhaps more than one billion; collisions with communications towers kill between 4 and 5 million based on “conservative estimates,” but could be as high as 50 million; cars may kill 80 million birds per year; and collisions with wind turbines killed an estimated at 20,000 to 37,000 birds per year in 2003, with all but 9,200 of those deaths occurring in California. Toxic chemicals, including pesticides, kill more than 72 million birds each year, while domestic cats are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and other species each year. Erickson et al. (2005) estimate that total cumulative bird mortality in the United States “may easily approach 1 billion birds per year.”
Clearly, bird deaths caused by wind turbines are a minute fraction of the total anthropogenic bird deaths--less than 0.003% in 2003 based on the estimates of Erickson et al. (2005). [National Research Council, May 2007]
Fossil Fuels Drive Climate Change, Which Threatens Hundreds Of Bird Species. A 2008 Department of Energy report noted that wind-related bird deaths cannot compare to the threat of climate change:
Publicity related to wind power developments often focuses on wind power's impact on birds, especially their collisions with turbines. Although this is a valid environmental concern that needs to be addressed, the larger effects of global climate change also pose significant and growing threats to birds and other wildlife species.
The future for birds in a world of global climate change is particularly bleak. A recent article found that 950 to 1,800 terrestrial bird species are imperiled by climate changes and habitat loss. [Department of Energy, July 2008]
Wind Turbines Pose “No Population Risks To Birds” In New England. A comparison of the impact of six electricity generation types on wildlife in New England found that wind power poses “no population-level risks to birds.” Factoring in the effects of pollution and climate change, it concludes that “non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind.” [New York State Energy Research And Development Authority, March 2009]
Coal Development Destroys Bird Habitats. According to the American Bird Conservancy:
Generally, impacts on wildlife have not had a significant effect on the ability to produce coal. For example, the Appalachian region is one of the most biodiverse parts of the country, and important habitat for many migratory birds, including warblers, waterthrushes, and vireos. It is also important to the coal industry. Over 1,200 mines are found in the region. Some 380,574 acres of forest habitat were destroyed for the purpose of mountaintop removal from 1992 to 2002.
Mining practices ... are blamed in part for the decline in the population of the Cerulean Warbler, a small, blue songbird that breeds in the mature forests of the Appalachian Mountains. This migratory species has experienced a 70% decline since 1966. The Louisiana Waterthrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, and Yellow-throated Vireo are also being threatened by removal of forest habitat. [American Bird Conservancy, accessed 5/17/12]
Up To One Million Birds Are Killed Every Year In Oilfield Production Pits. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
Every year an estimated 500,000 to 1 million birds are killed in oilfield production skim pits, reserve pits, and in oilfield wastewater disposal facilities according to a study published by Pepper Trail, forensic ornithologist with the Service's Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 8/19/11]
By Contrast, Estimates Of Wind-Related Bird Deaths Range From 150,000 To 440,000 Per Year. PolitiFact reported:
David Cottingham, senior adviser to Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe, confirmed that the 440,000 bird deaths often attributed to the division are actually the estimates of one biologist - Manville - and are not considered official agency statistics.
The National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, which includes Fish and Wildlife officials and representatives from the wind industry, utilities and others, looked at the issue and concluded there are roughly three to four birds killed per megawatt every year. With current capacity at roughly 50,000 megawatts, that comes to 150,000 to 200,000 birds per year.
Cottingham said those estimates are the ones Fish and Wildlife would be most likely to cite when asked about bird deaths caused by turbines. [PolitiFact, 3/9/12]
Government, Industry And Environmentalists Are Collaborating To Reduce Bird Deaths. In March, the Obama administration published new guidelines for land-based wind farms aimed at reducing the number of wind-related bird deaths. The guidelines call on wind developers to “eliminate from consideration areas that would pose high risks to birds and other wildlife, and to take steps to alleviate problems by restoring nearby habitat and other actions,” according to the Associated Press. The guidelines were endorsed by both the American Wind Energy Association, an industry group, and the National Audubon Society, a conservation group. [Associated Press, 3/23/12]
FACT: There Is No Evidence That Wind Turbines Pose Health Risks
MYTH: Wind Turbines Adversely Impact Human Heath.
