Debunking the Left’s Wind-Power Myths

by | Apr 30, 2019 |

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Wind power currently provides the United States with four times the amount of energy provided by solar technologies. But that doesn’t mean energy from the wind can replace fossil fuels, despite the claims of many environmentalists and advocates of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s misguided Green New Deal (GND).

Wind power is hampered by many limitations, including:

  • its intermittent and inefficient nature,
  • the limitations of batteries and other back-up systems,
  • the lack of available sites with adequate wind,
  • the acreage required to harness wind,
  • its excessive expenses,
  • the dangers to the bird and bat populations,
  • the dangers to human health created by its low frequency throbbing noise (infrasound).

Wind turbines are highly inefficient. Large industrial wind turbines (IWT) typically produce about 2.5 megawatts of power when wind speed is between about 8 and 25 miles per hour. However, the average capacity factor for current wind farms range from 30 – 40%, meaning that the average power actually produced is only 30 – 40% of what they produce when the wind speed is right.

When the wind isn’t blowing, electricity cannot be produced to keep the electric grid providing communities with energy needed to maintain our standard of living. Currently, we keep fossil fuel plants at the ready to cover for when the wind speeds decline. But under the provisions of the GND, virtually all fossil fuels would be eliminated, making it impossible to keep the lights on without a huge conversion to nuclear power, an energy source environmental activists hate even more fiercely than fossil fuels.

To generate significant amounts of wind energy, wind power facilities need to be located in areas where there is steady wind most of the time. If it is always windy where you live, you occupy one of the fortunate areas where wind can provide a reliable source of electricity. Such areas exist along the west coast of the United States and a strip in our Midwest extending from the Dakotas to Texas. Seventy five percent of the conterminous 48 states have only 50% of the wind of these most desirable locations. Offshore coastal areas have a higher wind potential but have proven to be at least three times as expensive to develop.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to relying on wind power is the immense amount of land required. IWTs must be placed far apart so as not to interfere with each turbine’s capture area.

In his keynote address at the 2018 America First Energy Conference held on August 7 in New Orleans, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry gave a good idea of what this means. He explained that to generate the electricity needed to power the Houston metropolitan area would require almost 900 square miles of wind turbines. This is six-times more land than an equivalent solar farm of photovoltaic cells and dozens of times the land required for an equivalent nuclear power plant. 

Wind is also much more expensive than existing conventional energy sources. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that wind power can generate electricity for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. However, this makes poor assumptions and ignores some realities. It assumes an average lifetime of a wind turbine to be 30 years, the same as a conventional fossil fuel power plant. Experience shows that most turbines last only 15 years. It ignores the cost of backup power when the wind does not blow. It includes no cost for transmission lines to the electric grid. Of greater importance, it omits government subsidies. A 2016 study at Utah State University shows the following extra costs for the omission or miscalculation of wind power: 15 years not 30 year life of turbines (7 cents per kilowatt-hour), backup power (at least 2.3 cents if the back-up is natural gas), transmission costs (2.7 cents), government subsidies (23 cents) making the real cost of wind power 43 cents per kilowatt hour. This is about the same as the cost of solar power but 7 times the cost of natural gas power. Who can afford this? Could American industry afford this?

Promoters of the Green New Deal would like wind farms everywhere, but even the most supposedly environmentally friendly communities often do not want wind turbines in their own neighborhoods. Besides the fact that they spoil the landscape visually, they pose many environmental concerns, such as killing many birds and bats each year.

Loss, Will and Marra estimated (“Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous United States,” Biological Conservation, December 2013) that 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed each year in the contiguous United States by wind turbines, “making it the most threatening form of green energy,” according to Audubon Society Magazine reporter Emma Bryce. Death tolls may be far higher according to some sources.

Bat deaths are even worse and potentially more threatening to human health. In the article “Industrial wind turbines kill millions of bats & birds, worsening an environmental & epidemiological crisis,” on the Web site of the Spanish group “Save the Eagles International,” “a platform regrouping bird lovers, ornithologists, and associations from 15 different countries,” it is reported:

Since the year 2000, industrial wind turbines have overtaken all other causes of mass mortality events for bats in North America and Europe (reference: “Multiple mortality events in bats: a global review,” 2016).

In the US, a conservative estimate of bat mortality indicates that at least 4 million bats have been killed by wind turbines since 2012. Bats are the primary natural defense in keeping mosquito populations in check.

One bat can eat between 500 and 1,000 mosquitoes and other insect pests in just one hour, or about 6,000 per night (reference: “Bats, Artificial Roosts, and Mosquito Control,” Revised 24 July 2006).

Most early work in tracking bird and bat deaths at industrial wind turbines focused on birds, especially eagles. Then, as large numbers of dead bats were discovered, researchers began to study how bats were being killed. Fish and wildlife specialists were stunned at the number of dead bats they found at industrial wind turbines in eastern US. It was discovered that about half the bat kills were from barotrauma: a bat only has to come close to a spinning blade, and the pressure change will burst the blood vessels in its lungs (reference: “Bat Killings by Wind Energy Turbines Continue,” Scientific American, June 7, 2016).

