Fact Check

The Truth About Wind Power

The Truth About Wind Power

How do you talk to a wind skeptic?

Especially when they’ve heard or read something they believe to be true.  Equip yourself with these facts and sources, and whenever you hare the following myths, be prepared to share the truth about wind power. We’ve optimized this site to be viewed on any smartphone or tablet device, so you can bookmark it and have it on hand.

THE CASE FOR WIND +

Affordable

  • The average price of U.S. wind power declined by 58% from 2009 to 2013.
  • Taller towers, longer blades, improved gearboxes, and over 30 years of experience in siting wind turbines to maximize their power output have helped drive down costs.
  • Made-in-the-USA manufacturing also contributes to wind’s affordability, since transportation can be up to 20% of the cost of a wind farm. Over 500 factories in 43 states in the U.S. supply chain help avoid shipping such large, heavy objects over longer distances.
  • Wind energy is holding down consumers’ electric bills across the country1, as utilities flock to add more to their portfolio at fixed prices for up to 20-25 years and hedge against uncertain fuel costs. It’s like having a fixed-rate mortgage instead of an adjustable-rate mortgage.
  • U.S. wind power is increasingly cost-competitive with all other forms of electric generation, including shale gas at today’s unsustainably low prices, and factoring in the incentives that all forms of energy receive.

Homegrown

America can get 20% of its electricity from the wind by 2030, a projection from the George W. Bush administration1 which the U.S. Department of Energy is currently updating all the way to 2050.

  • Wind energy has become a new drought-resistant cash crop for America’s family farmers and ranchers, using no water, and paying millions of dollars a year in lease payments and local taxes in the typical state.
  • A diverse portfolio helps insulate consumers from price shocks when prices for fuel go up. Wind energy requires no fuel but the wind, which is free.
  • Since 2008, wind has driven over $100 billion of private investment into the U.S. economy.
  • American wind power fosters economic development in all 50 states2.
  • Enough electricity to power 20% of the grid could be obtained from a land area the size of Anchorage, Alaska, while leaving 98-99% of a property-owner’s surrounding land free for other uses such as farming, ranching, wildlife habitat, and recreation.

Clean

Wind energy is among the fastest, cheapest, largest-scale ways to reduce carbon pollution today.

  • U.S. wind power avoids the carbon pollution of 28 million cars.
  • As wind energy continues scaling up from today’s 4% to 20% of the U.S. power grid and beyond, it can reduce America’s entire carbon footprint by 10%1.
  • Wind-rich states can profit from meeting new environmental standards for power plants by selling this solution to pollution.

POLICY +

Comparing U.S. to Europe

THE RHETORIC: Incentives for wind power’s growth in Germany and across much of Europe aren’t working and are raising costs for consumers.

THE REALITY: Comparing policy growing wind power in Europe to policy in the U.S. is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

  • Wind turbines in the U.S. are roughly 50 percent more productive than Germany’s on average. Thanks to our world-class wind resources, wind energy costs far less in the U.S. than in Europe.1,2
  • Europe sets a fixed price for renewables above the market price and requires that grid operators use wind before other resources. Neither of those policies exist in the U.S. Our production and market-based policies reward results.3
  • Investing in homegrown American wind power is a good deal. Adding wind power helps us grow our economy, create jobs, save consumers money, and displace the least efficient power sources while helping to keep the lights on.
  • Germany’s policies are still very popular there and are not significantly driving up electricity rates — in fact, wholesale electricity prices have declined 20 percent in the last year as wind displaces more expensive forms of electricity there, as it does here.
  • Large amounts of wind energy are being reliably integrated in Europe, drastically reducing pollution across the continent. Some European nations obtain 15-30% of their electricity from wind energy, allowing them to reduce by half their total emissions per amount of electricity generated.
  • Wind is steadily reducing Germany’s emissions, and these reductions would have been even greater had Germany not also shut down many of its nuclear power plants for unrelated reasons.
  • Providing Germany’s wind generation in 2012 with gas generation instead would have required around 400 billion cubic feet of gas, 1/3 of Germany’s total gas imports from Russia.

Negative Prices and “Market Distortion”

THE RHETORIC: The PTC undermines and distorts price signals in wholesale electricity markets.