- Fox News' John Stossel on wind turbines: “They're going to kill birds, make noise, cause shadow flicker.” [Fox News, Stossel, 5/12/11, via Nexis]
- Town Hall's Paul Driessen wrote: “The strobe-light effect, annoying audible noise, and inaudible low-frequency sound from whirling blades result in nervous fatigue, headaches, dizziness, irritability, sleep problems, and vibro-acoustic effects on people's hearts and lungs.” [Town Hall, 5/8/12]
- Fox Business' Eric Bolling: “Turbines are popping up all across America, as the demand for the usage of wind energy is increasing. But at what cost? Residents close to them have reported everything from headaches to vertigo to UFO crashes.” [Fox Business, Follow the Money, 11/12/10, via Nexis]
Independent Report: There Is “No Evidence” For “Wind Turbine Syndrome.” A report prepared by an independent panel of experts for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection concluded that there is “no evidence for a set of health effects, from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a 'Wind Turbine Syndrome.'” The study debunked several of the supposed health impacts of wind turbines:
There is insufficient evidence that the noise from wind turbines is directly (i.e., independent from an effect on annoyance or sleep) causing health problems or disease.
Claims that infrasound from wind turbines directly impacts the vestibular system have not been demonstrated scientifically. Available evidence shows that the infrasound levels near wind turbines cannot impact the vestibular system.
The strongest epidemiological study suggests that there is not an association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.
None of the limited epidemiological evidence reviewed suggests an association between noise from wind turbines and pain and stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure, tinnitus, hearing impairment, cardiovascular disease, and headache/migraine. [Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, January 2012]
Literature Review: There Is No Proven Causal Link Between Proximity To Turbines And Health Effects. A review of the literature on the health impact of wind turbines concluded:
To date, no peer reviewed articles demonstrate a direct causal link between people living in proximity to modern wind turbines, the noise they emit and resulting physiological health effects. [Environmental Health Journal, 5/2/11]
Study: Shadow Flicker “Unlikely To Cause Adverse Health Impacts.” An assessment of the health impact of wind turbines by the Oregon Public Health Authority concluded:
Shadow flicker from wind turbines in Oregon is unlikely to cause adverse health impacts in the general population. The low flicker rate from wind turbines is unlikely to trigger seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy. Further, the available scientific evidence suggests that very few individuals will be annoyed by the low flicker frequencies expected from most modern wind turbines. [Oregon Public Health Authority, 1/3/12]
By Contrast, Fossil Fuel Pollution Has Serious Health Consequences. A 2009 report by the National Research Council estimated that burning fossil fuels costs the U.S. about $120 billion a year in “hidden” health costs:
A new report from the National Research Council examines and, when possible, estimates “hidden” costs of energy production and use -- such as the damage air pollution imposes on human health -- that are not reflected in market prices of coal, oil, other energy sources, or the electricity and gasoline produced from them. The report estimates dollar values for several major components of these costs. The damages the committee was able to quantify were an estimated $120 billion in the U.S. in 2005, a number that reflects primarily health damages from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation. The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security, which the report examines but does not monetize. [National Academy of Sciences, 10/19/09]
FACT: New Wind Generation Will Be Cheaper Than New Coal Generation
MYTH: Wind Will Never Be Cost Competitive
- Marc Morano said on Fox News: “Wind power was around since the 13th century. People say let's let it compete with carbon-based energy, oil and gas. It did compete. Wind and solar have competed, and they had their rear-ends kicked!” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/30/12]
- Town Hall's Paul Driessen wrote: “Wind has never been able to compete economically with traditional energy, and there is no credible evidence that it will be able to in the foreseeable future, especially with abundant natural gas costing one-fourth what it did just a few years ago.” [Town Hall, 5/8/12]
- A Washington Times editorial stated: “Wind power made sense in the 18th century, but it doesn't make sense now. The private sector isn't interested in blowing money on hopelessly uneconomic windmill and solar projects." [Washington Times, 3/14/12]
New Wind Generation Will Soon Be Cheaper Than New Coal Generation. In the Energy Information Administration's most recent annual report, levelized costs for onshore wind that is brought on line in 2017 are cheaper than conventional or advanced coal brought on line in 2017. EIA explained that levelized cost is “often cited as a convenient summary measure of the overall competiveness of different generating technologies” and “represents the per kilowatthour cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a generating plant” for a certain period, but that “actual plant investment decisions are affected by the specific technological and regional characteristics of a project.”
