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More mythbusting facts about wind power

More mythbusting facts about wind power

Thanks to the wonder of the modern Internet, old myths about wind power rarely die–they just go on circulating in the anti-windosphere forever.  So as 2011 comes to a close, here is a refresher on some mythbusting facts about wind power:

Wind power is being reliably and cost-effectively integrated with the electric utility system today:
How Wind Energy Is Reliably Integrated on the Grid
Utility Wind Integration State of the Art

Wind power helps save consumers money:
Department of Energy studies show that a Renewable Electricity Standard would reduce consumers’ energy bills by offsetting the use of more expensive fossil fuels.
• A December 2007 DOE study found that a 15% by 2020 Renewable Electricity Standard would reduce electricity prices by 0.3% and natural gas prices by 1%, saving consumers $400 million.
• A 2007 DOE study of a 25% by 2025 RES found that under a higher standard consumers would realize even greater energy savings of $2 billion.
• Similarly, DOE’s 2008 “20% Wind Energy by 2030”³ study found consumers would save as much as $150 billion from reduced natural gas costs if the U.S. obtained 20% of its electricity from wind energy, which would have far-reaching benefits for the U.S. economy, since natural gas is used for everything from home heating to fertilizer production and a variety of industrial processes.
For the 30 states with the least installed wind capacity and the District of Columbia, a group for which wind only accounted for 0.3% of electricity produced in 2010, electric rates increased by an average of 26.74% between 2005 and 2010.  For the 20 states that produced the largest share of their electricity from wind (ranging from 2% to 15.4%) in 2010, consumer electricity prices increased an average of only 15.72%. 
When one looks at the top wind states, the difference is even more striking.  For the 40 states with least wind installed and DC, prices rose by an average of 34.10%.  For the top 10 states in wind generation (with wind providing between 5.1% and 15.4% of electricity), electricity prices increased an average of only 10.94%, or one-third as much as in the 40 low wind use states.

Denmark is a success story for wind energy:
Denmark’s electric sector CO2 emissions fell from 44 million tons in 1991 to 23 million tons in 2007, a reduction of nearly 50%, while electricity consumption increased by over 20% during that period. Denmark being the world leader in deploying wind energy played an instrumental role in that success.
Wind Power in Denmark and the U.S.

Wind turbines use almost no electricity to power internal systems:
About one-tenth of one percent of the output of a wind turbine is used for powering various systems in the wind turbine. In contrast, 5% or more of a typical coal power plant’s electric output is devoted to serving so-called “parasitic loads.”

The average capacity of wind farms in the U.S. is 32%, not the much lower numbers often claimed by wind opponents:
2010 Wind Technologies Market Report, U.S. Department of Energy, May 2011

Wind power reduces fossil fuel use and associated emissions:
For the goal of reducing the use of expensive fossil fuels and harmful emissions like carbon dioxide – the reasons wind energy is being installed – energy is all that matters while considerations of capacity are completely irrelevant. In fact, since peak electric demand is now declining in the U.S. in part due to the success of tools like energy efficiency and demand response, in most of the country the power plants we already have will be more than sufficient to meet electric demand for the foreseeable future, making discussions about needing new capacity even more irrelevant. Moreover, recent studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory have shown that when you combine wind resources from many regions the output becomes very stable, so that nearly the full energy output of the wind turbine can be relied on for meeting system capacity needs. For more, see these resources:  
Wind Power and Energy Storage
Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study

All power plants (not just wind farms) rely on other power plants when they are not available to produce electricity. In fact, one of the main reasons why we have an electricity transmission system in the first place is so that other power plants can pick up the slack when a large power plant experiences a problem and is forced to shut down instantaneously, as all power plants do fairly regularly. Utility system operators already deal regularly with massive swings in electricity demand and in the output of conventional generators. Also, the amount of electricity generated by wind farms changes slowly and predictably; failures at conventional (nuclear and fossil-fueled) power plants occur instantaneously without warning. The fast-acting reserves utility system operators must have on standby 24/7/365 for conventional outages typically cost dozens of times more than the slower-acting reserves needed for wind’s variability. It is more appropriate to talk about the need to back up large conventional power plants than about backing up wind power.

Wildlife impacts of wind are generally small, and the wind industry is working proactively with conservation groups and government wildlife agencies to address the problems that do exist:
Wind energy is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity.  Wind energy emits no air pollution, water pollution, or greenhouse gases, requires no mining or drilling for fuel, creates no hazardous waste, and uses virtually no water.  All of these advantages are beneficial to wildlife, and they are not shared by any non-renewable energy source.

Wind power does not pose a serious hazard to birds in general.  While some birds do collide with wind turbines at most sites, modern wind power plants are collectively far less harmful to birds than are radio towers, tall buildings, airplanes, vehicles, numerous other man-made objects–and cats.

With regard to bat collisions, since 2003, industry has been a part of the Bats & Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), which has been conducting research to quantify the risks for bats at potential wind energy sites and finding ways to reduce fatalities at operating projects. BWEC is a partnership with Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Regarding the issue of wind turbine sound, the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations (AWEA and CanWEA) established a scientific advisory panel in 2009 to conduct a review of current literature available on the issue of perceived health effects of wind turbines. The panel found that the sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique, and that there is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds, that they could plausibly have direct adverse health effects.

The energy input/emissions associated with building and installing a wind turbine are recovered within a matter of months:
Life cycle assessment of offshore and onshore sited wind power plants based on Vestas V90-3.0-MW turbines, 2006

Most of the steel, copper, aluminum, and other materials in a wind turbine can be recycled and reused:
Life cycle assessment of offshore and onshore sited wind power plants based on Vestas V90-3.0-MW turbines, 2006

Wind power's actual land use is small:
Only 2-5% of the land area of a typical wind plant is actually taken up by wind turbines and other equipment, while the remaining 95-98% can continue being used for farming, ranching, or whatever its prior use was. A 2008 report by the U.S. Department of Energy (http://www.20percentwind.org) concluded that obtaining 20% of the nation’s electricity from wind energy would use less land than is currently occupied by the city of Anchorage, Alaska.

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