THE REALITY: Wind energy reduces electricity costs for consumers by displacing more expensive forms of energy. This impact is entirely market-driven, is widely seen as beneficial, and occurs for all low-fuel-cost sources of energy, including nuclear.

  • The wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) is almost never factored into the electricity market prices that other power plants receive.
  • Regardless of whether a wind plant receives the PTC, the wind plant does not have the highest operating cost and therefore does not set the market price.
  • Negative electricity prices are extremely rare and are highly localized in remote areas where they have little or no impact on other power plants.
  • Across the U.S., much-needed transmission upgrades are eliminating the remaining instances of negative prices.
  • Transmission bottlenecks, periods of low demand, and low-priced shale gas combined impact Exelon’s nuclear plant revenue 1,450 times more than negative prices2.

Energy Incentives

THE RHETORIC: Renewable energy  is subsidized at higher rates than fossil fuels.

THE REALITY: Fossil fuels have received many times more in incentives than renewables. Wind’s primary incentive is the Production Tax Credit, a performance-based incentive that drove over $25 billion in private investment in 2012.

  • Fossil fuels in their start-up period got five times more in government incentives than renewable energy has, and nuclear got 10 times as much. 1
  • American taxpayers have paid over $500 billion to fossil-fuel industries, through policies that are in many cases permanent, which make them more valuable to investors.
  • “For more than half a century, federal energy tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing domestic oil and gas reserves and production,” according to the Congressional Research Service. “[T]wo major tax preferences were established for oil and gas…Both of these provisions remain in the tax code in limited form today.” 2
  • Since 1950, 70% of all energy subsidies have gone to fossil fuels.3 As recently as 2002-2007, they got nearly five times as much in tax incentives as renewables.4

AFFORDABILITY & RELIABILITY +

Reliability

THE RHETORIC: Because wind is intermittent it threatens the reliability of the electric grid.

THE REALITY: Grid operators in America and worldwide already rely on wind power and successfully integrate it in large amounts.

  • Wind power is even more predictable than the ever-changing electricity supply and demand that utility system operators deal with every day. Most changes in wind energy output are cancelled out by opposite changes in electricity demand or other sources of supply.
  • A large power plant can shut down abruptly at any time, forcing operators to keep enough power for a large city on hot standby 24/7—ready at a moment’s notice. Wind changes tend to be gradual and predictable, making them far less costly to accommodate with alternate sources kept in cold shutdown.
  • When wind turbines are spread over large areas, their output becomes far more constant and even easier for the grid to accommodate.
  • As of 2014, wind reliably provides more than 25% of the electricity in South Dakota and Iowa, and more than 12% of the electricity needs in 9 states.
  • The largest utility in the world, PJM, recently reported adding up to 30 percent of wind power to its mix and would save up to $15 billion a year and reduce air pollution while maintaining electricity reliability1.
  • Xcel Energy’s Colorado power system has obtained more than 60% of its electricity2 at a time from wind energy.
  • Wind energy helped keep the lights on in Texas when fossil-fired power plants failed in a heat wave during the summer of 2011 and helped keep the lights on again during the “polar vortex”3 in early 2014 across much of the U.S.

The Cost of Wind

THE RHETORIC: Wind energy is expensive.

THE REALITY: Adding wind power saves consumers money and helps hold down the price of other fuels.

  • Wind power helps stabilize consumers’ electric rates.  Wind’s costs have declined by more than half in the last five years1, with improved technology and U.S.-based manufacturing,2 “making it competitive with other energy sources.”3
  • New Department of Energy4 data show the eleven states with the most wind energy have saved more on their electric bills than ratepayers in all other states.
  • A May 2013 Synapse Energy Economics report5 found doubling the use of wind energy in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lake states would save consumers close to $7 billion a year.
  • Utilities like wind because it “acts as a hedge against future volatility of natural gas prices.”6 And it offers a long-term contract – utilities can “lock in a price for 25 years,”7 as a fixed-rate home mortgage does versus adjustable rates.
  • When the Midwest utility system operator recently obtained more than 25 percent of its electricity from wind8 (Nov. 23, 2012) it noted, “Wind [is] one of the fuel choices that helps us manage congestion on the system and ultimately helps keep prices low for our customers and the end-use consumer.”
  • Grid operators, state governments, and academic experts have analyzed electricity markets in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, New England, the Southeast, and even Europe9 and found wind energy drives electricity prices down.