[Energy Information Administration, 1/23/12]
Bloomberg New Energy: Some Wind Farms “Already Produce Power As Economically As Coal, Gas And Nuclear.” From a press release on the findings of a2011 Bloomberg New Energy Finance report:
The cost of electricity from onshore wind turbines will drop 12% in the next five years thanks to a mix of lower-cost equipment and gains in output efficiency, according to new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The best wind farms in the world already produce power as economically as coal, gas and nuclear generators; the average wind farm will be fully competitive by 2016. [Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 11/10/11]
Study: Wind Could Save Consumers Billions In Electricity Costs. A recent analysis by Synapse Energy Economics found that adding more wind power to the electric grid would bring down electricity costs in the Midwest region:
Synapse's analysis indicates that the effect of introducing greater levels of wind resources into MISO [Midwest Independent System Operator] is to generally depress the average annual market price, relative to a baseline case of no additional wind generation beyond the existing 10 GW in place in MISO today. Since wind energy “fuel” is free, once built, wind power plants displace fossil-fueled generation and lower the price of marginal supply--thus lowering the energy market clearing price.
These market price declines will lead to reduced overall energy costs. For this coal retirement sensitivity, power supply costs for MISO-region customers could range from $3.9 billion to $7.9 billion per year lower than baseline costs for the 20 GW wind addition, and from $6.1 to $12.2 billion per year lower than baseline costs for the 40 GW addition. These cost savings will exceed the annual costs of transmission improvements needed to integrate this level of wind addition. When including the effects of transmission, the net savings ranges from $3.0 billion to $6.9 billion per year for the 20 GW wind addition scenario, and $3.3 to $9.4 billion per year for the 40 GW wind addition scenario.
For an average MISO region residential customer using 1,000 kWh per month, this translates to a net savings that would range from $63 to $147 per year in 2020 (for the 20 GW wind addition scenario), and from $71 to $200 per year for the 40 GW wind addition scenario. [Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, 5/22/12]
FACT: Wind Capacity Is Already At 10% In Some States And Is Expanding Rapidly
MYTH: Wind Power Won't Make A Dent In Our Energy Needs
- Marc Morano said on Fox News: “Worldwide, if you go for a whole number, 0% of energy is coming from wind. It's still less than half a percent if you round... Oil and gas produce massive amounts of energy. Wind and solar don't.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 4/30/12]
- Fox Business' Charles Payne: “Imagine a utopian world where every car is electrically driven. We couldn't build enough solar panels and enough windmills, it would still be fossil fuel.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/14/12, via Nexis]
- The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore said on Fox News: “I hope, I sincerely hope the president doesn't really believe that we can engine and power a $15 trillion industrial economy with windmills. It ain't going to happen.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/15/11, via Nexis]
EIA: U.S. Wind Generation Is “Continuing A Trend Of Rapid Growth.” A recent Energy Information Administration report stated that “Generation from wind turbines in the United States increased 27% in 2011 compared to 2010, continuing a trend of rapid growth.” The following chart demonstrates the continual increase in U.S. wind capacity:
[Energy Information Administration, 3/12/12]
Industry Saw Record Growth In The Beginning Of 2012. In the first quarter of 2012, the wind industry added 1,695 MW of electricity generating capacity - 52% more than it added in the first quarter of last year. This was the industry's strongest first quarter on record. [Department of Energy, 5/9/12]
Wind Accounts For 35% Of New U.S. Power Capacity Since 2007. A letter to Congressional leaders signed by over 350 coalition members including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Edison Electric Institute said, “In the last four years, wind energy has provided 35% of all new U.S. power capacity.” [National Association of Manufacturers, 11/17/11]
DOE Estimates Wind Could Provide 20% Of U.S. Electricity By 2030. A 2008 report by the Department of Energy stated that a “20% Wind Scenario in 2030, while ambitious, could be feasible” if the wind industry can expand manufacturing, increase turbine installations, and improve reliability. [Department of Energy, December 2008]
Wind Is Already Supplying More Than 10% Of Electricity In Five States. According to the Department of Energy:
Five states received more than 10% of their electricity from wind in 2011, with South Dakota leading the way with 22.3%. Iowa, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wyoming completed the list. [Department of Energy, 4/18/12]
Harvard Study: U.S. Wind Potential Is “16 Times More Than Total Electricity Demand.” The New York Times reported on the results of a 2009 study by Harvard University:
Using data from thousands of meteorological stations, the Harvard team estimated the world wind power potential to be 40 times greater than total current power consumption. A previous study cited in the paper put that multiple at about 7 times.
