"Industrial Buggy" - Tesla Roadster

Here in the South, we’re getting a lot of new attention from the wind industry. And why shouldn’t we? New turbine technology is now capable of capturing our wind resources in an efficient and cost effective manner to the point where wind farm development in the South is inevitable. Wind farm development companies have proposed projects in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and so on. The problem is, while the rest of the country has moved into the 21st century on clean energy, wind farms are still a mystery to many folks here in the South – we’ve just not seen them enough to form a good opinion. As such, folks likely have a hard time identifying wind power opponents with an agenda and may be more likely to catch anti-wind turbine syndrome. Here’s a few ways to identify a biased and deceptive opinion.

Their language doesn’t match reality. They call wind turbines “windmills” and wind farms “industrial” . In one sense, they’re calling wind power outdated and simplistic by calling them windmills. Wind turbines do not “mill” anything, there’s no grain crushed into flour; they do generate electricity. In the other sense, they’re trying to equate wind farms as overly technical and unclean by calling them “industrial”. The terms are self contradictory – do you ever hear anyone call a Tesla Roadster an industrial buggy?

They cite blogs, power points and opinion articles; while stating scientific studies are “flawed”. For whatever argument they look to back up, opponents have a plethora of inaccurate and misleading information available to them online. If you begin research with an obvious bias in your search terms (like “windmills kill birds” or “bigfoot is real”), you’ll certainly find plenty of people who agree with you (surprisingly, about 14% of Americans believe in Bigfoot, and a similar minority think the United States should put less emphasis on producing domestic wind energy – about 12%). The problem is, as people become armchair researchers, the ability to filter out accurate information versus misleading information diminishes. For example, a peer-reviewed and journal-published study completed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that “neither the view of the wind facilities nor the distance of the home to those facilities is found to have any consistent, measurable, and statistically significant effect on home sales prices.”  Yet, wind farm haters cherry pick powerpoint slides and opinion of residents to make their case regarding property values – ignoring peer-reviewed, journal publications.

They rely on outdated arguments and ignore empirical evidence.  A common complaint against wind energy is that the wind doesn’t blow all the time or that its too expensive. The fact is that wind energy was the most installed power generation resource in the country last year. How is it that all these utilities across the country are still relying on wind energy, if it’s so invaluable? In total, some nine states are now getting more than 10% of their total electric demand from wind farms. The reality is, wind has become so cheap that it’s competing against all other sources of electric generation – and utilities are using as much wind energy as they can get. So if the wind doesn’t blow, they use another resource. But when the wind is blowing, they ramp down other resources (like coal or natural gas) in order to reduce overall operational costs.

Sibley Guides, Identification of North American Birds and Trees, 2010

They  overstate environmental impacts of wind farms while ignoring bigger threats. As with any construction project, wind farms do have some impacts to the environment; however, wind energy is generally considered to be a least impact energy resource, especially compared to other power plants. Fossil fuel power plants are estimated to kill seventeen times more birds than wind farms on a unit of energy basis. So for every megawatt hour of electricity from a wind farm that replaces fossil fuels, seventeen times as many birds may be saved. How’s this possible? Coal mining destroys bird habitat. Pollution from fossil fuels increases the environment’s toxicity and can be accumulated in birds and their prey (including Bald Eagles, which eat fish that may be overly laden with mercury emitted by coal power plants) and harm birds’ ability to forage, breed or find habitat. In Canada, a natural gas facility killed at least 7,500 birds in one night by flaring gas. Most of those birds were burned to death, while hundreds more were euthanized because they were burned too badly to survive. Meanwhile, studies show that the top threat to birds include buildings, cats and even cars, and communications towers are more deadly to birds than wind turbines. In fact, some studies show that birds mostly see the wind turbines and fly around them to avoid interaction. Unfortunately, some birds do die from wind turbines. They also die from flying into fossil fuel smokestacks and nuclear reactor cooling towers; but the wind farm opponents conveniently ignore these facts.

They don’t propose corresponding alternatives. Frequently, the alternative proposed by wind farm opponents is simply “don’t build a wind farm”. They’re part of the NIMBY crowd (“Not in My Back Yard”) or BANANA crew (“Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone”). As such, they’re advocates of the status quo – not creating local jobs, not improving local tax revenues and not supporting American manufacturing.

Some wind farm opponents go so far as to say that coal, natural gas or nuclear are better options than wind farms. Yet, support for those resources completely contradict many of their other arguments, such as energy subsidies (all energy resources receive or have received subsidies, not just wind power), environmental impacts (mining fossil fuels, creation of water reservoir impoundments, air pollution, etc. aren’t necessary with wind farms), cost (wind energy is cheaper than new coal or nuclear generation, and as cheap or cheaper than new natural gas) and property values (wind farms have no effect on property values; but coal trains and gas wells certainly do).

Of course, this is not to say that all wind farms can or should be built. Wind farm developers have a responsibility for working with the local community to maximize the benefits to both parties. A healthy, diversified power grid system requires energy from various sources to ensure stability, reliability and cost-effectiveness – and wind energy can certainly help.

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