How the Lights Stay On

Wind power and solar power are the fastest growing sources of electricity in America and worldwide. We need reliable power at all times, so what happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILDLIFE +

Bats

THE RHETORIC: Wind power and  bats cannot coexist.

THE REALITY: The wind industry is actively engaged in groundbreaking research to reduce bat collisions at wind farms.

  • As a clean energy source, wind is one of the most compatible with wildlife. The wind industry has taken a systematic approach to identifying potential impacts on bats and other wildlife, and is engaged in initiatives to reduce, if not eliminate, those impacts.
  • The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003 by Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), AWEA, and the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. BWEC researches bat losses at wind energy projects and is actively investigating several promising techniques to reduce them, such as acoustic deterrents and potential mitigation through changes in operations.1
  • The wind industry is helping to fund research into White-Nose Syndrome, a disease that has devastated cave-dwelling bats in the Northeast and is among their most serious threats.
  • The wind industry voluntarily studies and mitigates for wildlife impacts more than any other industry, including for wildlife not protected by federal law. This is demonstrated by the inclusion of non-protected bats under the siting practices outlined in the voluntary USFWS “Land-based  Wind Energy Guidelines.”

Eagles

THE RHETORIC: The 30-year take permit is a blank check for the wind industry to kill eagles.

THE REALITY: Eagle fatalities are relatively uncommon, rare event and don’t occur at every site. Still, the wind industry is doing more than any other known mortality source to find ways to reduce its comparatively small impact—and even find ways offset others’ impacts.1 The 30-year eagle incidental take permit program creates one of the best ways that we can conserve eagle populations today and in the future.2

  • No form of energy generation is free from impact and wind power is no exception. However, studies have shown wind energy’s impacts to be the lowest, as it emits no air or water pollution, requires no mining or drilling for fuel, uses no water in the generation of electricity, and creates no hazardous or radioactive waste requiring permanent storage, and yet is held to the highest environmental standards.
  • Eagle fatalities only occur at a very small number of facilities across the country, and a significant mortality rate at individual sites is even rarer—primarily in Altamont Pass, California, siting of early wind farms developed long before the interaction between eagles and turbines was understood.
  • As shorter, more numerous, faster-rotating old turbines at those few sites are replaced through the process of repowering with taller, less numerous, slower-rotating modern turbines, and are sited based on more experience, eagle fatalities are being reduced by an estimated 50%.
  • Even today, the data shows collision with turbines at modern wind farms is responsible for less than two percent of all reported human-caused eagle fatalities, with vastly greater amounts attributed to power lines, vehicle strikes, lead poisoning, drowning in livestock watering tanks, illegal shootings, etc.
  • The wind industry proactively supports research on eagle populations and trends, their behavior, and sources of mortality. Any risk to eagles is evaluated before projects are sited and built. Operators monitor for any impacts after construction, and mitigate for them.
  • The 30-year eagle incidental take permit program provides wind developers, and other permittees, a degree of legal and financial certainty in exchange for providing long-term conservation benefits to the species.
  • Wildlife experts around the world agree climate change is the single greatest threat to birds and all wildlife. Increasing wind power is one of the cheapest, readily-scalable  means to achieve the goal of avoiding harmful carbon emissions and helping solve our country’s climate challenge.3

Birds

THE RHETORIC: Wind turbines are killing birds at an alarming rate

THE REALITY: Wind power is far less harmful to wildlife than traditional energy sources it displaces—, including to birds and their critical habitats. It is the only energy source without population-level impacts, such as climate change-related habitat loss.