In the lower 48 states, the potential from wind power is 16 times more than total electricity demand in the United States, the researchers suggested - significantly greater than a 2008 Department of Energy study that projected wind could supply a fifth of all electricity in the country by 2030. [New York Times, 7/16/09]
FACT: Wind Energy Could Substantially Reduce America's Carbon Footprint
MYTH: Wind Won't Affect Carbon Emissions, And May Even “Cause Global Warming”
- The Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “A slew of recent studies show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions--or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/23/10]
- Forbes columnist Larry Bell wrote: “CO2 emission reductions [from wind power] are largely mythological.” [Forbes, 5/22/12]
- Linking to a Reuters article, Fox Nation ran the headline: “New Research Shows Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.” [Fox Nation, 4/30/12]
Right-Wing Media Distorted Study To Claim Wind Farms Cause Global Warming. Some ofthese media reports are based on a study of satellite data which found that nighttime land temperatures near Texas wind farms have increased relative to nearby areas without turbines. The lead author of that study told Media Matters that the coverage has been “misleading,” clarifying in a press release:
Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only redistribute the air's heat near the surface (the turbine itself does not generate any heat), which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels. [University of Albany, accessed 5/14/12]
NREL: Every 1,000MW Of Wind Energy Offsets 2.6 Million Tons Of CO2. A 2009 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that every 1,000 MW of wind energy reduces carbon emissions by 2.6 million tons. [NREL, March 2009]
DOE: Wind Could Reduce Annual Emissions By 825 Million Tons By 2030. According to a Department Of Energy report analyzing a 20% wind scenario:
Supplying 20% of U.S. electricity from wind could reduce annual electric sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 825 million metric tons by 2030.
[Department of Energy, December 2008]
FACT: Wind Has Achieved Huge Advances With Federal Support
MYTH: Funding For Wind Has Gone To Waste
- American Commitment's Phil Kerpen said on Fox News: “If you look at all the failure around Solyndra, the wind subsidies, ethanol and Obama is out there on the stomp day after day saying, we need to double down. The guys sounds like a degenerate gambler who can't recognize when he's losing.” [Fox News, Hannity, 4/13/12, via Nexis]
- Town Hall's Paul Driessen wrote: “Despite tens of billions in subsidies, wind turbines still generate less than 3% of US electricity.” Calling for an end to wind incentives, he said: “Politicians take billions from taxpayers, ratepayers and profitable businesses, to provide subsidies to Big Wind companies, who buy Made Somewhere Else turbines.” [Town Hall, 5/8/12]
- The Heritage Foundation's Romina Boccia wrote in a blog post: “Subsidies like the wind energy production tax credit also perpetuate the mediocrity of the wind industry by distorting the market processes that guide entrepreneurs and investors toward the most promising energy solutions.” [The Foundry, 2/24/12]
Production Tax Credit Helps Makes Wind Power Competitive With Natural Gas. From Beyond Boom & Bust: Putting Clean Tech On A Path To Subsidy Independence, a report by scholars at the Breakthrough Institute, the Brookings Institution and the World Resources Institute:
At present, the federal PTC [Production Tax Credit] for wind power production brings the levelized cost of electricity from new wind power projects down to an estimated range of $33-65 per megawatt-hour (MWh), depending on the quality of wind resource.
