Wind Energy Myths & Facts
Read all of Wind Energy 101: Part One: Harvesting Electricity from the Wind, Part Two: Wind Energy & Our Economy, Part Three: Wind Energy & The Environment, Part Four: Answering Wind Energy Critics, & Part Five: Wind Energy Myths & Facts.
The internet is full of misinformation about wind energy. Below are some common areas of misunderstanding, presented with the actual facts.
When you encounter bad information online or when talking with friends or family, you can draw on these points to help set the record straight. As we discussed in Part Four, always be respectful when you’re countering the critics! Here are the facts:
Wind Energy Jobs
Like most infrastructure projects, wind farms create the most jobs during their construction. Every wind farm requires maintenance, though, meaning that each one will continue to employ people locally for the life of the farm (typically 20 years, though older turbines are often replaced with new ones when their individual lifespan is up).
Over 70 percent of wind farms are based in low-income rural counties, and wind-turbine technician is the fastest-growing job category in the U.S. That means growing wind power will create more well paid jobs in rural America, jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.
If someone asks you about wind jobs: Tell them that wind already employs over 100,000 people in the U.S., including 25,000 factory workers. Plus, each wind farm has permanent staff who typically live near the installation. And, lease payments to landowners and property taxes inject money directly into the economies of areas hosting wind farms, helping to create and sustain many different jobs away from any actual turbines.
Wind Farms, Birds & Bats
Wind turbines can coexist with wildlife, despite what you may have heard. Birds and bats sometimes collide into turbines, as they do with many other human-made structures such as radio towers and tall buildings.
Relative to other causes of bird mortality, though, wind turbines are a relatively minor contributor (see chart below). Wind farm developers recognize, however, that regardless of relative mortality levels, careful attention to wildlife conservation is needed when siting and operating wind farms. Developers work closely with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and with state wildlife managers on minimizing the effects of wind farms on birds and bats, including developing and deploying new deterrent technologies.
If someone brings up wind turbines and birds or bats: Tell them that the Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation both support wind energy, because of its climate benefits (a changing climate destroys habitat for birds and many other animals) and because of the damage mining and drilling do to the environment. You might also mention the vastly greater number of birds and bats killed in collisions with tall buildings…or by cats.
Fossil Fuels Have Received Many Times More in Incentives than Renewables
Wind’s primary incentive is the Production Tax Credit, a performance-based incentive that reduces the tax burden on private investment in wind-energy projects. This tax relief encourages investment in clean wind energy, providing communities billions in local and state taxes revenue. Wind farms are not "funded by the government" any more than coal mines are!
Fossil fuels in their start-up period got five times more in government incentives than renewable energy has, and nuclear got ten times as much. Over the last 100 years, American taxpayers have paid over $500 billion to subsidize the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. By contrast, wind energy received only three percent of all government energy incentives between 1947 and 2015.
When a Wind Turbine Turns….
People will often see nearby wind turbines spinning when they don’t feel wind blowing themselves. Usually this happens because of natural variations in the breeze, since the wind speed can be very different in locations just a few hundred feet apart at any given time. Also, since winds are higher and more consistent above the ground, a turbine may be exposed to a breeze that someone just below it can barely feel.
What doesn’t happen: Occasionally someone will say on social media that wind turbines have diesel generators that run when the wind isn’t blowing. Absolutely not – that would be a ridiculously inefficient way to generate electricity. As you can see from this diagram of the inside of a typical turbine, the wind turns the blades and the blades turn the generator. If a turbine is spinning, it’s because it’s catching the breeze – it’s that simple.
Wind Turbines are Efficient
Typical modern turbines generate usable amounts of power over 90 percent of the time. On average, new wind turbine models generate electricity at their full capacity nearly 50 percent of the time. In reality, no energy source is perfectly efficient – fossil-fuel and nuclear plants do not run 100 percent of the time either, and can be down for hours or days at a time for maintenance or due to unexpected failures.
Adding wind power has added diversity to the electricity grid, helping keep costs low for consumers without negatively impacting reliability. In fact, earlier this year wind power supplied more than 50 percent of the power in some Great Plains states during the early morning hours.
Wind Farms & Greenhouse Gases
When a wind turbine spins and generates electricity, it does not emit greenhouse gases. Since wind power takes the place of carbon-emitting sources like coal or natural gas, it helps us avoid millions of tons of climate-changing pollution every year. In fact, even now the wind energy installed in the U.S. replaces the equivalent of all the greenhouse gases emitted by 28 million cars every year!
Building and moving the parts of a wind turbine does emit some CO2, but the average wind farm "pays back" those greenhouse emissions within 5-8 months and then continues operating emissions-free for many years thereafter.
If someone tells you that wind turbines pollute the air or hurt the climate: Show them the numbers above!
Wind Farms & Property Values
Research to date has not found any statistical evidence that the value of properties located near wind turbines decreases. Landowners hosting wind farms receive lease payments, of course, and property taxes generated by wind farms are often invested in infrastructure improvements like new schools and roads that are good for the community as a whole.
Made in the USA
Some parts of an individual wind turbine may be made overseas, but more than half of the components in a typical U.S. turbine are made right here in America. Wind energy already employs 25,000 American factory workers, and that number will grow as more manufacturing facilities open domestically. Plus, the fuel is DEFINITELY made here at home – no one’s importing the wind.
Wind Farms & Health
Plenty of wild claims about wind turbines and people’s health circulate, particularly online. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people around the world live near and work at operating wind turbines without health effects. Moreover, the credible peer-reviewed scientific data and various government reports in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom refute the claim that wind farms cause negative health impacts.
By contrast, burning fossil fuels releases gases into the atmosphere, including chemicals like sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitric oxides (NOX), that contribute to air pollution. In 2016, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, wind energy created $7.3 billion in public health savings by cutting pollutants that create smog, acid rain, and trigger asthma attacks and other lung diseases. For that reason, the American Lung Association supports renewables like wind and solar.
If someone brings up "infrasound" or other supposed effects on health: Point out that scientific research has found NO association between noise from wind turbines and measures of psychological distress or mental health in people living nearby. You can also bring up the positive health effects that result when we rely on wind energy rather than on burning fossil fuels.