Having spent much time recently in Europe, where wind farms abound (often with turbines stopped or barely circling in the dull breeze) I foun this Wall Street Journal article by the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce on their dubious impact on carbon emissions particularly interesting. He writes:
The wind industry has achieved remarkable growth largely due to the claim that it will provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. There’s just one problem: It’s not true. A slew of recent studies show that wind-generated electricity likely won’t result in any reduction in carbon emissions-or that they’ll be so small as to be almost meaningless….
Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called “cycling”). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase. A car analogy helps explain: An automobile that operates at a constant speed-say, 55 miles per hour-will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.
Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power. In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas. (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity “has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide” emissions.
Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado’s coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009.
True environmentalists might also consider what these wind farms do to the landscape. There are plenty of pretty views in Europe, but it’s always kind of sad to stumble on what would be beautiful green fields that are filled with giant steel gray windmills. If this were really the solution to reducing carbon-output and creating cheap, renewable energy, it might be worth it. But it’s increasingly clear that the push for wind doesn’t meaningfully help the environments, soaks up significant taxpayer dollars, and leads to higher energy prices for consumers. Let’s keep those fields green.