At these prices wind power is broadly competitive with new gasfired generation (with levelized costs as low as $52 at likely gas prices, see Box 1), supporting robust market expansion.
However, the PTC is scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, creating significant market uncertainty and prompting manufacturers of wind turbine components to prepare for layoffs and substantial market contraction. [Brookings Institution, April 2012]
Business Groups: U.S. Wind Manufacturing Has Grown 12-Fold. From a letter by over 350 coalition members including the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Edison Electric Institute:
Equipped with the PTC, the wind energy industry has contributed impressively to U.S. economic development. Since 2005, the wind industry has spurred more than $60 billion of investment. Today, over 400 facilities across 43 states manufacture for the wind energy industry. US wind turbine manufacturing has grown 12-fold - 60% of a wind turbine's value is now produced here in America, as compared to 25% prior to 2005. Further, costs have been reduced over 90% since 1980, recently driven by a surge in game changing technological advances. In the last four years, wind energy has provided 35% of all new U.S. power capacity.
Yet despite its clear success, the PTC has been allowed to expire frequently and is again set to expire at the end of 2012. Now is not the time to increase taxes on wind energy. The PTC should be extended for at least another four years so that American know-how can keep producing domestic clean energy. [National Association of Manufacturers, 11/17/11]
Wind Boom In Texas Attributed To Production Tax Credit. From an October 19 ClimateWire article:
The production tax credit is widely seen as a key driver of the Texas wind boom. It lowers the cost of producing wind power by 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour, providing a financial edge that has helped developers compete with low-priced electricity derived from coal and natural gas.
The credit, called the PTC, was so instrumental in the state's rise to wind dominance that a report issued by [Republican Governor Rick] Perry's office last year described it as a “crucial” piece in a broad plan to lower the price of wind energy. It complemented a state mandate requiring utilities to use more renewable energy and a fee-based program designed to carry far-flung wind power to urban centers along new transmission lines. [ClimateWire, 10/19/11, via Nexis]
CBO: U.S. Has Long Subsidized Oil And Gas With Permanent Tax Breaks. A Congressional Budget Office issue brief on federal financial support for energy development noted that “Under current law, most of the tax preferences for energy efficiency and renewable energy will expire, but preferences for fossil fuels are permanent.” CBO further explained:
Tax preferences for energy were first established in 1916, and until 2005 they were primarily intended to stimulate domestic production of oil and natural gas. Beginning in 2006, the cost of energy-related tax preferences grew substantially, and an increasing share was aimed at encouraging energy efficiency and energy produced from renewable sources, such as wind and the sun, which generally cause less environmental damage than would result from producing and consuming fossil fuels. Provisions aimed at energy efficiency and renewable energy accounted for 78 percent of the budgetary cost of federal energy-related tax preferences in 2011. However, four of those provisions, including the one with the greatest budgetary impact, expired at the end of calendar year 2011. Only four major tax preferences are permanent, three of which are directed toward fossil fuels and one of which is directed toward nuclear energy.
[Congressional Budget Office, March 2012]
CRS: Wind Power Incentives “Have Been Much Larger In Several Foreign Countries.” Noting that federal policies in the U.S. “have been instrumental in the development of a domestically-based wind power sector,” the Congressional Research Service added:
Worldwide the wind power industry is driven by various types of government support, which range from tax credits to incentive policies like feed-in tariffs. These incentives have been much larger in several foreign countries than in the United States, which has helped to spur the manufacturing of wind turbines in Europe and Asia.
The expansion of U.S. wind power generation will depend, at least in part, on government policy decisions. If state and federal governments continue to support wind generation, manufacturing of wind generating equipment in the United States is likely to increase. The production costs of U.S. plants that make turbine components appear to be competitive with those in other countries, and the difficulty and expense of transporting very bulky products over long distances serves as an obstacle to import competition. [Congressional Research Service, 9/23/11]