Fact Check

The Truth About Wind Power

The Truth About Wind Power

How do you talk to a wind skeptic?

When we meet someone with strongly held views different from our own, it helps to listen first for what they care about. If we start out by telling someone they’re wrong, even with the best evidence, most people just dig in further. Affirming shared values, such as energy independence, tax relief, or the world we leave our grandchildren, offers a path to respond that doesn’t threaten another’s worldview. Then, we can tell the inspiring stories of American wind power and stand a far better chance of being heard.

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. Over 500 factories in 43 states in the U.S. supply chain help avoid shipping large, heavy turbine components over longer distances.
  • Wind energy is holding down consumers’ electric bills across the country, 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.
  • 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.

Homegrown

America can get 20% of its electricity from the wind by 2030, a projection from the George W. Bush administration which the U.S. Department of Energy recently updated.

  • The U.S. is number one in wind energy worldwide, generating more electricity from wind than even China and Germany.
  • Over half the value of U.S. wind farms in now made-in-the-USA.
  • 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.
  • Since 2008, wind has driven over $100 billion of private investmentinto the U.S. economy.
  • American wind power fosters economic development in all 50 states.
  • Wind plants leave 98-99% of a property-owner’s surrounding land free for other uses such as farming, ranching, wildlife habitat, and recreation. As a result, producing enough wind electricity to power 20% of the grid would use the amount of land equivalent to that occupied by the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

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.
  • By expanding to 35% of the grid by 2050, wind energy can cumulatively avoid more than 12.3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to one-third of global annual carbon emissions.
  • 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 twice as productive as Germany’s on average. Thanks to our world-class wind resources, wind energy costs far less in the U.S. than in Europe.
  • 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.
  • Large amounts of wind energy are being reliably integrated in Europe, drastically reducing pollution across the continent. 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. Other European nations obtain 15-30% of their electricity from wind energy, allowing them to reduce by half their electric sector carbon emissions per amount of electricity generated over the last 10 years.
  • 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

THE RHETORIC: The Production Tax Credit undermines and distorts price signals in wholesale electricity markets.

THE REALITY: The Production Tax Credit is almost never factored into wholesale market prices. Wind energy does reduce electricity costs for consumers by displacing more expensive forms of energy, but this occurs only because wind has no fuel costs. 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.
  • For example, transmission bottlenecks, periods of low demand, and low-priced shale gas combined have a 1,450 times greater impact on Exelon’s nuclear plant revenue than all instances of negative prices, most of which were actually caused by Exelon’s nuclear plants and not wind energy.

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 reduces the tax burden on private investment.
  • 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.
  • Over the last 100 years, American taxpayers have paid over $500 billion to subsidize the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. Many of these incentives are permanent, making them more valuable to investors, and these incentives continue to this day.
    • “For more than half a century, federal energy tax policy focused almost exclusively on increasing domestic oil and gas reserves and production,” the Congressional Research Service noted.
  • From 1950-2010, 70% of all energy subsidies went to fossil fuels, with less than 10% going to all renewables, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
  • With tax relief, investment in clean wind energy is encouraged, providing communities billions in local and state taxes.

AFFORDABILITY & RELIABILITY +

Reliability

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

THE REALITY: Grid operators already reliably integrate large amounts of wind energy.

  • Wind energy only marginally increases total power system variability, as 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 large quantities of fast-acting, expensive reserves ready 24/7. Wind changes tend to be gradual and predictable, making them far less costly to accommodate using less expensive slower-acting reserves.
  • When wind turbines are spread over large areas, their output becomes far more constant and even easier to accommodate.
  • Wind in 2014 reliably provided more than 25% of the electricity in South Dakota and Iowa, and more than 12% of the electricity needs in 9 states. At certain points in time, the main Colorado and Texas power systems have obtained more than 60% and 40% of their electricity from wind energy.
  • Using their sophisticated controls and power electronics, modern wind plants can provide the same grid reliability services as conventional power plants, in many cases better than conventional plants.

The Affordability of Wind

THE RHETORIC: Wind energy is expensive.

THE REALITY: Wind power is affordable and helps hold down the price of other fuels.

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.
  • The wind industry is helping to fund research into White-Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease, which has devastated cave dwelling bats throughout the Northeast and Midwest and is viewed by experts as the single greatest near-term threat to their populations.
  • The wind industry voluntarily studies and mitigates for wildlife impacts more so 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; 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.

  • The 30-year eagle incidental take permit program, which is available to all sources of eagle mortality and not just the wind industry, is at its heart a conservation program that is designed to provide limited legal certainty to otherwise lawful activities that may take an eagle, but only after first taking steps to avoid and reduce the potential impacts and then fully offsetting any remaining impacts associated with the loss of an individual bird.
  • While an extremely unfortunate event, that the wind industry takes very seriously, eagle fatalities are a rare and random occurrence at wind energy facilities.
  • Analysis of publicly available data of all known eagle fatalities indicates collision with turbines at modern wind farms is responsible for less than 3 percent of documented human-caused deaths of golden eagles, and only a few bald eagles in the history of the industry, with vastly greater amounts attributed to electrocutions, vehicle strikes, lead poisoning, drowning in stock tanks, illegal shootings, etc.
  • However, no one takes the issue of eagle losses at wind farms more seriously than the wind industry itself and we have and will continue to work with regulators and the conservation community to reduce these impacts further.
  • 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 at the earliest wind farms in California that were developed in the 1980s long before the interaction between eagles and turbines was understood.
  • Through a process known as repowering, where the shorter, more numerous, faster-rotating, older turbines are replaced with taller, less numerous, slower-rotating modern turbines, which are sited based on improved siting practices, it is estimated that eagle fatalities will be reduced by as much as 80% at those sites.
  • The wind industry proactively supports research on eagle populations and trends, their behavior, and identifying means for reducing not only our industry’s impacts but those of others. Additionally through regulatory requirements and improved siting practices, voluntarily undertaken by the wind industry to further reduce impacts, risk to eagles is evaluated before projects are sited and built. Further, operators monitor for any potential impacts after construction, and if any are identified, take steps to avoid, minimize and mitigate for them. All of the above provide meaningful measures to ensure that wind energy and eagles can successfully coexist.

