With all the hoopla going around for and against wind farms going up all over the US, including here on the Great Lakes and off of Nantucket Sound, I feel it is important to weigh in with a little fact checking on “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) claims. After reading all the comments that are inevitably posted to every article involving the wind industry, I feel it is important to quash all the falsehoods associated with wind power.
I’ll start by saying that I am first and foremost pro-environment before anything else. If “evidence” is ever found during an environmental impact study that a wind farm will harm the local ecosystem, I will be the first in line to oppose it’s construction. Now let’s see some comments from these related links.
First let’s start with the argument that “wind turbines do not produce enough electricity to be a viable investment.” If this was true, then even with government subsidies, wind farm developers would go bankrupt soon. Instead wind farms are a 30 year success story in the US alone. My favorite success story is of farmers in Minnesota and their community owned wind crop.
“Wind turbines kill a lot of birds.” This is also not true. With new asynchronous turbine generator technology, wind turbines spin at about 12 rotations per minute. Birds have better eyesight than humans and we can see them just fine. A friend of mine who works on a wind farm in Oregon says he sees more birds fly into the window at the visitors center than he does into wind turbine blades. Other technologies are also being implemented to ensure the safety of birds such as radar devices that detect incoming bird flocks that shut down the turbines if they are on a collision course.
“Offshore wind turbines are an eyesore and will drive away tourism.” Why is it that a sailboat on the horizon is beautiful, but a wind turbine is not? Every time I drive by a wind farm with someone, both of us are breaking our necks to look at them, including people that are opponents to wind turbines. I think this is one of those things that will die off as the turbines go up. There is evidence in Europe that suggests wind turbines help with tourism and actually drive more revenue due to boat tours and other related tours. It was the same for the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco and the Sears Tower in Chicago. People said it would be an eyesore and now they are landmarks of innovation in their respective cities. Change is something that is slow and difficult to embrace.
“Offshore wind farms will disrupt the underwater ecosystem.” A recent article in Field and Stream magazine mentioned that universities and coral reef restoration organizations agree that the best way to regrow coral reef is on concrete structures. Moreover, there are studies being done in fresh water lakes to see if there is any impact to the fishing industry or underwater ecosystems. So far no evidence.
“We need to stop letting foreign countries invest in our communities.” This one is simple, American investment firms… here is your wake up call. Start investing in our community owned wind projects and this issue is solved.
“Wind turbines are loud.” I live about 200 yards from a freeway and it is two times louder that an entire wind farm. Go visit a wind farm then tell me they are loud.
“Wind turbines will never replace fossil fuels.” No one actually believes we will replace fossil fuels with wind turbines in the foreseeable future. The addition of more wind turbines may prevent the need for additional fossil fuel power plants. Every kilowatt hour of clean electricity produced is CO2 that is not dumped into the air we breath. Each wind turbine is considered carbon neutral after approximately seven months of operation, offsetting its own carbon emissions from manufacturing, shipping, and construction. However, there have been studies (admittedly inconclusive by the researcher at MIT) that wind turbines may affect the climate by slowing down the wind and through the friction caused by the wind hitting the blades.
“Shadow flicker from turbine blades is known to cause headaches and other related illness.” This is occasionally raised as an issue by close neighbors of wind farm projects. A wind turbine’s moving blades can cast a moving shadow on a nearby residence, depending on the time of the year (which determines how low the sun is in the sky) and time of day. It is possible to calculate very precisely whether a flickering shadow will in fact fall on a given location near a wind farm, and how many hours in a year it will do so. Therefore, it should be easy to determine whether this is a potential problem.
Many of the common myths behind nimby arguments have been demystified above. While much of the information used was provided by wind technicians in the field, the American Wind Energy Association, and other renewable energy sites, those of you who may have updated information are encouraged to comment and add their reference.