  • No form of energy generation is free from impact and wind power is no exception. However, studies have shown wind energy’s impacts to be the lowest, as it emits no air or water pollution, requires no mining or drilling for fuel, uses no water in the generation of electricity, and creates no hazardous or radioactive waste requiring permanent storage, and yet is held to the highest environmental standards.
  • Based on preliminary analysis of data collected from 117 wind farms presented at the USFWS siting guidelines training webinar in April 2014, it is estimated that less than 220,000 birds collide with turbines annually at current installed wind energy capacity (60+ Gigawatts – enough to power the equivalent of over 15.5 million homes).
  • That pales in comparison to other sources of avian mortality like buildings (97-970 million a year), telecommunication towers (some estimate as high as 40-50 million), and oil and waste water pits at oil and gas production fields (2-3 million), among other causes.1,2
  • Even with its relatively low impacts, the wind industry is held to a higher standard and does more to study, avoid, minimize, and mitigate any wildlife impacts than any other industry. Resulting conservation programs by wind developers save habitat and help protect birds.3

LAND & RESOURCE +

Property Values

THE RHETORIC: Wind farms hurt property values.

THE REALITY: Wind power doesn’t affect property values long-term, studies show. It does drive community economic development that benefits all property owners.

  • Scenic views and visibility of human development of all kinds—not just wind power development—can both positively and negatively affect property values.
  • A major study released in August 2013 on wind farms and property values by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) analyzed more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities in 27 counties across nine U.S. states, yet was unable to uncover any impacts to nearby home property values.1
  • “Neither the view of wind energy facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of nearby homes,” the U.S. Department of Energy found. 2
  • “Property tax payments of 1% of the assessed value of a wind project equal approximately $10,000 per megawatt for rural communities  each year,” the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported.2  To calculate additional jobs and spinoff economic activity, see  www.windpoweringamerica.gov/economics.asp.

HEALTH & SAFETY +

Shadow Flicker

THE RHETORIC: The shadows of rotating wind turbines cause negative health effects.

THE REALITY: Shadow flicker is predictable and is based on the sun’s angle, turbine location, and the distance to an observer; it can be mitigated.

  • With modeling, shadows from moving wind blades are predictable and turbines can be sited to minimize flicker  to a few hours a year.
  • Shadow flicker typically lasts just a few minutes near sunrise and sunset and can be addressed through use of proven mitigation techniques such as screening plantings.
  • The rate at which wind turbine shadows flicker is far below the frequency that, according to the Epilepsy Foundation, normally is associated with seizures.

Fire

THE RHETORIC: Turbines often catch fire, and when they do they often send flaming shards into fields and forests.

THE REALITY: A fire at a wind turbine is a rare event, and extensive precautions are taken.

  • Photos on the Internet consist of a handful of incidents over decades of operation of over 100,000 turbines around the world. It would be easy to put together a horror show of plane crashes, yet most of us trust airlines to safely transport us.
  • Such sophisticated equipment, subject to constant motion and sometimes challenging environments, can sometimes fail. Safety measures to prevent fires include systems that change the pitch of blades to prevent over-speed, temperature monitors and automatic shut-off systems to prevent over-heating, lightning protection and arc-flash detection, and remote shut-down. Emergency plans include advance planning and training with local responders.
  • Sensors and data acquisition systems make it possible to analyze why a turbine shuts down or fails. This leads to continuous improvement in technology, operation and maintenance. As a result, wind turbines are remarkably reliable, with 48,000 in operation in the U.S. alone as of 2014, and very few such failures.

Sound

THE RHETORIC: The sound of operating wind turbines causes  a variety of health effects, including  dizziness, headaches, loss of sleep, and more.

THE REALITY: Independent studies conducted around the world, including the U.S. have consistently found that wind farms have no direct impact on physical health.1

  • Many thousands of people worldwide live near wind farms with no ill effects.
  • Typically, two people can carry on a conversation at normal voice levels even while standing directly below a turbine.
  • Emitting virtually no air or water pollution, wind energy is essential to reducing energy-sector public health impacts.
  • In their own independent reviews of available evidence, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health2 and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council3 found that sound from wind turbines does not cause negative health impacts.
  • One example of the many studies that have found wind farms are safe is an independent expert panel established by the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health4 which gave wind a clean bill of health in January 2012 based on analyzing all available scientific studies. The agencies reported that “There is no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines that could be characterized as a ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’…we conclude the weight of the evidence suggests no association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health problems.”
  • A major study in Canada of over a thousand homes confirmed this again, stating “No evidence was found to support a link between exposure to wind turbine noise and any of the self-reported illnesses.”
  • Studies have concluded that a “nocebo” effect can take place, the opposite of the well-known “placebo” effect. The nocebo effect4 describes a situation in which individuals who are led to expect physical symptoms actually experience these symptoms, whether or not the supposed cause of the symptoms are actually present. In this case, misinformation about wind might actually cause individuals to experience real, negative health effects (headaches, nausea) although no scientific evidence shows wind turbines cause health effects.
  • This reinforces the studies and statements from government health organizations  around the world that have noted there is no direct health effect associated with the sounds from wind turbines.

