There are several myths related to wind energy that serve as deterrents to growth in this important emerging green energy source. Let's shed light on some of the common myths and discover the truth behind wind energy production.
Myth: Wind energy is more expensive than natural gas and coal burning power plants.
There is a strongly held belief that wind energy is much more expensive than natural gas and coal burning power plants. However, the increased cost, when spread across the population, is minimal. The projected increase to consumers' monthly bills is less than a dollar. Additionally, wind energy is not victim to rising fuel costs and a decreased supply, which could result in increased affordability in the future. The major cost associated with wind energy is the upfront cost of construction of turbines and transmission lines. But, even with a high initial investment, the overall cost increase to consumers is minimal.
Myth: Wind energy development is dependent upon tax incentives.
It is true that improvements to wind power are only possible with the tax incentives currently being offered. The tax incentives substantially offset the cost of initial development. However, all energy sources receive tax benefits and incentives. There is some concern that the benefits are only available to the large corporations coming in and building wind farms and that local economies don't benefit from the tax incentives. While this can be true, if municipalities become more involved they too can benefit from the tax incentives. In fact, one large 108-turbine project in rural Prowers County, Colorado, increased the country's tax base by 29%.
Myth: Wind farms have a negative impact on real-estate values.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory completed a study in 2009 that looked at sales of 7,500 homes in 11 states. It found "Neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of homes to those facilities was found to have any consistent, measurable, and significant effect on the selling prices of those homes."
Myth: Wind energy is unreliable and will need significant and costly back-up energy sources.
Wind energy is intermittent depending upon the amount of wind generated. Large-scale wind energy is always discussed as a supplementary, and never as a primary, energy source. Conventional power sources also have difficulties with reliability and consistency of service delivery. For instance, conventional coal burning power plants must complete repairs, and must shut down production to do so. The electrical grid is currently designed so that electricity production exceeds the demands made at any one time. This helps to account for any times of decreased production. The intermittent energy production from wind farms is no more than, and even less so, other conventional energy sources. In fact, in Denmark and Spain, where wind energy accounts for 20 - 40% of the energy production, there are no greater difficulties with reliability than in places without the high wind energy percentage.
Myth: Wind turbines are harmful to humans due to infrasound, electromagnetic interference, shadow flicker, and blade glint.
There have been complaints of increased anxiety, learning difficulties, hearing loss, sleep disturbance, and annoyance for people living and working near wind farms. Infrasound is the most common source of this complaint. Infrasound noise is sound below the hearing level. The World Health Organization states that "There is no reliable evidence that sounds below the hearing threshold produce physiological or psychological effects". The actual noise produced by wind turbines at a distance of 1000 feet is comparable to the background sound in a typical home.
Electromagnetic interference is another common complaint. First, there are concerns over wind turbines interfering with television and radio broadcast signals. Modern wind turbine rotor blades are constructed of synthetic materials, which greatly reduce the possibility of interference. Additionally, wind farms are now constructed in areas that will not cause problems with interference. Presently, turbine towers are housing communication devices so that instead of interfering, wind turbines are in fact enhancing communication broadcast signals.
Concern also comes from the belief that electromagnetic or radioactive energy is emitted from wind turbines. This is simply not true due to the fact that the generators are housed within metal shielding structures.
Shadow flicker is caused by the light changes that occur from wind turbine rotor blades, with concern regarding the flicker acting as a seizure trigger. Currently, research shows no danger of epileptic seizures. However, more research is needed in this area.
Lastly, there is concern related to blade glint, or bright reflections from the turbine rotor blades. Turbine blades are covered with a low reflectivity coating that greatly reduces any glint off the rotor blades. This simply is not a realistic problem.
It is clear that there are several concerns regarding the possibility of negative health effects for humans resulting from wind energy. However, it is interesting to note that those who benefited financially from wind farms, through land leases, etc., have not reported any adverse health effects from wind turbines, despite having the same exposure levels as those who reported adverse health effects.
Myth: Wind turbines kill too many birds and bats.
It is true that some bird and bat deaths do occur from wind turbines. However, the number of deaths from wind turbines is comparable to deaths caused by other tall structures such as radio and cellular towers and buildings. In fact, for every 10,000 birds killed by human activity, less than 1 is killed by wind turbines while 1,000 are killed by house cats.
There were documented problems with wind turbines erected in the 1980's at Altamont Pass in California. These turbines unfortunately resulted in a high number of raptor deaths. However, since then, extensive research is always conducted into animal flight patterns prior to the construction of wind farms to ensure that minimal deaths will occur. Additionally, it has been shown that painting one rotor blade black, a practice now commonly ascribed to, significantly reduces the amount of deaths due to an apparent ability to more easily see the blades. Finally, the effects of carbon emissions and mining for coal and natural gas have a greater negative impact on birds and other animals than wind turbines.
All options for alternative energy involve trade-offs, but it is important to analyze the facts about alternative energy and not embrace or condemn it based on myths and speculation. The copper industry supports the efficient and sustainable use of all electrical energy. With all forms of electrical generation, copper plays a vital role in efficiently and safely transferring the energy to buildings and the grid. Copper has several important properties that make it a "natural" for electrical wiring.
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Additional Sources of Information
- Proceedings of the Wind Energy and Birds/Bats Workshop: Understanding and Resolving Bird and Bat Impacts. Washington, D.C. May 18-19, 2004.
- A Summary and Comparison of Bird Mortality from Anthropogenic Causes with an Emphasis on Collisions ; Erickson, Johnson, Young.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory
- American Wind Energy Association
- National Health and Medical Research Counsel - Australian Government