Top Ten Wind Energy Myths

February 3, 2009

As with anything new, a small proportion of the population will be suspicious of emerging technology and wind turbines, despite being green and clean do not escape this. Below are some of the common myths I often come across when hosting public exhibitions for new wind energy proposals and the facts in response.

1) The energy taken to build a wind farm is never “paid back” by the energy produced

Figures for pay back times vary depending on the turbine and wind speeds. A report by Milborrow, ‘Dispelling the Myths of Energy Payback Time’, as published in Windstats, vol 11, no 2 (Spring 1998) gave an average figure of 3-5 months and a more recent study of the 2 megawatt Horns Rev wind turbines in Denmark by The World Steel Association gives a figure of 9 months. The average life of a wind farm is 25 years.

2) Wind turbines are not helpful in the fight against Climate Change

The US is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide with an annual figure of around 6 billion tonnes and the UK is the 8th biggest emitter (data collected in 2007 by the CDIAC for United Nations). Power stations are one of the biggest carbon emitters so we need to find alternative ways of generating electricity whilst producing less harmful gases.

The production of electricity from wind turbines is clean and sustainable. Wind energy projects in operation do not create harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide or waste products unlike other conventional sources of electricity generation. Wind turbines generate electricity that would otherwise have been generated in power stations, thereby offsetting carbon emissions. How much carbon is offset depends on various factors including the type wind turbine and the type of power station the electricity might otherwise have been generated in. Current figures approved by the UK Advertising Standards Agency for carbon savings are very conservative but are probably the safest to assume at 4000 tonnes carbon dioxide per year per turbine.

3) Wind energy is much more expensive than conventional fossil fuels and nuclear

A 2005 report by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University predicted a small increase in the cost of electricity likely to result from wind power development – equal to around 2.5% of the average domestic cost of electricity with 10% wind power.

4) Wind turbines only work 27% of the time and are inefficient

A modern wind turbine has the capacity to generate around 2000 kilowatts (kW) or 2 Megawatts (MW). A 2 MW wind turbine will however generate around 30% of this maximum theoretical capacity resulting in around 5256 Megawatt hours (MWh) generated per turbine per year. On this basis a wind turbine will generate enough green electricity for the average annual needs of around 1100 homes, using an average demand of 4700 kWh per house based on electricity consumption figures from Digest of UK Energy Statistics. Wind turbines usually operate 75-90% of the time – but not at full capacity.

5) Wind energy does not save carbon emissions because back up power stations need to be kept or built and the grid cannot cope with the fluctuations in supply

A report by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University described the potential impacts of the variability of wind energy generation upon the UK electricity network. It reported that:

• The development of wind power will result in a reduced need for conventional capacity – with wind power supplying 10% of UK electricity, around 3GW of conventional plant could be retired;

• The cost of balancing wind power variability is expected to reduce with improvements in wind power forecasting techniques

A report from the UK Energy Research Centre ‘The Costs and Impacts of Intermittency: An assessment of the evidence on the costs and impacts of intermittent generation on the British electricity network’ (2006) states that ‘it is unambiguously the case that wind energy can displace fossil fuel-based generation, reducing both fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions’. There is no need to provide dedicated “back-up” capacity to support individual generators.

6) We should be looking at energy efficiency, marine, tidal and solar energy instead of wind energy

People need to use energy much more efficiently and there are many small actions you can take to do this such as boiling less water in the kettle and using energy efficient light bulbs. However this is not enough on its own. All renewable energy sources provided 4.98% of the electricity generated in the United Kingdom in 2007, 0.43 % higher than in 2006. There is however a huge energy gap that needs to be filled as fossil fuels run out. Renewable energy cannot fill this gap on its own but it certainly has to be part of the solution.

Wind energy is a fundamental part of the energy mix and it is playing an increasingly important role in renewable energy generation across the world. It would be disastrous to prevent the build out of technologies such as wind energy that offset harmful gases and are financially and technically successful. Notwithstanding this more funding should be put into the more expensive technologies such as marine and tidal energy and micro-renewables to try and find solutions to the technical and capital cost issues that are currently preventing their roll out.

In terms of solar energy, the technology is much more suited to the domestic scale market for hot water heating and countries with more hours of sunshine such as the US. The UK has the largest wind resource in Europe – it is completely logical that wind energy is utilised as the key renewable energy source. In countries where there is good potential for any of these technologies – as much should be utilised as possible.

7) Only offshore wind energy is viable

Offshore wind usually has a higher potential capacity factor due to higher wind speeds out at sea. However there are negative aspects such as ‘out of action’ timescales being longer due to the need for vessels to get out to the wind turbines and greater electrical losses due to the increased lengths of grid connection. On this basis it should not be automatically assumed that offshore turbines will generate more electricity. At almost double the price of on-shore wind, and with large projects involving huge capital sums, investors are usually more cautious about funding offshore wind and so strong government support is necessary.

