Maybe you’ve heard some of the myths about wind power. “It kills the birds.” “The turbines are ugly.” “Wind power is inefficient.”
Are they real? No. But are they convincing? You bet.
The truth is, most of us simply don’t know that much about wind power, and that makes it startlingly easy for opponents of renewable energy to derail wind power initiatives. There are legitimate questions about wind energy that should be answered, but many of the lies or half-truths about renewable energy get in the way of an honest discussion.
As consumers and as voters, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we’re as informed as possible to combat the scare tactics against renewable energy. An easy way to start is by debunking some of the most common myths about wind power:
1. LIE: Wind turbines are ugly.
Some of you may remember the hubbub over Ted Kennedy’s and Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s opposition to what eventually became the first offshore wind farm to receive approval from the Obama administration. The Kennedys’ criticized the project as an eyesore, saying it would negatively impact property values.
Unfortunately, the Kennedys are far from unique in their use of this argument. Still, the criticism that wind turbines are “ugly” is a bit hard to swallow.
Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. A number of iconic structures around the world were maligned when they were first constructed. The Washington Monument was panned as “a stalk of asparagus.” In Paris, a number of famous artists, including Guy de Maupassant and Alexandre Dumas, were so enraged by the Eiffel Tower that they signed a fuming letter to the minister of public works. Today, the skylines of both France’s and the United States’ capitals would be unrecognizable without these buildings.
And that’s what could happen to wind turbines, too. They’ll just take some getting used to—especially because they’ve got such a great mission behind them.
2. LIE: Wind turbines are inefficient.
While wind energy outputs vary depending on wind speed, over the course of a year, a modern wind turbine will typically produce about 30 percent of the theoretical maximum output. This percentage is known as wind turbines’ load factor. The load factor of conventional power stations, on the other hand, averages at around 50 percent.
Okay, so wind turbines can produce less energy than regular power stations. That means something—but maybe not what you’d think.
This difference—while noteworthy—hardly constitutes an ironclad argument against wind power. Furthermore, wind power is still a relatively new technology, and investment in it will likely lead to increases in efficiency. In fact, a 2008 study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that expanding wind power to 20 percent (from only 4 percent in 2012) by 2030 is feasible, affordable, and would not affect the reliability of the nation’s power supply.
3. LIE: Wind power is dangerous for birds.
This criticism is my personal favorite, particularly because it mysteriously comes from people who previously seemed apathetic toward bird safety.
Still, some studies have shown that collisions with turbines have resulted in increased bird and bat deaths. With increased environmental impact studies and greater assessment of migratory patterns, however, this can be greatly reduced.
Even without increased precautions, the amount of deaths is negligible when compared to other causes. Annually, around 10,000-40,000 bird deaths in the United States can be linked to wind turbines. Windows, for comparison, result in 100 million to 1 billion bird deaths per year. Cats result in hundreds of millions of bird deaths.
To give even more perspective, wind farms kill roughly 0.27 birds per gigawatt-hour (GWh). Fossil-fueled power stations, on the other hand, kill about 9.4 birds per GWh.
While we should work to make wind power as safe as possible for wildlife, the argument that wind power is a distracting claim that ignores the fact that power lines, cats, windows, and fossil-fuel power plants result in far more bird deaths every year.
4. LIE: Wind turbines negatively affect tourism.
Despite the insistence of wind power critics, there is simply no evidence to suggest that wind farms negatively affect tourism.
In fact, some evidence suggests that the opposite is true. The UK’s first commercial wind farm at Delabole, for example, received 350,000 visitors in its first ten years of operation. Some wind farm developers even build visitor centers, viewing platforms, and other tourist-friendly on their sites.
5. LIE: Wind turbines damage human health.
Although some individuals living in proximity have reported health repercussions from wind farms, studies have shown that there is no evidence for such a link. Recent research shows that so-called “wind farm syndrome” may simply be all in the mind, a result of anti-wind campaigning and scare tactics.
Wind farm syndrome makes for an effective boogeyman, but not for effective science.
6. LIE: Wind power will never be cost-competitive/economically feasible.
This perennially popular argument against, well, basically any alternative to fossil fuels simply doesn’t hold up to muster. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the best wind farms already produce power as economically as coal, gas, and nuclear plants. Furthermore, BNEF projected that the average wind farm would be fully competitive with fossil fueled equivalents by 2016. (That’s just a few months away!)
Even assuming BNEF’s projections are a bit overly optimistic, with proper investment and research, it isn’t hard to imagine that wind energy (and other renewable energy sources) could easily become cost-competitive. President Kennedy’s vow that the United States would put a man on the moon sounded pretty crazy at the time. Surely making renewable energy affordable is an even more attainable goal (even if the fossil fuel industry would rather convince you otherwise).
There are, undoubtedly, many important discussions about wind power and other renewable energy sources that we need to cover. When opponents of renewable energy try to muddy the waters, however, they create confusion, not debate. As a consumer of energy, it’s important not to be pushed around by scare tactics, so you can get the information you need.
Does someone you know believe these lies? Share this article with them! Groundswell works to make clean energy affordable and understandable—feel free to let us know if you have any questions about wind power.
Canton Winer is a recent graduate of Fordham University and is currently based out of West Palm Beach, Florida. He has worked as a Collegiate Correspondent for USA TODAY and is the former Managing Editor of The Fordham Ram. Check out his digital portfolio, or follow him on Twitter: @CantonWiner.