re-visiting the wind power myths

Given the continued use of a range of un-founded arguments against renewables in general and wind farms in particular, it seemed worthwhile going over some of the key ones again.

There are a number of standard arguments used against wind farms. The Spa Country Guardians list some of the most common ones. While impact on visual amenity is a subjective issue, it is certainly a dominant thread in much of the public debate, as is the belief in negative health impacts of industrial scale farms. In the words of various (pro-wind) people we have spoken with in recent times, there is certainly “something going on” with some of the existing farms, with continued reporting of ill-health experienced by numbers of people in local areas. We strongly support continued investigation into the reality of these health claims, the need to avoid siting towers close to homes, the right to real consultation prior to construction, and the right of locals to have access to company documents on noise and other aspects of wind farm operations.

 

However, what undermines these two basic arguments is when they get presented along with those from climate skeptic sources, which seems to be increasingly common. For instance, consider the list below, from the Spa Country Guardians, which is a mix of reasonable and un-substantiated claims (we have included some comments in brackets after each point).

FROM: Spa Country Guardians website

(Whats wrong with) Industrial wind farms:

* Interrupt the habitat of flora and fauna (not if farms are planned properly. It is standard for amendments to be made to planning applications if this is likely to be the case)

* Disturbs ground animals (as above)

* Creates subsonic noise and vibrations (this is a standard tactic: make a vague claim, implying there is a problem but don’t explain what it really means or what the risks might be. What scale are these vibrations? What impacts do they have on people, and so on. You can check here for an interesting analysis of the work of Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician living in Malone, NY, who is probably most closed associated with documenting the risks associated with “Wind Turbine Syndrome”. This posting considers both the concerns about noise and vibrations.One quote from research cited in this analysis is “The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds, that they could plausibly have direct adverse physiological effects.)

* Enormous amounts of cement must be put deep into the earth as a foundation (yes, there is certainly a carbon cost in establishing a wind farm initially, although this will be true of any new power station – and in the case of a wind farm, that cost stops accruing once it is operating, unlike a station which is reliant on fossil fuels)

* Interrupts farming land due to the creation of new roads and transmission lines (we would certainly hope that major concerns about local infrastructure and possible disruption are dealt with in the consultation and approvals process)

* Disrupts water flow (wind turbine towers tend to be placed on the top of hills or mid slope, so it is unclear when or where this might be a major issue)

* Fragmented wildlife habitat (wind farms are banned in conservation reserves such as national parks and are generally found on farmland – which is probably the reason that wildlife habitat might be fragmented in the first place. In some cases, development of wind farms has resulted in significant ecological restoration work which has actually enhanced biodiversity in the local area)

* creates shadow flicker (This relates to the fact that moving turbine blades in front of the sun can cause a phenomenon known as ‘shadow flicker’. Shadow flicker occurs during sunny weather when the sun passes behind the wind turbine rotor relative to the viewer and when the wind turbine is moving. Pre approval assessment of individual houses around the site can allow the potential impact of flicker to be checked and either minimised or eliminated)

* omits subsonic noise (They may be referring to the fact that movement of wind turbine blades can potentially interfere with communications signals, such as radio, television or microwave transmitters. This can be minimised by working around the location of existing communications hubs in the vicinity of the proposed site)

* lighted by strobe lighting day and night

* source of visual intrusion and distraction (wind farms are not put in ‘pristine’ environments – they are generally located in highly modified agricultural landscapes. ‘Distraction’ is perhaps a more subjective issue)

* Degrades social and natural environments (?)

* Misplaces taxpayer monies (as opposed to what ? Investment in coal mining research? Key commentators like Nicholas Stern consistently remind us that action on climate change now will be far cheaper in economic and social terms than waiting to respond to the impacts of climate change later)

* Unproven benefits (? Commercial scale wind farms have been operating efficiently across the world for decades)

* Unable to directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (this is another favourite of the climate skeptics: its the ‘a wind farm has never replaced a coal fired power station’ argument. Certainly, the simple construction of a wind farm does not magically mean reduction of emissions from another source such as coal. That is why reduction targets – for instance the policy commitment to reduce emissions in Victoria by 20% by 2020 – are significant in helping ensure new renewables production does actually displace existing coal production. An independent study by McLennan Magasanik Associates quantifies how much fossil fuel generation is displaced by Victorian wind farms. It is available here)

