Yesterday, I wrote about the basics of wind energy and the one, but very important pro. There are a lot of arguments against wind energy, some a little harder to fix than the others, but there isn’t anything that doesn’t seem fixable. So today, I’ll go through them and tell whether or not they are real concerns or just a bunch of nonsense. Most of this is opinions, I found studies to support some, so give it whatever weight you want. If you have been considering whether wind energy is a good way to go then maybe these will help you out.
Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators. Roughly 80% of the cost is the machinery, with the balance being site preparation and installation. If wind generating systems are compared with fossil-fueled systems on a “life-cycle” cost basis (counting fuel and operating expenses for the life of the generator), however, wind costs are much more competitive with other generating technologies because there is no fuel to purchase and minimal operating expenses.
As time goes on and they become more popular this might change. They’ll probably never be ‘cheap’, but less expensive.
Supply and Transport Issues
The major challenge to using wind as a source of power is that it is intermittent and does not always blow when electricity is needed. Wind cannot be stored (although wind-generated electricity can be stored, if batteries are used), and not all winds can be harnessed to meet the timing of electricity demands. Further, good wind sites are often located in remote locations far from areas of electric power demand (such as cities). Finally, wind resource development may compete with other uses for the land, and those alternative uses may be more highly valued than electricity generation. However, wind turbines can be located on land that is also used for grazing or even farming.
For the supply issue, I think that back-up generators could be used. Or, you know, heaven forbid, we could stop using so much.
For the land issue, we don’t need as much meat as we’re eating, yet we continue to waste and ruin the land to do it. If we are willing to do that, then we shouldn’t have a problem with using the land for something that will actually benefit us now and in the future. Since most of the cows for the meat industry are grain and corn fed, we raise additional grains to feed them (which is way more than people probably realize.) If we cut down on our meat consumption or eat ‘organic’, we would cut down on the land we need for grain and thereby having extra land, already deforested land, leftover to use for this. As I have not finished studying all these renewable energy resources, at this time I feel like windmills could be a waste of space, but I also tend to think humans and buildings needed to house humans, as a general rule are a waste of space. All we do is destroy. I’m keeping my mind open, keeping in my mind that it gives a pro condition that is hard to replicate. I will also say that if we didn’t need to consume so much then we would need to dedicate a lot less time and resources to these kinds of issues. We’ll have to take what we can get.
Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to fossil fuel power plants, there is some concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades, aesthetic (visual) impacts, and birds and bats having been killed by flying into the rotors (Whoever these people are, I hope they’re not driving or have houses, or windows or just plain existing because all those cause the same problems. I will be coming back to topic to plead my case momentarily).
Wind turbines do have negative impacts on the environment, but the negative impacts have to be balanced with our need for electricity and the overall lower environmental impact of using wind for energy relative to other sources to make electricity.
Modern wind turbines are very large machines, and some people do not like their visual impact on the landscape. A few wind turbines have caught on fire, and some have leaked lubricating fluids, though this is relatively rare. Some people do not like the sound that wind turbine blades make (I’ll try very hard not interject a rude comment here).
Most wind power projects on land also require service roads that add to their physical impact on the environment. Making the metals and other materials in wind turbines and the concrete for their foundations requires the use of energy, which may be from fossil fuels. Some studies have shown that wind turbines produce much more clean electricity over their operating life than the equivalent amount of energy used to make and install them.
Some types of wind turbines and wind projects cause bird and bat deaths. BUT, there is a huge but, other human actions make a more negative impact.
Two general types of local impacts to birds have been demonstrated at existing wind facilities: (1) direct mortality from collisions and (2) indirect impacts from avoidance of an area, habitat disruption, reduced nesting/breeding density, habitat abandonment, loss of refugia, habitat unsuitability, and behavioral effects (Stewart et al. 2004, 2007). For bats, only direct mortality resulting from collisions and barotrauma (i.e., experiencing rapid pressure changes that cause severe internal organ damage; Baerwald et al. 2008) has been demonstrated.
The numbers, I found anywhere from 10,000 to 440,000 so who knows, are thought to be so big because the wind currents most beneficial for producing wind energy also happen to be the ones that billions of birds use to migrate across the US.
There are many different variables that contribute to the number of deaths of birds and bats due to wind turbines, but here is a link that can give you a pretty good idea – http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wind/pdfs/birds_and_bats_fact_sheet.pdf
I hate that these small things that people try to do to get us to a better, cleaner place are always turned around to look like something that they’re not. If people really think that these wind turbines are our largest problem when it comes to world and bird population then are so sadly mistaken. Everyone who reads this blog knows that I’m a huge animal lover. I’m not saying that these deaths are insignificant because they’re not. Birds, like bees, are like the canaries of the coal mines. We really do NEED them. They help pollinate to some degree, we need them for other things like insect control, but their deaths tell us that there is a huge problem. But some aren’t dying from that problem; some are dying simply because we’re putting obstacles in their way that they can’t overcome. Unnecessary things that we do every day causes a lot more harm to these birds that wind turbines do.
