September 2, 2011

Is wind power “green”? (No.)

An opinion on the environmental impact of industrial-scale wind power; note the “inputs” to the construction process.

Here is the link:

From a land use, economic, environmental or raw materials perspective,
wind is unsustainable

Our least sustainable energy option
  – Paul Driessen  Thursday, September 1, 2011 (2) Comments | Print
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President Obama and a chorus of environmentalists, politicians,
corporate executives and bureaucrats are perennially bullish on wind
power as the bellwether of our “clean energy economy of the future.”

In reality, wind energy may well be the least sustainable and least
eco-friendly of all electricity options. Its shortcomings are legion,
but the biggest ones can be grouped into eight categories.


As American humorist and philosopher Will Rogers observed, “They ain’t
making any more of it.” Wind turbine installations impact vast amounts
of land, far more than traditional power plants.

Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant generates 3,750 megwatts of
electricity from a 4,000-acre site. The 600-MW John Turk
ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in Arkansas covers part of
2,900 acres; two 600-MW coal-fired units in India use just 600 acres.
Gas-fired units like Calpine’s 560-MW Fox Energy Center in Wisconsin
require several hundred acres. All generate reliable power 90-95% of
the year.

By contrast, the 600-MW Fowler Ridge wind installation (355 turbines)
spans 50,000 acres of farm country along Indiana’s I-65 corridor. The
782-MW Roscoe project in Texas (627 turbines) sprawls across 100,000
acres. Oregon’s Shepherds Flat project (338 gigantic 2.5 MW turbines)
covers nearly 80,000 wildlife and scenic acres along the Columbia
River Gorge, for a “rated capacity” of 845 MW.

The Chokecherry-Sierra Madre project will blanket some 320,000 acres
of sage grouse habitat and BLM land in Wyoming with 1,000 monstrous
3-MW turbines, to generate zero to 3,000 MW of intermittent power.
That’s eight times the size of Washington, DC, to get an average
annual output one-fourth of what Palo Verde generates 90% of the time.
But C-SM has already received preliminary approval from BLM.

To replace just 20% of the United States’ 995,000 MW of total
installed generating capacity, we would need to blanket an area the
size of Kansas with wind turbines, and then add nearly a thousand
600-MW gas-fired backup generators … and thousands of miles of new
high voltage transmission lines.

Raw materials

Wind turbine installations require vast amounts of steel, copper, rare
earth metals, fiberglass, concrete, rebar and other materials for the
turbines, towers and bases.

A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like 315 of the Fowler Ridge units,
involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and
tower, plus nearly 1100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation.
Bigger units require substantially more materials. Grand total for the
entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe,
752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons; for Chokecherry,
perhaps 2,000,000 tons. Offshore installations need far more raw

To all that must be added millions of tons of steel, copper, concrete
and rebar for thousands of miles of transmission lines – and still
more for mostly gas-fired generators to back up every megawatt of wind
power and generate electricity the 17 hours of each average day that
the wind doesn’t blow.


Taxpayers and consumers must provide perpetual subsidies to prop up
wind projects, which cannot survive without steady infusions of cash
via feed-in tariffs, tax breaks and direct payments.

Transmission lines cost $1.0 million to $2.5 million per mile.
Landowners get $5,000+ per turbine, plus royalties on all energy
produced from the turbine, plus payments for every foot of access road
and transmission lines. However, taxpayers pay more, while the
landowners’ neighbors suffer property devaluation, scenic disruption,
noise, health problems and interference with crop spraying, but no
monetary compensation. Direct federal wind energy subsidies to help
cover this totaled $5 billion in FY 2010; state support added billions
more; still more billions were added to consumers’ electric bills.

The Other People’s Money well is running dry. The “manmade
catastrophic climate change” thesis behind the wind energy campaign is
in shambles. Voters and consumers are understandably fed up.


