Fact check: American Energy Alliance’s anti-wind cartoon caricatures facts
The American Energy Alliance, a fossil-fuel funded group, recently posted a cartoon online consisting of a series of recycled anti-wind myths (hey, at least they believe in recycling). From our perspective, their cartoon is indeed good for a chuckle, as every one of its so-called facts about wind power has previously been thoroughly rebutted. Actually:
American wind power is rapidly growing. Wind energy last year was the leading source of new electrical generation in America. Over the past five years, it has accounted for 35% of all new electrical generating capacity, more than twice as much as coal and nuclear combined.
The U.S. Department of Energy, under the George W. Bush Administration, estimated that wind power could provide 20% of U.S. electricity needs by 2030. We’re ahead of schedule to meet that goal nationwide, and it’s already been reached statewide, in Iowa and South Dakota. Today, U.S. wind turbines power the equivalent of 13 million homes (or to put it another way, as much electricity as the entire state of Michigan uses), and regularly peak at over half of all the electricity in Colorado.
1. Wind power’s impact on the environment is relatively low when compared to most energy sources. The fact is that wind energy will always be a vanishingly small factor in human-caused bird fatalities. On the basis of an analysis late last year of publicly available studies conducted at over 100 wind farms, it is estimated that less than 150,000 birds are killed annually by wind power generation. In contrast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and other organizations estimate that 100 million to 1 billion birds die in collisions with buildings each year, 60 million or more may be killed by vehicles, and up to 2 million are killed in oil and wastewater pits. Even so, the wind energy industry has a long record of proactive, collaborative efforts on wildlife issues and seeking ways to avoid, minimize and mitigate any impacts it has. Current efforts to reduce impacts on eagles demonstrate the industry’s leadership in the energy sector in preserving American wildlife.
2. The wind industry has taken a systematic approach to identifying potential impacts on birds, bats and other wildlife. The wind power industry is engaged in initiatives aimed at reducing, if not eliminating, those impacts.
One example is the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC), which was formed in 2003, by the American Wind Energy Association, Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in order to research ways to mitigate effects on bats. BWEC is investigating several promising techniques to reduce impacts, such as acoustic deterrents and potential mitigation through changes in operations.
3. Wind is a 100% pure, clean energy source. Wind power is one of the most compatible energy resources for our environment. Though wind turbines change views wherever they placed, no energy source is invisible.
By displacing polluting energy from fossil fuels with emissions-free electricity, which generates nearly no waste and uses no water in the production of power, wind energy provides a net benefit to wildlife and human health.
4. Wind turbine sound: hear it for yourself. Just like almost anything in life—cars, stereos, your coworkers or the wind itself—wind turbines do make sound. Modern turbine designs have greatly reduced those sounds to the point where normally what you hear at a wind farm is a light "whooshing" sound of the blades passing through the air. Other factors do play a part, such as distance from the turbine, height, topography, vegetation, and wind conditions, but overall wind farms are very quiet compared to other industrial facilities. In fact, because the wind is blowing whenever the turbines are spinning, that "whooshing" sound is often lost in the sound of the wind itself.
Sounds are often hard to describe, which is why the best way to form your own opinion is to visit a modern wind farm. But since getting to a wind farm isn't easy for many of us, here are a few comparisons of noise levels measured in decibels for various activities:
· Jet engine at takeoff 140db
· Ambulance siren 120 db
· Chainsaw 110 db
· Power Hand Drill 98 db
· Tractor 96 db
· Hair Dryer / Power Lawn Mower 90 db
· Normal conversation 60 db
· Wind turbine 50 db
· Whisper in ear 30 db
5. All power plants are backed up by all other power plants. On several occasions, wind power has had to back up fossil fuel powered energy resources. Failures at large fossil and nuclear power plants occur instantaneously and without warning, requiring grid operators to keep large quantities of expensive, fast-acting reserves on hand 24/7/365 to be ready in case an outage occurs. In contrast, changes in the aggregate output of a wind fleet occur gradually and are predictable
For example, in February of last year, dozens of fossil-fired power plants failed in a cold snap in Texas, causing rolling blackouts. In another example, earlier this year, a nuclear power plant in California had to be taken offline after jellyfish clogged its water intake equipment.
6. The U.S. utility-scale wind industry uses a negligible amount of permanent magnets at present. If the global wind industry were to move to direct-drive technology in the future and require more permanent magnets, the technological capability to do without them would still exist if doing so became a strategic necessity.
7. When a wind farm is developed, the vast majority of land can still be used for its original purposes, and typically does not require extensive forest clearing. Ranching, farming, logging, wildlife habitat, and recreation can all carry on as usual whenever land is developed for wind power.
Only 2% to 5% of the land within a wind farm’s boundaries is needed for the turbines, roads, and electrical substations. For example, to meet the proposed goal of wind power providing 20% of the United States’ electricity needs by 2030, a land footprint less than the size of Anchorage, Alaska, would be needed.
8. Wind power currently supports 75,000 good quality, well-paying jobs. The U.S. Department of Energy found that with the right policies in place, by aiming for 20% of our electricity needs fueled by wind power by 2030, the industry could support roughly 500,000 jobs in the U.S., with an annual average of more than 150,000 workers employed directly.
9. Wind energy keeps electric rates affordable and saves consumers money. Wind power provides long-term price stability by allowing utilities to lock in rates for 20-30 years, hedging against increases for other forms of energy and insulating utilities and their ratepayers from future fuel price shocks.
In fact, regions of the country that have experienced significant growth in wind energy over the last several years have also seen significant declines in wholesale power prices, according to Wall Street analysis firm Bernstein Research.
So that’s why the AEA cartoon becomes just the latest example of how it’s important to be careful who you listen to, when considering all the benefits of wind energy.