This is a summary of several of the most common myths about renewable energy. We have other FAQ and “mythbusting” pages detailing some of these in more detail which you can find listed here.
Renewable energy has huge and unsustainable land requirements:
This is untrue. Wind energy actually occupies less land area per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated than any other energy conversion system, other than rooftop solar energy. Not only this, but wind energy sites are compatible with pre existing land uses, such as grazing and cropsi.
By comparison, most ‘traditional’ energy generation methods such as coal mining require relatively large areas of land for their exclusive use. The impact and damage upon the landscape is permanent, given that traditionally large scale open cut mining in Victoria has never been rehabilitated due to the sheer size of the pits. As stated in a report on Geothermal Energy in Victoria, “an entire geothermal field uses only 0.4 to 3.2 hectares per MW versus 2 to 4 hectares for nuclear plants and 7.6 hectares per MW for coal plants.”ii
Renewable energy is costly:
While the initial implementation of renewable energy sources will be of considerable expense, the money saved over time due to the sustainable nature of the energy source, combined with the low maintenance costs and benefits reaped by the creation of new jobs definitely accounts for and exceeds the initial investment. Moreover, as technology is improving and becoming increasingly more efficient, the cost of these technologies are declining. In addition, the introduction of carbon pricing will make renewable energy a genuinely competitive alternative.
It is misinformed and short-sighted to consider the current production costs of coal as relatively low, as there is no real consideration or measure of the environmental and social costs, essentially the ‘trickle-down effect’, of the production of this energy. Given coal is not a renewable energy source, there is the increased likelihood its expense will increase as supplies are further depleted and a price is put on carbon.
Renewable energy is unreliable:
The advantage of having a diverse, integrated, and well-planned renewable energy system is that energy production becomes increasingly reliable because of the variety of input sources and the ability to store energy for use at night, as opposed to the predominant dependence on a single and unsustainable source of energy.
The variable output of wind farms can be matched well with dispatchable sources of renewable energy such as hydro and the brilliant new concentrating solar-thermal “power tower” systems, which save concentrated solar heat to be able to run at night.
Solar power won’t work during the winter months
This is especially false in that solar power is dependent on light as opposed to heat. The yield might be slightly lower in winter as the days are shorter, but this is not to say it is rendered non-viable during these times. As long as there is sunlight, solar power can be used.
Germany, at a much higher latitude than any of Australia, still has an enormous solar panel uptake and generates a significant amount of its energy this way. Australia’s hot, dry inland is a great space for locating solar-thermal power stations, where there is good sun and clear skies for much of the year.
Wind farms scare animals
Reports from England and Denmark have shown that there is insufficient evidence to prove this, and that windmills seem to have no noticeable impact on animal behavior. However wind farms and wind generators have been known to scare horses and their riders when they stumble upon them unexpectedly, and hence FoE supports careful analysis when integrating them into any landscape.
Renewable energy production is not efficient.
This is just as true for renewables as it is for ‘dirty’ fuels. No energy source on Earth functions at an optimal level of energy production. Energy is lost as power is converted to electricity. At their minimum, wind turbines and solar panels have as high an efficiency rate as many traditional energy production methods such as coal. At optimal capacity, wind turbines actually convert up to 50%iii of the available energy from wind into electricity, whilst brown coal power stations only convert about 25% of the available energy in coal into electricity, whilst using up huge amounts of perfectly good drinking water in the process.iv.
Wind turbines kill animals:
Very few birds are actually killed by wind turbines, with more birds dying from flying into high-rise buildings. In recent years, this risk has become a non-issue in that potential wind farm locations are carefully assessed in the approvals process, and are sited to avoid bird migration areas. However, FoE accepts that there are some areas where, for ecological reasons, wind energy should not be developed. Thus, we support appropriate planning and assessment with relation to wind farms and their coexistence with surrounding environs, as well as the strict guidelines concerning wind farm placement to avoid any impact upon rare or endangered species. v
- what’s the bigger threat to birds – climate change or wind farms?
Renewable energy production is weather dependent
Insofar as renewable energy production is to some degree weather dependent, weather patterns can usually be predicted and therefore the production can be managed accordingly. A properly diversified and integrated renewable energy system makes this wholly achievable. For example, with the case of wind energy, turbines can be spread throughout a region in a manner that prevents changing weather conditions from impeding overall energy production. Well considered management and placement would dictate that in the case that there is less wind production in one area, this can be entirely accounted for in another area, so as not to disrupt the overall amount of electricity going into the grid.
Renewable energy production is expensive and reliant on government subsidies
Relative to production costs for a unit of energy, the initial instillation cost of most renewable energy sources is admittedly higher than that of unsustainable sources. Yet, the cost of running renewable energy technologies is very low as they do not depend on the input of fuels (as in the case of coal, oil, etc) and are cheap to operate and maintain.