About twice as many bats as birds are killed by wind turbines. Scientists estimate that 90% of the hoary bat population could be lost to turbines in the next 50 years (reference: “Bats Killed in Large Numbers at United States Wind Energy Facilities,” BioScience, Vol, 63, Issue 12, December 2013).

Save the Eagles International explains that, if you kill millions of bats, you will have billions of extra mosquitoes. It seems no coincidence that mosquito populations have increased up to tenfold over the last 50 years, according to long-term datasets from mosquito monitoring programs in several states (although the reference discussed here found the reduction of DDT use and increased urbanization were the main drivers of this change).

Finally, if you are still not convinced of the folly of American wind energy as a replacement for fossil fuel, you will be when you understand its danger to human health. The noise generated by a wind turbine is likened to that of a helicopter, making habitation within a quarter of a mile of a turbine oppressive, resulting in serious health problems.

In “Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines,” a 2013 paper in the College of Family Physicians of Canada magazine, Dr. Roy D. Jeffery, Carmen Krogh, and Brett Horner stated,

“People who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction.”

Dufferin County (Ontario)-based Barb Ashbee added, “The problem is not just cyclical audible noise keeping people awake but also low frequency infrasound which can travel many kilometres.” She said that she was forced out of her Amaranth, Ontario home by the siting of IWTs too close to it.

Ashbee, then operator of the Wind Victims Ontario website, added, “Infrasound goes right through walls. It pummels your body.”

Across the world, tens of thousands of complaints have been received by governments. Sherri Lange, CEO of North American Platform Against Wind, explained, “I have personally received hundreds of phone calls from distressed people who need to vacate their homes [because of IWTs].”

Lange said that governments try to not address the issue: “It is my experience from talking to doctors, researchers and other high-level professionals, that governments seem to be [under the influence of] the industry.”

Less frequent but more serious are the 192 deaths reported in the latest Summary of Wind Turbine Accident Data report. They were primarily from massive failures of turbine blades in the past decade. As a result of these problems, Finland, Bavaria and Scotland have proposed legislation that no wind farm be allowed within 1.2 miles of any housing.

Many Americans think wind energy is cheap and wonderful because few are ever exposed to the real costs, environmental and otherwise. The supporters of the Green New Deal are counting on people to remain in the dark about these important problems.

Portions of this article have been excerpted with permission of the publisher Moonshine Cove and the author of the 2018 book The Mythology of Global Warming by Bruce Bunker, Ph.D. For more information on this subject, the authors strongly recommend this book as the best source for accurate information on the climate change debate. Photo: Shutterstock

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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Dave James
Dave James
3 years ago

Mr. Tom Harris & Dr. Jay Lehr promote the Heartland Institute’s “America First Energy Conference.” Lehr & Harris deserve credit for disclosing their direct connection to the pro-fossil fuel Heartland Institute in their by-line.
Mr. Harris’ & Dr. Lehr’s source Jeff Landry is not an expert on renewal energy but a politician who shares Lehr’s & Harris’ pro-fossil fuel agenda.
Dr. Lehr recently wrote, “Nearly all experts agree that the grid is in desperate need of repairs and modernization, estimated to cost hundreds of billions of dollars to replace such things as transformers now 40-50 years old” (Source “From whence comes the power to drive electric vehicles?” by Jay Lehr, Apr 18, 2019) but he & Harris claim American industry can’t afford transmission lines to the electric grid.
Harris & Lehr mention subsidies for renewable energy but ignore subsidies fossil fuel energy receives.
A scientific paper published in 2013 calculates wind farms killed 20,000 birds died in 2009 in the US – while nuclear plants killed about 330,000 and fossil fueled power plants more than 14 million. The research concludes that taken together, fossil-fueled facilities are about 17 times more dangerous per gigawatt hour of electricity produced to birds than wind and nuclear power stations. (Source “The avian benefits of wind energy: A 2009 update” Benjamin K. Sovacool, Renewable Energy Volume 49, January 2013, Pages 19-24)
If Mr. Harris & Dr. Lehr were sincerely worried about bats and birds, then they would quit promoting fossil fuel and start promoting wind energy.
The impact of the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels on human health is significant. (Sources http://news.mit.edu/2013/study-air-pollution-causes-200000-early-deaths-each-year-in-the-us-0829 , https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510810 ) In contrast, wind energy has been shown to have no negative impact on human health. http://health.gov.on.ca/en/common/ministry/publications/reports/wind_turbine/wind_turbine.pdf
Again, if If Mr. Harris & Dr. Lehr were sincerely worried about human health, then they would quit promoting fossil fuel and start promoting wind energy.

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