* Unreliable contracts

* Comprise of resident’s quality of life (this is probably related to proximity of turbines to peoples houses. Certainly, we would agree that local people need to be adequately consulted about siting of both clusters and individual towers, not just the land owners who will be actually hosting the infrastructure)

* Run at low efficiency (We assume this relates to efficiency of converting energy to electricity. Sometimes the issue is raised that ‘they don’t run all the time’, but this is covered by the next point)

* Unreliable in the generation of energy (an old and very tiresome argument. Surely these people have heard of a thing called the energy grid? No one is suggesting that wind energy alone can meet all our energy needs. People who use this line are clearly choosing not to read about the developments in regards to renewables and baseload power. For one good dismantling of this argument, check The Base Load Fallacy and other Fallacies disseminated by Renewable Energy Deniers produced by Dr Mark Diesendorf.

Certainly, wind farms are not running all the time – because the wind doesn’t blow all the time. This is certainly true, but is factored into the planning of wind farms in general and electricity supply through the grid in particular. Significant problems caused by the intermittent nature of wind energy only arise when wind constitutes a large proportion of the relevant energy system. As the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission has stated:

“[i]t is generally considered that up to 20% wind capacity penetration is possible on a large electricity network without posing any serious technical or practical problems. [However], there is no absolute technical limit to UK wind capacity”. Ref: Sustainable Development Commission (United Kingdom) (SDC) 2005, Wind Power in the UK: A guide to the key issues surrounding onshore wind power development in the UK, Government of the United Kingdom).

Source of dot points of perceived problems: Spa Country Guardians

You can also find our assessment of renewable energy myths here.


4 thoughts on “re-visiting the wind power myths

  1. RE: Interrupts farming land due to the creation of new roads and transmission lines
    and : Interrupt the habitat of flora and fauna

    The wind farm being built near my property had very minimal consultation about the creation of transmission lines. One landholder is having a 132kv (18m high!) powerline built through the middle of there property next to wetlands and near nesting areas for brolgas, a threatened species in southern Australia. But they don’t matter do they?
    It’s pretty easy for the wind farm companies to pass the very poor government guidelines. Get some so called consultant to do a contrived study on birdlife at the wrong time of the year,( and during a drought – remember the summer of 08/09) and conclude that there are x numbers of brolgas that nest within x km of the windfarm. Then fudge the figures on the very poor data you have to make it look acceptable.

    Who is responsible for this website and who do you work for? Probably Brumby or the greens.
    I could go into more detail if you would like.

  2. hi antiwindfarmer.

    thanks for the comments.

    re who is behind the site, check the ‘about’ section.

    re the issue you identify above about the powerlines – that sounds wrong. Our intention in creating this site is to bring some of these issues to the fore, so we – as a community – can respond. We want good renewables projects – not badly designed ones that are foisted on local land owners. Perhaps you could explain how a company gets the right to put power lines through someones land without their approval.

  3. When the Spa Country Guardians talk about ‘subsonic’ noise they presumably mean ‘infrasound’. Subsonic means at speeds below that of sound. Infrasound is sound at frequencies that are inaudible to humans.

    The carbon debt due to the concrete in the bases of the wind turbines will probably be paid back in the first day or early on the second day that the turbine operates. (My calculations are at http://ramblingsdc.net/Australia/WindProblems.html#CO2_released_from_wind-farm_concrete).

    Wind turbines inefficient? Not true, but if it was, would it matter? Why would there be a problem if the energy in the wind was not efficiently converted to electricity? The efficiency of fossil fuel power stations is a very different matter.

    Unproven benefits. 17% of SA’s power was generated by wind power in 2009.

    Etc. etc.

  4. Thanks for the link to Minor Heresies.

    The strobe issue is a non-issue if dealt with intelligently. I used to work for a company that did obstruction lighting. We installed lights with cutoff reflectors underneath so that they only could be seen from 5 degrees above horizontal. Aircraft (at least in North America) aren’t allowed to fly below 500 feet (152 meters), so they would have to be above the turbines. Observers on the ground would be oblivious.

    Thing was, we were doing it for energy efficiency. If half the sphere of irradiance is cut off and all the light is reflected where it should be, one can cut the wattage of the bulb in half.

    The point to make with the deniers is inevitability. When they say “We can’t run on renewable energy,” ask them, “Why do we call the other kind of energy non-renewable?” Because if it’s dug or drilled out of the ground then it is a limited resource and will inevitably become scarce and expensive. Someday we will all run our societies on renewable energy, whether anyone wants to or not. The only question is how much renewable energy we deploy before non-renewable energy gets scarce.

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