As with different kinds of technologies we also need both on and off-shore wind technology to help fill our energy gap.

8 Wind energy projects harm house prices

The evidence base in the US shows the opposite. House prices close to wind farms in some areas rose at a higher rate than the regional average. In the UK the evidence is not sufficient to come to definite conclusion, however what we can say (and indeed the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors say) is that from the research carried out so far, wind farms do not appear to have any discernable impact on property prices and that other variables have more of an impact.

9) Wind farms kill birds and other animals

The RSPB in the UK supports a significant growth in offshore and onshore wind power generation.

A leaflet put together by the RSPB says that many species could lose their habitat to climate change – resulting in a huge drop in the number of birds. Moreover, a recent report published in the journal Nature confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change For this reason they are supportive of wind energy. If wind farms are not located in areas used by birds prone to colliding with tall structures, impacts should be very low.

Poorly sited old wind farms have however caused some major bird casualties in Tarifa and Navarra in Spain, and the Altamont Pass in California. There are specific reasons why these wind farms are unusual including the use of steel lattice towers at Altamont Pass (where birds may try and nest). No environmental impact assessment was carried out, the wind farm comprises 4000 turbines and is in an area important for a number of birds of prey.

Wind farms can be kept away from bat flight routes and impacts on other animals and plants are virtually negligible as long as habitats are avoided. You don’t have to dig up a badger set to install a wind turbine – just move the turbine foundation to a safe distance.

Overall wind energy projects usually enhance habitats for protected species by providing some extra funding for schemes such as hedgerow restoration.

10) Wind farms are noisy and cause ill-health

Wind energy operation does not cause harmful emissions, pollutants or waste products. In response to the occasional unsubstantiated press or website post that wind turbines emit high doses of infrasound and cause associated health problems, Dr Geoff Leventhall, Consultant in Noise Vibration and Acoustics and author of the Defra Report on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects, says: “I can state quite categorically that there is no significant infrasound from current designs of wind turbines. To say that there is an infrasound problem is one of the hares which objectors to wind farms like to run. There will not be any effects from infrasound from the turbines.”

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12 Responses

  1. Nice article, I read with interest. 5 wind turbines were built near me and my 4 year old daughter loves going to see them as an attraction. Only problem is they need to be built in an area with connections to the national grid. Thanks Malcolm

  2. lee portwain

    April 18th, 2009

    I now understand much more about wind energy. Good article.

  3. Steve Morris

    December 8th, 2009

    The ‘pay-back’ times quoted are very misleading as they relate solely to the manufacture of the turbine and do not take into account the mining and processing of the raw materials, the transportation and erection of the turbines, maintenance and repair.

  4. Absolute garbage. The only green aspect of wind energy is the subsidies. Take out the subsidies, and not one single wind turbine will be built. Easy money for the energy companies, nothing more.
    How dare you say that “green” electricity is cheap. 12% of my fuel bill goes towards subsidising you lot so by definition, my electricity is 12% more expensive because of it.
    Stop using “Capacity” as a measure, we all know how useless wind turbines are and as for the “minority” you will find the only supporters of wind energy are those who do not have to put up with them.
    Someone answer me this question:
    How many wind turbines do you have to build and operate at ACTUAL OPERATING OUTPUT (not “capacity”) to close down ONE fossil fuel or nuclear power station?

    What gets me more than anything is people like you are raking in the cash, and hiding behind the global warming banner as justification for ruining peoples lives, communities and local wildlife and habitats. All for something which DOESN’T WORK.

    Removing the right of the individual in persuit of an ideal – Fascism, pure and simple.

  5. Chris

    presumably as you are not in favour of subsidies you think we should continue with fossil fuels? Even if you don’t believe in climate change you must realise that fossil fuels are becoming more and more expensive and will soon be more expensive than wind even without the subsidies. As you don’t believe in subsidies clearly you don’t support nuclear and are happy to leave us or future generations in an energy crises.

    I don’t believe each wind turbine generating enough enough for over 1000 homes is ‘worthless’ and contrary to your post – they do work, just ask to look at the meters at a wind farm close to you, they do actually generate electricity.

    It is the right of the individual and the global community (and in fact the responsibility) to think a little ahead into the future and not just about cheap energy for our lifetime.

  6. A great article Chris, you and I are of the same mind.
    The carbon footprint that these onshore giants will take twenty years to claim back in comparrison to staying with a coal fired plant. There are 500 Cubic metres of mixed concrete required to hold them up, this accounts for some 1500 tonnes of sand gravel and cement having to be excavated and processed. It then requires the same amount being excavated to form the base of the turbine and then disposed of.Even if the figures that we are being fed are correct,climate change will be knocked back by years with all this extra carbon being produced.
    I suggest that our Minister of Energy has a look at the online patents that are out there and stops any more of the toy windmills being produced.

