The Truth About Wind Power
by Rolly Montpellier
Today, cities, states, countries and companies around the world are increasingly turning to wind energy to power their everyday lives. As wind systems keep growing everywhere from Copenhagen to California to China, so do the misconceptions and the myths about wind energy that critics keep spreading in the media and beyond.
Even though wind has proven time and again to be a reliable way to power our economies without destroying our planet, skeptics keep attacking it, asking questions like, “What happens on calm days?”
These questions and others make it difficult to separate fact from fiction when it comes to wind energy. With misinformation coming from many different directions, where is the line between myth and science?
So let's set the story straight — time to dispel those myths about wind energy.
1. Myth: Wind energy is too expensive — nice idea, but not economically viable.
Fact: The claim that wind energy is too expensive is out-of-date propaganda. According to the US Department of Energy, the average levelized price of wind in the US during 2014 was less than three cents per kilowatt-hour (2.35 cents to be exact). This was below the price of wholesale power from the grid during that year, and competitive with electricity from natural gas.
Plus, that’s just the financial cost of the technology. When we use more clean energy, we also pay less to treat kids suffering from asthma attacks caused by air pollution from coal plants. We pay less for the myriad other devastating economic and human impacts of climate change.
Looking at the Numbers:
The US Department of Energy also shows that increased wind power development in the US could result in a net savings of $149 billion by 2050 as average fossil fuel prices go up and aging plants and other infrastructure have to be replaced. Scientists also project that using more wind and less fossil fuels will bring further benefits in 2050 including:
- Fourteen-percent reduction in cumulative GHG emissions saving $400 billion in avoided global damages
- Over 21,700 avoided premature deaths
- Twenty-percent less water consumption in the US electric sector
- Upwards of 600,000 wind-related jobs by 2050
- Increased fuel diversity, which makes the electric sector 20 percent less sensitive to changes in natural gas prices
2. Myth: Wind turbines kill birds, bats, and other wildlife — harmful to the environment.
Fact: Wind farms and wildlife can and do coexist peacefully. Wind power’s overall impact on birds is low compared with other human-related causes like tall buildings or traffic. And if you compare wildlife deaths across energy sources, studies show that the oil, gas, and coal industries account for far more bird deaths than wind power. Not to mention pollution from these industries, which has a much greater impact on wildlife and the environment.
3. Myth: Policies that promote wind energy kill jobs.
Fact: Wind power is one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, and it employed 73,000 people in America alone in 2014. By 2050, there could be 600,000 jobs related to wind energy across the United States.
One of the best ways to create jobs and grow the economy is to invest in sources of clean, renewable energy like wind. Investing in wind can support employment in a number of fields including construction, engineering, transportation, and manufacturing.
In fact, a recent study found that investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency create more jobs than expanding the fossil fuel sector. And in 2015 alone, wind energy garnered over $109 billion in investments, or about one third of all renewable energy investments during that year. It’s unlikely investors and governments would invest in wind if they thought it would reduce the number of jobs.
There is a major positive side effect too: investing in wind power is also investing in the communities that manufacture the technology and serve as home for turbines and other facilities. As demand for wind technology goes up and new facilities are built, demand for local goods and services also goes up, fueling economic growth and activity throughout the community.
Additionally, wind turbines located on rural residents’ land can be an important source of income for individuals. The icing on the cake is that farmers can still grow crops on the same land as the wind turbines. It’s a win-win.
Clean energy investment is a smart jobs plan. Pollution isn’t.
4. Myth: Wind energy isn’t reliable. When the wind stops blowing, the only alternative is to use fossil fuels.
Fact: Combining wind with other renewables like solar or pumped hydro, or battery storage in a geographically-extended, flexible, smart grid design is a reliable way to keep the lights on in the twenty-first century.
Using multiple sources of clean, renewable energy and twenty-first century electricity management tools can often make wind just as reliable as dirty fossil fuels — with the added benefit that it doesn’t pollute the air or warm our climate.
The right combination of a more integrated and flexible power grid and appropriate sources of clean energy can provide around-the-clock power — even when the wind isn’t blowing in some places.
In fact, by adding more wind power and using the free fuel it provides, we’re making the entire grid more dependable and diverse. Which is a good thing, because every power plant is vulnerable to disruption.
Many nations around the world know how reliable wind energy is too. In 2015, countries added a whopping 64 gigawatts of new wind capacity, and Denmark specifically got 42 percent of its electricity from wind, showing the confidence from many nations in its reliability.
5. Myth: Clean coal is the answer. Why invest in wind when we have clean coal?
Fact: Don’t be fooled by the promise of “clean” coal. “Clean coal” is the industry’s tooth fairy. There’s no such thing. Wind power, on the other hand, is real, clean energy technology that is viable today.
In reality, there’s no such thing as “clean coal” — it’s a false solution. Coal is a dirty fuel — from start to finish. The coal mining process blasts mountaintops away and leaves toxic slurry ponds behind.
Burning coal results in pollutants harmful to human health, like mercury and smog. As if this weren’t enough, worldwide, more carbon pollution comes from the burning of coal than any other fuel.
6. Myth: Wind energy uses subsidies that help make it more economically viable.
Fact: While wind energy often enjoys policy incentives and subsidies, so do all other energy sources, including dirty fossil fuels. It is unfair to expect wind and other less established renewable technologies to compete in the marketplace without incentives that have also been enjoyed by established technologies. Lastly, many studies have found that wind energy prices are already competitive, even without a carbon price that reflects the damage that fossil fuels do to public health and the climate.
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of Below2C.org
. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer) and Global Population Speakout.