Saturday, February 7, 2009
Turbines Give Me the Wind Something Terrible
Wind Turbines Are Bad for the Environment
Image Source: Keepers of the Blue Ridge
I recently came across an article on the web stating that RWE Innogy - European energy supplier - is planning on building a 960 megwatt "wind farm" in the North Sea. The "farm" will be built 40 kilometers north of the island of Juist and cover an area of sea about 150 square kilometers. Construction is slated to begin sometime next year, with an estimated completion date of 2015.
To many worshippers at the alter of Al Gore, this may seem like a great thing. After all, wind power is touted to be the next great thing in the energy field. It will supposedly free us from the use of fossil fuels. On top of all that, it is "clean", and "green". In other words, it's environmentally friendly.
Or so they say.
Although I am no big fan of oil or other fossil fuels, and we be ecstatic to see a decline in or an elimination of their use, I don't think wind energy or any of the other alternative energy sources we are being pitched are going to solve much of anything. The whole thing is just a big scam to find more ways to waste more energy. And contrary to what the Goregoyles tell you, these forms of energy are not without their environmental impacts.
The whole naming of the above mentioned facilities as "wind farms" is misleading. There is nothing pastoral about them. There are no animals, there are no barns, there is no cultivation, and there is no husbandry of any kind going on. The misnomer is really just a way to soften the reality that the facilities are production plants. Perhaps the term wind industrial complex would be more appropriate.
Besides being noisy and unattractive, wind plants pose significant problems. For starters, the energy produced by wind power can not be stored. It must be produced on demand. It is alos unreliable. Winds are higly intermittant, with daily fluctuations between 50% to 100%. If the wind is not blowing, you get no energy. And on top of all that, it is inefficient, having a capacity factor of only about 30%. This means that you need a non-wind based back-up source of energy to meet the 70% short-fall.
Wind turbines also have a negative impact on the environment. Turbines generate a lot of turbulence which can have a significant impact on local weather patterns. It is estimated that it would require about 250,000 wind turbines to meet U.S. energy needs. Such a vast array of turbines would alter wind speeds and cause a local drying of soils in their vicinity, leading to increased evaportation and thus the need for increased irrigation.
Turbulence created by wind turbines at sea causes upwelling, wherein deep ocean water is drawn up to the surface. This, in turn, drives the surface water down to replace it. The overall effect of this is to alter the temperature flow within the water, which could potentially effect currents and the resulting weather patterns they influence. In addition, the drag created by the turbines has been shown in modeled systems to shift wind currents substantially in a manner that could impact the movement of storms.
Although wind facilites have been promoted as "green", in that they generate no greenhouse gases, this in not the same as saying that they don't lead to an increase in greenhouse gases. Many of the land-based wind turbines are located on mountain ridges, where winds are typically high. The construction of the turbines themselves requires a significant amount of forest clearing (pronounced - deforestation) for the access roads and turbine pads, not to mention that needed to make space for above-ground powerlines and trenching for underground power lines. This, in turn, results in less carbon dioxide uptake by the trees that are no longer there. You do the math.
Wind plants are detrimental to wild life. Many turbines, particularly those on mountain ridges, are positioned along vital migration routes for birds. Because birds typically migrate at night, the flashing lights on the turbines act as an attactant. This results in collisions with the turbine blades, and the killing of tens of thousands of birds every year. In Northern California, the Altamont Wind Turbines alone kill up to 1,300 birds each year. Bats don't fare well either. There is also the matter of habitat fragmentation resulting from forest clearing.
Birds Don't Fare Well Near Wind Turbines
Image Source: Keepers of the Blue Ridge
When you add it all up, wind energy does not turn out to be the free lunch that its proponents make it out to be. There are significant environmental and ecological costs. There is also the matter of the economic costs due to decreased in property values and the tax increases that are required to subsidize the wind facilities, but that is another matter.
One could always make the argument that, despite these costs, we would still be better off than we are in our current situation with fossil fuels. Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not. According to a study on the Point Petre Wind Plant in Canada, the amount of carbon saved by a single turbine is canceled out by a "18 wheel truck traveling at 60 mph". This is not to say that any offset in carbon emmissions is waste of time.
The real issue is that the promotion of alternative energy sources completely misses the point. It glosses over the real problem - that we use and waste way too much energy! It is also not clear that the use of alternative energy sources will have much of a positive impact, as world energy consumption in increasing, not decreasing. Wind power and its alternative energy cousins turning out to be nothing more that supplemental energy sources. As such, they are just adding to the problem. We should really be focusing on more efficient forms of energy and, more importantly, energy conservation.
As it stands now, all this wind power stuff give me the wind something terrible.