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Wind Power Facts and Fiction

2012/03/15

The truth is, there is no perfect source of energy.  Wind, coal, solar, nuclear, geothermal.  They all have their pros and their cons.

Unfortunately, objective analysis of power sources is often difficult to find.  A company that runs coal power plants will not go out of its way to explain the environmental impacts of how coal is mined.  Instead, they will create TV ads that  focus on the number of jobs created by the coal industry (which it does create), the reliability of coal-based electricity (and it is reliable) and how such electricity will be available for decades to come (and we do have a lot of coal left on this planet).  However, how often do we hear of the catastrophic health impacts of the air pollution caused by coal-powered plants?  Or, how often do we see photos like the one below that shows the impact of “mountaintop removal”, a coal mining technique where entire mountain ranges are stripped bare of natural ecosystems in order to gain access to the coal below.

The effects of the mining technique known as mountaintop removal.  Photo: Desmogblog.com.

The effects of the mining technique known as mountaintop removal. Photo: Desmogblog.com.

But coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power industries generate large amounts of capital which they can use to better shape their public image.  Supportive politicians advocate for those industries and pass advantageous legislation that helps fossil fuel and nuclear industries maintain their access to and control of the power grids.  Additionally, fossil fuels and nuclear power are the “established” sources of energy.  And we all know how difficult change can be for our society.  Especially when it comes to something as basic and essential as the production of electricity.

On the other hand, renewable sources of energy are the “new kids on the block”.  The renewable energy industry does not have access to the same subsidies as the established energy producers.  The renewable industry does not generate billions of dollars in profits which it can use to lobby governments or generate massive advertisement campaigns.  They are fighting the establishment for access to the power grid.  And there is a lot of resistance.

That is why the public image of renewables in North America is tainted by the various “cons” of those energy sources.  And somehow, no matter how great the advantages (or “pros”) of renewable energy sources are, they seem to easily be outweighed by the “cons”.  These challenges are true of all renewable sources of energy.  However, wind energy seems to be the most regular victim of fact-free criticism.

That is why I invite you to visit the website of fellow blogger earthstonestation.  This gentleman has written a wonderful three-part series on the “cons” of wind energy.  In each part, he begins by addressing a common misconception of wind power and goes on to debunk it with facts.  It is worth the read for anyone who cares about the progress of renewable sources of energy.  Here is how the three-part series breaks down:

Part 1 addresses wind turbine noise and its impact on human health.

Part 2 addresses the bird and bat deaths associated with wind turbines.

And finally, Part 3 addresses the “intermittent” nature of wind energy.

If any additional “parts” to this series shows up on earthstonestation, I’ll make sure to let you all know.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/03/15 12:43 pm

    we do have a lot of coal left on this planet

    According to Professor Bartlett, not as much as some would have us believe.

    Many thanks for the introduction to earthstonestation.

    PS Typo alert:
    “… they will create TV ads that focus on the number…”
    “… entire mountain ranges are stripped bare…”

    • 2012/03/15 3:32 pm

      A new paper on the climate change impacts of what is left of fossil fuels puts the impact of coal at 15 degrees Celcius. So I guess it depends on how you look at it!

      And you are quite welcome for the introduction. I really enjoy his blog and I hope you will as well.

      (Typos corrected!)

      • 2012/03/15 4:05 pm

        You’re right, of course. I should have qualified my comment; some people believe that ‘we have enough coal for hundreds of years’, whereas that’s simply not the case — and in any event, as you point out, the coal left underground should be left underground because it is quite simply too much, if we ‘choose’ to burn it all. It does indeed depend upon ‘how you look at it’!

      • 2012/03/15 4:24 pm

        I’m glad we can agree 🙂

        By the way, I really enjoyed that video. I watched it a while back and it really surprised me.

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/03/15 2:07 pm

    I am aware of all the bogus arguments against wind power. However, what is your answer to my point (see link below if you dare) that in the long-run we probably cannot afford the luxury of using large amounts of land to generate renewable energy… Everyone will either have to generate their own (micro-gen) or we will have to embrace nuclear because, notwithstanding a major decimation in the global human population, land is going to be needed for food production?

    http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/nothing-if-not-controversial/

    • 2012/03/15 4:01 pm

      My tuppence:
      You don’t need land to use wind power. Wind turbines can be located at sea, or on top of buildings (cities are, after all, where a lot of energy is needed!). Wind sails/ kites can have relatively minimal land footprint.

