Five myths that threaten the future of wind power
Tijn Touber | September 2006 issue
Wind energy is taking off. Production increased fourfold between 1996 and 2004, according to Yes! (Spring 2006). The American Wind Energy Association, U.S. Department of Energy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory are now working together on a new initiative to boost wind to 20 percent of American energy.
The United Kingdom is also expanding the production of wind energy, according to Green Futures (May/June 2006). By 2010, almost five percent of UK energy production will come from wind, The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) predicts.
This represents half of the government’s 10 percent target for all renewable energy. In parts of western Denmark, a renewable energy pioneer, wind furnishes 100 percent of energy at certain times.
Despite such positive news, wind-power skeptics are influential with business and government leaders. Refocus (May/June 2006), an international renewable-energy magazine published in the UK, attributes this to a set of persistent myths about wind energy.
Myth No. 1: Wind is sporadic and impractical
The intermittent nature of wind energy (no wind = no energy) makes it inefficient, critics contend, which means back-up power plants will be needed. These will be expensive to build and will essentially cancel the environmental benefits offered by wind turbines. In fact, according to Refocus, more than 200 studies have shown that the overall decline in pollution emissions more than make up for the financial losses due to days when the wind is not blowing.
Myth No. 2: Wind power is too expensive
Cost might have been an issue in the 1980s. But today, a new wind turbine creates 180 times more electricity than it did 20 years ago at less than half the cost per kilowatt hour, according to the European Wind Energy Association. When the first wind farms were established in the 1980s, production costs were at 30 cents U.S. per kilowatt-hour; these days, that figure is under five cents a kilowatt-hour.
Myth No. 3: Wind turbines endanger wildlife
After 20 years of research and monitoring, Daniel Pullan, wind-farm expert at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK, believes carefully placed turbines pose a minimal danger to birds—particularly compared to the death rate of birds hitting vehicles and buildings (between 100 million and 1 billion a year).
Myth No. 4: Wind farms undermine local economies
Wind farms are like prisons; nobody wants them next door. At least not at first. But local opposition often melts once the facility is built. Studies show there is no evidence that wind energy hurts tourism or undermines local business. As for concerns about noise pollution, Alison Hill, director of communications for the British Wind Energy Association, says when she takes people to tour wind farms:, “Without fail, jaws drop when [folks] get off the bus: ‘I thought they were meant to be noisy.’”
Myth No. 5: Wind farms are ugly
The only remaining reason to knock a wind turbine is for the way it looks. Fair enough. Wind farms could be prettier. But wouldn’t the consequences of climate change and energy insecurity look a lot uglier?
More information: American Wind Energy Association:
www.awea.org; European Wind Energy Association:
www.no-fuel.org; British Wind Energy Association: www.bwea.com