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 one of the only energy sources without population-level impacts, such as climate change-related habitat loss.

  • No form of energy generation is free from impact. 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.
  • Incidental losses at turbine sites will never be more than an extremely small fraction of bird deaths caused by human activities—an estimated 134,000-230,000 of the more than 5 billion small passerines in North America according to the most comprehensive analysis to date. Other causes include buildings (550 million), power lines (130 million), cars (80 million), pesticide poisoning, (67 million), and radio and cell towers (6.8 million).
  • 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.

LAND & RESOURCE +

Property Values

THE RHETORIC: Wind farms hurt property values.

THE REALITY: Long-term, comprehensive studies show wind power doesn’t affect property values. Rather it is a driver for economic development in the host communities and supports local municipal services that benefit 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.
  • In 2014, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) along with University of Connecticut released a co-authored report titled “The Relationship Between Wind Turbines and Residential Property Values in Massachusetts”, which examined 122,000 home sales near 26 wind facilities in densely populated Massachusetts that occurred between 1998 and 2012, comparing transactions within a half-mile of constructed wind turbines (i.e. 1,500 of the sales) to similar transactions between one half-mile and five miles away. Based on a detailed analysis of the data the researchers were unable to uncover any impacts to nearby home property values.
  • This study was the third of three major studies LBNL has conducted on this topic (the first was published in 2009, and the second in August 2013), and in all cases, using three different datasets, the researchers found no statistical evidence that operating wind turbines have had any measureable impact on home sales prices.
  • Speaking of the 2009 report, a report author stated “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.”

HEALTH & SAFETY +

Shadow Flicker

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

THE REALITY: Shadow flicker is predictable, harmless, and passes quickly. It is based on the sun’s angle, turbine location, and the distance to an observer; it can be avoided by several methods.

  • 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.
  • An expert panel for the National Academy of Sciences found shadow flicker “harmless to humans.” A study commissioned by the Massachusetts Departments of Environmental Protection and Public Health found that according to scientific evidence shadow flicker does not pose a risk for causing 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 tens of thousands of 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.
  • Even 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, 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 no evidence that wind farms cause any negative physical health effects.

  • Typically, two people can carry on a conversation at normal voice levels even while standing directly below a turbine.
  • Thousands of people worldwide live near wind farms with no ill effects.
  • Emitting virtually no air or water pollution, wind energy is essential to reducing energy-sector public health impacts.
  • Studies and government health organizations around the world have given wind a clean bill of health. For example, a Massachusetts study found no evidence for a set of health effects from exposure to wind turbines or for the existence what some have tried to characterize as “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”
  • 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 found that a “nocebo” effect can take place, the opposite of the well-known “placebo” effect. The nocebo effect describes a situation in which individuals who are led to expect physical symptoms may actually experience these symptoms, whether or not the supposed cause of the symptoms is actually present. In this case, increased exposure to misinformation about wind actually seems to increase the likelihood that certain individuals will report negative health effects such as headaches or nausea, although no scientific evidence shows wind turbines cause any such health effects.

ENVIRONMENT +

Pollution

THE RHETORIC: Wind power doesn’t reduce carbon pollution.

THE REALITY: Wind power is one of the biggest, fastest, cheapest solutions to carbon pollution and the climate changes it contributes to.

  • U.S. wind power avoids the carbon pollution of 28 million cars.
  • A typical wind project repays its carbon footprint in six months or less, providing decades of zero emission energy that displaces fossil fuel energy.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reviewed all published research and concluded that wind energy’s carbon footprint is a fraction of all fossil fuels’ and even lower than nuclear and most other renewable energy sources.
  • Every study by utilities, independent power system operators, and government entities has found those pollution reductions are as large or larger than expected.
  • Comprehensive analysis of real-world power plant emissions data found that each MWh of wind energy on the Western U.S. power system reduces carbon emissions by 1190 pounds. Wind’s marginal impact on power system variability only reduced those savings by 2.4 pounds, with wind providing 99.8% of the expected emissions savings.
  • Wind’s “fuel” is free, so electric grid operators use wind power to displace an equal amount of energy from the most expensive operating power plant, which is almost always the least efficient fossil-fired power plant.

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.
  • While 1980s-vintage turbines remain in three California passes—Altamont, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio—where the first commercial wind farms were installed, thousands have been removed. Many more are scheduled for “repowering” by today’s major wind companies in the next few years since the wind resource is excellent there.
  • Removal costs typically are more than covered by the salvage value of spare parts and scrap metal, as a detailed study in West Virginia found.

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 offers a new energy opportunity for America. 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 with over 8,771 MW of installed capacity (as of 2014), which is projected to more than double by 2020.
  • Offshore wind is a vast American energy source close to population centers and corresponds to periods of high demand, when wholesale electricity prices tend to be most expensive.
  • Offshore wind prices can be locked in for 20 years or more, acting as a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices.
  • The Department of Energy found that the U.S. could install a total of 86,000 MW of offshore projects by 2050, creating jobs in coastal communities.
  • Offshore wind costs will likely come down as the U.S. industry reaches economies of scale; the cost of land-based wind energy dropped by more than half between 2009 and 2014.

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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