Moreover, the cost renewable technologies on a per unit basis is predicted to fall with the improvement and increased availability of this technology. By comparison, the cost of fossil fuels is expected to increase in the future due to it’s eventual depletion and increased demands for energy. Even natural gas is expected to increase sharply in cost as local supplies dwindle and Victorians start to compete for this resource in a national or international market. Since renewable energy sources are perpetually self-sustaining, they will remain unaffected by any potential increases in the price of fuel. Furthermore, the introduction of a carbon-pricing scheme will allow renewables to become very cost competitive with traditional sources of energy.
As for government subsidies, it is true that renewable energy projects will require a significant level of government subsidies, but this is not uncommon with fledgling industries. It should also be known that current Victorian government subsidies to the coal industries far exceed those given to the renewables sector. According to Greenpeace, renewables receive just $330 million in subsides whilst the Australian government gives about $9 billion in subsidies to coal, oil and gas. vi
Renewable Energy production does not create many jobs
Currently wind farms in Australia create 2-3 times as many local jobs per kWh generated as coal power. Thus with the expected renewable energy expansion, the number of Australian jobs should also rise significantly as a result. vii
Significantly, the benefits of this energy source will be shared all across Victoria given these jobs will be created both in rural and urban communities.
Wind turbines are noisy and ugly
Modern wind energy turbines are far from noisy; in fact, you can have a normal conversation whilst standing right next to one. Wind farm proposals must abide by strict noise pollution standards outlined by the EPA, and FoE is fully supportive of this. This is a condition of gaining planning permission, so if for any reason the wind farm does not meet noise standards once it is built, FoE fully supports the requirement of the operator to amend this issue.viii
Wind turbines reduce property values:
According to a report from Denmark, wind turbines had little or no impact on the actual value of landix. Another report on land values in the US also demonstrated that the land value did not depreciate after the installation of a wind farm in Madison County, New York.x
One piece of Australian research into possible impacts of wind farms on property values is called ‘Preliminary assessment of the impact of wind farms on surrounding land values in Australia’. It was produced by the NSW Department of Lands for the NSW Valuer General, in August 2009.
The main finding was that wind farms “do not appear to have negatively affected property values in most cases. Forty of the 45 sales investigated did not show any reductions in value. Five properties were found to have lower than expected sale prices (based on a statistical analysis)”. All text below in italics is taken directly from the report.
Results also suggest that a property‟s underlying land use may affect the property‟s sensitivity to price impacts. No reductions in sale price were evident for rural properties or residential properties located in nearby townships with views of the wind farm.
The results for rural residential properties (commonly known as ‘lifestyle prop’s') were mixed and inconsistent; there were some possible reductions in sale prices identified in some locations alongside properties whose values appeared not to have been affected. Consequently, no firm conclusions can be drawn on lifestyle properties.
Overall, the inconclusive nature of the results is consistent with other studies that have also considered the potential impact of wind farms on property values.
As we face the reality of the growing impacts of climate change, greater water stress, and the need to greatly reduce the carbon intensity of our economy, renewable energy will be the cornerstone of a sensible and sustainable energy solution.
Renewable energy provides a viable alternative to our existing reliance on coal, with the potential to provide more jobs while avoiding depletion of the Earth’s resources, while also mitigating the impacts of climate change. As part of a deeper transition in how we meet our needs, a shift to renewable power will ultimately allow our societies to maintain our way of life while coexisting with our surrounding ecology in a manner that is to the reciprocal benefit of both humans and the Earth.
For another summary of the perceived problems around wind farms, check the Bush Philosopher’s website.
References used in this section.
ii Sinclair Knight Merz, 2005 ‘The Geothermal Resources of Victoria’. Page 87. In association with the sustainable energy association of Victoria. Accessed 09/04/2010 at 10:20am C:\Documents and Settings\PMunivrana\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\OLKF\SKM Geothermal Report – final.doc
v NWCC 2001‘Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States’, National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) Resource Document,
viSarah Clarke 2007, ‘Coal subsidies far outweigh funding for renewables: Greenpeace’ ABC News: accessed 16/04/2010 http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/04/30/1910116.htm
vii MacGill I, Watt M and Passey R 2002, ‘The economic development potential and job creation potential of renewable energy: Australian case studies.’ Commissioned by Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy Policy Group, Australian Ecogeneration Association and Renewable Energy Generators Association. Downloadable from http://www.ergo.ee.unsw.edu.au/.
viiiEnvironmental Protection Agency 2009 ‘Wind farms environmental noise guidelines’. July 2009. Accessed 09/04/2010 at 11:30am on:http://www.epa.sa.gov.au/xstd_files/Noise/Guideline/windfarms.pdf
ix Jordal-Jorgensen, J. (1996). “Visual Effect and Noise from Windmills – Quantifying and Valuation.” Social Assessment of Wind Power in Denmark. The Institute of Local Government Studies (AKF). April 1996. http://www.akf.dk/eng/wind0.htm [Viewed 07-04-10].
xHoen, Ben. ‘Impacts of Windmill Visibility on Property Values in Madison County, New York.’Project Report Submitted to the Faculty of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. Accessed 09/04/2010 at 10:59am: http://www.noblepower.com/our-windparks/CoosCounty/documents/NEP-GRPWindpark-Application-App30b-ImpactsOfWindmillVisibilityOnPropertyValuesInMadisonCount.pdf