ENVIRONMENT +

Emissions

THE RHETORIC: Wind power doesn’t reduce carbon and may even contribute to climate change.

THE REALITY: Wind power is a leading solution to pollution and climate change.

  • A typical wind project repays its carbon footprint within six months and will last for 25-30 years.
  • A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reviewed all published research and concluded that wind energy’s carbon footprint is a few percent of that of fossil fuels, lower than nuclear, and even lower than nearly all other renewable energy resources.
  • States and countries that have ramped up their use of wind energy have seen lock-step declines in harmful air pollution, according to conclusive U.S. Department of Energy data.1
  • Operational wind energy projects, combined with projects under construction, will avoid 127 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year as of April 2014.
  • Studies by utilities, independent power system operators, and government entities have found those pollution reductions are as large or larger than expected.
  • Wind’s “fuel” is free, so electric grid operators use available wind power first. And each unit of wind energy displaces an equal amount of energy from the most expensive operating power plant – almost always a fossil-fired power plant, especially coal power, which tends to create the most pollution.2
  • Wind power avoids global warming because operating turbines produce no heat or heat-trapping gases. All scientific studies have found that any impact turbines may have on local temperature by mixing warm and cold air is trivially small, and confined to the immediate area.

Old Turbines

THE RHETORIC: Old turbines are left abandoned.

THE REALITY: History shows that old turbines are removed and replaced. Sheer economics drive this practice—the site remains available for energy production and turbines have a high salvage value.

  • Older wind turbines performed well for their time, but are now being replaced with new, more efficient models.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (LBNL) found technological improvements have greatly reduced the operating and maintenance costs while improving productivity. So turbines installed today will last far longer than those installed even a decade ago.
  • While 1980s-vintage turbines remain in three California passes—Altamont, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio—where the first commercial wind farms were installed, 1,500  have been removed to date. Many more are scheduled for “repowering” by today’s major wind companies in the next few years since the wind resource is excellent there.1
  • Removal costs typically are more than covered by the salvage value of spare parts and scrap metal, as a recent detailed study in West Virginia found.2

OFFSHORE +

Case for Offshore

THE RHETORIC: Offshore wind is too  risky and no project will ever be built in the U.S

THE REALITY: Offshore wind has many benefits and is America’s new energy opportunity. Construction will soon begin on the first generation of U.S. projects, and a stable investment tax credit is critical to help launch this industry.

  • Offshore wind is an established global industry that generates a significant amount of electricity in many areas.1
  • Offshore wind is a vast American energy source close to population centers and corresponds to periods of high demand, when other energy sources are most expensive.2
  • Offshore wind prices can be locked in for 20 years or more, acting as a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices.
  • The U.S. has set a goal to develop 54,000 MW of offshore projects by 2030, which could create tens of thousands of jobs.3
  • Offshore wind costs will likely come down; the cost of land-based wind energy has come down 90% since 1980.4
  • Adding offshore wind will help reduce energy prices, as it displaces the most expensive, least efficient power plants first.5
  • Over 15 U.S. offshore wind energy projects have been proposed. The Interior Department in 2010 announced an initiative expected to reduce the permitting time necessary for an offshore project by several years. Major milestones have been achieved since then.

Fact Check

Shauna Theel is the Deputy Director of Digital Media at the American Wind Energy Association. She oversees AWEA's digital media content and strategy, ensuring that the message of clean, affordable, and American wind power is heard loud and clear across media platforms. Prior to joining AWEA, she worked at the watchdog group Media Matters for America for four years. As the Climate and Energy Program Director at Media Matters, she oversaw the group's rapid response communications, long-term research analyses, and outreach efforts related to energy and environmental policy. In this role, she served as the public face of the team, giving interviews to press outlets, and giving presentations everywhere from Capitol Hill to the National Press Club. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley with a degree in Political Science.

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