One BILLION birds are killed because they hit windows of vehicles or buildings. http://www.birdscreen.com/PDF/Klem_AFO_Collisions1990.pdf
Recently, I was sitting at a stoplight, luckily, and this bird came flying into my windshield. It was chasing a bug, but man it scared the crap out of me. It was so determined and focused on getting that bug, it wasn’t paying attention. Had I been moving, I probably would have killed it. As I watched the determined, little devil chasing with all its heart to get the bug, I had to smile. I was just thankful that I was waiting at a stupid light and no body killed it. Before when I wrote that for a different post, I couldn’t actually believe that that many birds are killed by flying into window, but now I believe it. That bird hit my window hard. I’m surprised it’s not cracked.
Some people’s problem with the windmills isn’t just how many birds it kills, but what kind of birds it kills. One Eagle and other higher flying, endangered species are different than hundreds of pigeons. Yeah, that’s a problem, but it’s something that we have to keep on working on. We’re all going to be dead, if we don’t do something. And most of those birds wouldn’t be endangered if we had smartened up and stopped poaching them or killing them with pesticides, litter or destroying their homes. It sucks and windmills are a problem for them, but it’s not the only problem. If we’re going to be upset about one thing then we should be upset by it all.
Cats. Sometimes people make me want to laugh out loud. Of all the things that kill birds, I could only find enough information to check my numbers for two of them. Wind turbines and cats. Why does everybody hate on cats so much? Cats are natural predators, maybe not for the areas they are in, but they are meant to hunt. Secondly, there is an overpopulation of them. Is that their fault? No, absolutely not. Some inconsiderate person got a cat, didn’t get it spayed or neutered and then it found another cat of some careless person and that was the end of that. The mother probably went off to have the babies, the babies grew up wild because they weren’t around humans and then that was the end of that. One unfixed cat and her unfixed offspring will create 420,000 cats in seven years. Whose fault is that? Ours. If we want to blame someone for the dying birds we should take a hard look in the mirror and then point the finger.
Pesticides. If birds pollinate, eat, or breath it would make sense that pesticides and herbicides would be a problem. They’re bodies are sensitive. Couldn’t find too many sources on this, but one said 67 million die from pesticide use. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr191/Asilomar/pdfs/1029-1042.pdf
Destroyed habitats. Their natural habitats may be altered or destroyed by human development and by the changes in the climate that most scientists believe are caused by greenhouse gases emissions from human activities (which wind energy use can help reduce). I couldn’t find any specific stats on this, but related I found: 113 birds (1.3%) are known to have become extinct. This number is expected to rise rapidly as the breeding populations of many species continue to decline. But even before the advent of modern technology, humanity took a heavy toll on creation. Approximately 70% of the known bird species have become extinct in the Hawaiian Islands since humans first arrived. Indeed, large-scale extinctions of Pacific island birds apparently was widespread. Recent evidence points to a loss from these islands in excess of 2,000 species following human habitation—a 20% reduction in the world’s bird species. http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr191/Asilomar/pdfs/1029-1042.pdf
Power lines, communication towers(including cell towers, radio towers, TV towers, etc). Deaths caused from power lines equal around 130 million and communications towers account for around 7 million. There are 84,000 communications towers in North America. Unluckily for birds, these 84,000 communication (TV, radio, cellphone) towers in North America often kill the birds as they are migrating each year. The University of Southern California put a number on this massacre and it is large: 7 million bird deaths each year. All for our entertainment. http://news.usc.edu/#!/article/34016/millions-of-birds-perish-at-communication-towers-usc-study-finds/
There is also deaths due to litter. I couldn’t find any specific numbers on that, but if the numbers are anything like those of all animals then it’s in the thousands to millions.
The wind energy industry and the U.S. government are researching ways to reduce the impact of wind turbines on birds and bats.
As more research is conducted, so more ways are found to reduce wind-power casualties. As bats rarely fly over the ocean, offshore wind turbines have negligible effect on their mortality. Offshore turbines also seem to cause low bird mortality. The Nysted Offshore Wind Farm, in Denmark, was actually built in a duck flyway, yet mortality was discovered to be just 1.2 birds per year per tower. Other techniques include slowing turbine blades at night – the time when wind speeds are lowest anyway but bats happen to be most active – shown by US research at the Casselman Wind Power Project to cut wildlife deaths by 73%. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/27/wind-power-wildlife-lucy-siegle
There was even a study done to see which colors birds ran into more. Yellow was the deadliest and purple, with good reason, the birds seem to avoid. Now all we have to do is paint them all a lovely shade of purple and problem solved. Not quite, but still. There is hope still to be had. http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9067000/9067721.stm
If people are willing to go to such extremes, they obviously care about the birds. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit and fixing the mistakes. They always painted the turbines white because it was unobtrusive. I wonder why they didn’t paint them to blend in with the sky? (Just kidding. Kind of.) Would purple make the wind turbines less of an eye sore? Maybe.
Anyways, my point is that if we are really going to bash turbines even with all its benefits then I think we should really take a look at all the harmful thing we do to kill birds. Something to consider.
My other point is to not count out wind power altogether. They seem promising even if they are all purple. Don’t give up hope.