Mining, quarrying, drilling, milling, refining, smelting and
manufacturing operations make the production of metals, concrete,
fiberglass and resins, turbines, and heavy equipment to do all of the
above very energy-intensive. Ditto for transporting and installing
turbines, towers, backups and transmission lines. That takes real
energy: abundant, reliable, affordable – not what comes from wind

In fact, it probably requires more energy to manufacture, haul and
install these monstrous Cuisinarts of the air and their transmission
systems than they will generate in their lifetimes. However, no
cradle-to-grave analysis has ever been conducted, for the energy
inputs or pollution outputs. We need one now.


Whereas environmentalists garner scary headlines over wildly
speculative claims about health dangers from hydraulic fracturing (to
extract abundant natural gas for wind turbine backup generators), they
ignore and dismiss a growing body of evidence that wind turbines cause
significant health problems.

Principal health issues are associated with noise – not just annoying
audible noise, but inaudible, low-frequency “infrasound” that causes
headache, dizziness, “deep nervous fatigue” and symptoms akin to
seasickness. “Wind turbine syndrome” also includes irritability,
depression, and concentration and sleep problems. Others include
“shadow flicker” or “strobe effect” from whirling blades, which can
trigger seizures in epileptics, “vibroacoustic” effects on the heart
and lungs, and non-lethal harm to animals. Serious lung, heart, cancer
and other problems have been documented from rare earth mining,
smelting and manufacturing in China, under its less rigorous health,
workplace and environmental regulations
To date, however, very few health assessments have been required or
conducted prior to permit approval, even for major wind turbine
installations. Perhaps the trial lawyers’ guild could redress that


Raptors, bats and other beautiful flying creatures continue to be
sliced and diced by wind turbines. Thankfully, the Bureau of Land
Management has included an “avian radar system” to track the slaughter
within its 500-square-mile Chokecherry region – and banned mining
among the turbines.

Wind turbines are supposed to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide
emissions. But because backup generators must repeatedly surge to full
power and back to standby, as wind speed rises and falls, they operate
inefficiently, use more fuel and emit more – much like cars forced to
stop repeatedly on freeways.


The myth of “green jobs” is hitting the brick wall of reality. While
the turbines are installed in the USA and EU, far more numerous mining
and manufacturing jobs are in China, where they are hardly “green.” As
Spanish and Scottish analysts have documented, the “green” installer
and maintenance jobs cost up to $750,000 apiece – and kill 2.2 to 3.7
traditional jobs for every “eco-friendly” job created.

Electricity costs and reliability

Even huge subsidies cannot cure wind power’s biggest defects: its
electricity costs far more than coal, gas or nuclear alternatives –
and its intermittent nature wreaks havoc on power grids and consumers.
The problem is worst on hot summer afternoons, when demand is highest
and breezes are minimal. Unable to compete against cheap Chinese and
Indian electricity and labor, energy-intensive industries increasingly
face the prospect of sending operations and jobs overseas. Bayer
Chemical’s warning that it may have to close its German facilities is
just the tip of the iceberg.

When it comes to wind, Nat King Cole might have sung: “Unsustainable
that’s what you are, unsustainable though near or far. Unsustainable
in every way, and forever more that’s how you’ll stay.” Maybe not
forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future, especially compared
to increasingly abundant natural gas.

So take a hint from Spoon’s lively tune and “cut out the middleman.”
Forge a direct relationship with energy you can afford, energy that
works nearly 24/7/365, energy that causes the least ecological damage
and is far more sustainable than wind power: the hydrocarbon,
hydroelectric and nuclear power that have sustained our society and
brought unprecedented health, prosperity and living standards to

Then help the planet’s least fortunate people to do likewise.

Paul Driessen

Paul Driessen is a senior fellow with the Committee For A Constructive
Tomorrow and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, nonprofit
public policy institutes that focus on energy, the environment,
economic development and international affairs. Paul Driessen is
author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power, Black death
Paul can be reached at:

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