      Isn’t the ‘either/or’ of wind/ food one of the wind misinformation pundit’s favourite platforms? A farm can quite easily have a wind turbine in a field…

      ‘Micro-gen’, for my money, is the best route — let’s put the power in the hands of the people instead of money-grubbing corporations!

    • 2012/03/15 4:02 pm

      I love a challenge : )

      First of all, I like the new look of your blog. (That has nothing to do with renewable or nuclear power, but it has to be said.)

      Second of all, I believe that we are probably on the same page regarding nuclear power (and I need to read up on the FBR technology – sounds promising!). I can see there being a need for nuclear until we can make up the difference in an other way. Although, Germany plans to have all it’s electricity be renewable by 2050. And they aren’t exactly the wind and sun capital of the world.

      In my humble opinion, part of the solution is the small-scale production of electricity in a whole lot of places. For example, every single roof that can support a solar pannel. And among farmers’ fields. And on the side of tall buildings. And offshore. We need to decentralize energy production. We need to be original in our application of solar and wind technology. And we need to develop tidal power.

      Government investments in all those things (and the required infrastructure to make it work) would be tax dollar well spent. And it would create jobs. And stimulate the economy. And reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. That’s what I’d like to see happen.

      • Florian permalink
        2012/03/15 4:10 pm

        Indeed, smarter not harder will be key to get renewables going. The good news is that people all around the world are researching on future solutions and more efficient ways to generate, store and use electricity. Now solar panels exist that are thin like foil – and as flexible. Others integrate the very same features in standard roof top materials with no extra installation required.

        I am far too young to be certain, but this discussion about whether we’d be able to do it or not sounds a lot like what they must have had just before the steam engine was developed – or the internal combustion engine. A future without horses as means of transport? Impossible!

      • 2012/03/15 4:27 pm

        “A future without horses?!? That is absurd! And what are you supposed to feed this “lo-co-mo-tive”?”

  3. Florian permalink
    2012/03/15 4:02 pm

    I am tempted to believe that what makes traditional energy companies resist so fervently to the renewable energy (r)evolution is the fact that renewable energies shift the power from the very big few electricity providers to the communities and even individual people. The logical next step of renewables, after all, are passive houses, or even houses that produce more electricity than the people manage to consume (which could then go into electro car batteries or into the local grid). Big installations are really only needed for heavy industry, long-distance trains and the sort – and even there innovative solutions are on the rise, as this experiment of a solar-powered train in Belgium shows: http://sustainablefutures.info/2011/06/10/high-speed-solar-train-belgium/

    For those interested in the future of energy, check out Energy autonomy: Watch out for the 4th revolution (http://sustainablefutures.info/2010/03/07/energy-autonomy-revolution/)

    • 2012/03/15 4:18 pm

      I am more than tempted to agree with your analysis 🙂

      We have a challenge with our energy company here in Prince Edward Island (PEI).

      Last week I attended a public meeting about future energy production here in PEI. The PEI Energy Comission, which was hosting the meeting, was looking for imput from the population about how to stabilize electricity prices in PEI.

      We are a fairly small island with about 140 000 people. Although statistically we are the most densely populated province in Canada, that is only because most of the other provinces have their population concentrated in their southern region. In reality, the population of PEI is very spread out.

      My suggestion: move away from nuclear and fossil fuels (sources of energy that are off the island but from which we currently import our electricity) whose prices can only go up. And, decentralize the power generation through a feed-in tariff that will encourage individuals, co-ops and businesses to generate their own electricity. This will reduce the need for purchasing our electricity “off-island”. It will also create a whole bunch of badly needed jobs – many of our adult males currently work in the Alberta Tar Sands.

      The problem is getting our energy company to “play along”. They want their profits.

      • 2012/03/17 8:34 am

        The first step is to get the law changed so that corporate greed is not the driver of everything to which we aspire — and the step before that is educating folk that this is actually a problem) (and the step before that is shooting all the lawyers* who would argue against such a change) … all of which will take more time than we can spare.

        * Note for humour-impaired: that bit’s a joke. Or maybe it’s not, I can’t decide.

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