  7. Vicky,When you say look at the metres at the wind farm, they may be correct but have you considered that they be be being rotated by the dirty electricity from the grid. They do this to impress the share holders and to stop the forty tonne blades from bending the rotar shaft. You and your husband seem to have a great interest in this subject,would you please tell us why?

  8. I have an interest because I work in and strongly believe in the renewable energy sector!

  9. I support renewable technologies but not Wind Farms as a viable replacement for fossil fuels.

    Wind Power cannot be used for Base Load for instance, nor is it reliable enough to cater for peak demand, so in effect building wind turbines is a false green economy as it cannot be used effectively to meet our energy demands.

    If you look towards Denmark which has the most wind farms in the EU, they have stopped building several new wind farm projects, and reducing subsidies for wind farms. Most of the electricity that was generated by the wind farms in Denmark was exported to their neighbours, at a loss, as it was no use to them, and didn’t even replace 1 single fossil fuel based power generation facility.

    Spain is another country that is stopping subsidies, and this is a growing trend across the entire EU.

    Also it is fact than in the UK house properties drop in value by 20%, this was established in Ireland after a court judge ruled against West Coast Energy Ltd and made them pay the loss of property value to the home owners.

    There is also documented cases all across the world of energy companies having to buy unsellable properties near wind farms.

    All it takes is a little bit of searching to find the facts, rather than what is presented hear.

    I understand that this is your livelihood and therefore your main money earner, but really at the expense of other people lives, it is wrong to spread this FUD.

    There is many more feasible renewable products which can be better employed to serve a nations power needs, and frankly, Wind Farms are not the solution.

  10. At least 40% of the Electricity we consume in the UK is produced by burning Natural Gas, approx 20% comes from Nuclear Power, approx 30% comes from Coal Fired Power Plants and the rest comes via cable Interconnectors from the near Continent and from ‘Renewables’. Of all the Renewables by far the largest contribution comes from Wind Turbines, (Today 29/8/11 the total supplied by Wind Turbines was in excess of 7%) This was a particularly large %age due to the fact that today is August Bank Holiday Monday, (therefore the demand for Electricity is relatively low) and it was a fairly windy day. The total amount of power generated by UK Wind Turbines for the 24hr period up to 11:00hrs 29/8/11, was 50853MWh. This equates to over 2000MW for each of the previous 24hrs, or roughly the equivalent of operating a large Coal Fired Power Station flat out. To produce that amount of power a Coal Fired Power Station would need to burn around 24,000 Tonnes of Coal.
    As I said earlier, today was quite windy, and on most days a lot less power is generated by the currently operational Wind Turbines. However, the average amount of power generated per day by Wind Power is still around 3.5% of the power we consume.
    The UK Government has set a target for electricity generation from Renewables by 2020 at 15%, most of this will come from Wind Turbines. Clearly, to meet these targets many more Wind Farms will need to be built.
    Personally, I do not think that Wind Farms are attractive and I would not like one in my back yard, (nor would I like any other type of power plant in my back yard). But I do accept that there is a very real and pressing need for the UK to reduce it’s dependence on imported Gas and Coal and to reduce emmissions of pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels. Therefore I am willing to accept that if it were demonstrated that a site near me was suitable for the siting of a Wind Farm and that the Environmental Impact Assessment Survey concluded that the ‘benefit’ of the development outweighed the ‘Risk’ to the local Environment then I would not oppose any such development.

    If you would like to find out where your power is actually coming from then take a look at then under the ‘General’ Tab click Electricity Data Summary. This website provides near real time and historic data about the Balancing Mechanism which is used by the National Grid (System Operator) as a means of balancing power flows on to and off the electricity Transmission System in Great Britain. I hope you find this useful.

  11. It’s always alarming when anti-windfarm campaigners claim to have access to “facts” which are absolutely untrue. James (above) stated it as a “fact” that houses in the UK lose 20% of their value when a wind farm is built nearby. A link to the case he cites would have been useful, given that all the available studies (UK and overseas) indicate that property values do not fall and that, if anything, they tend to increase faster near windfarms than elsewhere. Similarly, James refers rather airily to “documented” cases of windfarm developers having to buy back unsellable properties. But, of course, finding these “documented” cases proves extremely difficult. In short, James was having us on when he pretended to have done a bit of digging – no amount of digging (except on unreliable and irresponsible anti-windfarm campaign websites) will reveal the mythical 20% drop in UK house prices. This is your standard, common-or-garden anti-windfarm myth-mongering, aimed to create confusion and concern but (as always) lacking in any actual evidence.

  12. E Freeman

    March 23rd, 2012

    A massive windfarm is proposed near my property. It will loom 1,000ft above my small farm (which will face it directly) as it will compise 23 of the biggest turbines available (485ft tall on a ridge 500ft high)and 2Km away (1.25 miles). This in one of the most scenic areas of the Scottish Highlands. I will not want to live here if it goes ahead, why would anyone else? I expect Aeolus does not have the same problem.

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