Hot Air

Wind Salesmens’ Talking Points and the Facts That Refute Them

Wind salesmen mimic the memes of environmentalism to sell their industry, often in ways so deceptive or contrary as to mock the very movement they claim to promote.  You will often hear wind salesmen, and politicians who want to look ‘green,’ make the following claims:

Claim: Windplants will reduce oil consumption and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

Facts:  Only about 3% of total electricity consumption comes from oil, so windplants (which produce electricity) will not reduce oil consumption or lessen foreign dependence in any meaningful sense.

In 2004, 53% of the electricity in the US was generated from coal, 22% from nuclear fission, and 13.5% from natural gas. Oil is used mainly to power engines, motor vehicles and heating furnaces, not to produce electricity. Wind power provided 0.4%.  “Annual Energy Outlook 2006,” Energy Information Administration. More efficient engines and conservation measures will reduce oil consumption, but wind turbines will not.  Wind Turbines Have No Effect…

The US Energy Information Administration sees little change from 2004 to 2030: about 7% more from coal, 5.5% less from nuclear fission, 1% less from oil, 0.5% less from natural gas, and 0.5% more from renewables. Wind power’s contribution is projected to rise from 0.4% to 1.2% if current incentives and subsidies remain in place.

Claim: Windplants will reduce the mining/burning of fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions, hence global warming.

Facts: There is no evidence that wind turbines save any carbon dioxide at all. The preferred source that wind power may replace on the grid is hydropower, which is already carbon dioxide free. If a conventional source is replaced, it is simply ramped down or switched from generation to standby, in which mode it still burns fuel and emits carbon dioxide. Free, Plentiful and Fickle (NY Times)CO2 Emissions Reduction: Time for a Reality Check?

Windplants can’t produce electricity when the wind is not blowing, and electricity from a windy day cannot be stored to use on a calm day. In the East, wind blows enough to generate electricity only 15-30% of the time, and only 10% of the time is it during periods when demand is sufficient on the grid to make the turbine electricity usable. (See GE’s System Performance Evaluation to NY Sate Energy Research and Development Authority.) Because wind electricity is internittent and unreliable, and because our supply of electricity on the grid must be dependable,  every windplant requires a backup power plant that is fast and dependable (gas, coal, nuclear, hydro) to supply power when the wind stops blowing or doesn’t blow within the right mph range. For every megawatt of turbine electricity there must be reliable, instantly dispatchable power in reserve… a ready backup constructed and kept running for times when wind turbines have too little wind. The upshot is that most, if not all of windpower’s CO2 savings is lost to emissions from the backup generators that the grid requires to even out the supply of electricity during times when the wind is not blowing within the right range of speeds. Windpower’s CO2 savings are lost to emissions from conventional generation facilities (mainly coal) that must be constructed and kept running to backup the windplants during periods of low-wind and no-wind. Windpower’s backup requirement eliminates most if not all of its savings, in terms of fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Lees for More: The Rube Goldberg Nature of Industrial Wind Development, How the Scam Works

Reducing CO2 emissions is a goal with universal support, yet carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced more efficiently by other means. Based on cost, wind and solar energy cannot compete with clean coal and nuclear, with wind reaching any substantial part of the market only if these two options are not available. Meanwhile, tax incentives and market interventions such as RPS impede progress by misdirecting capital away from more efficient technologies, such as clean coal and nuclear. In January, 2007, the Australian government officially redirected its energy policy from wind (and solar) to clean coal and nuclear, citing the incapacity of wind and solar technologies to compete cost-effectively or to contribute substantially to energy generation.

Claim: A 1.5MW wind turbine generates 1.5MW of electricity, or a 2.0MW turbine generates 2.0MW  of electricity.  (In the wind business, this is referred to variously as the “rated” capacity and “nameplate” capacity of a turbine.)

Facts: The effective capacity of wind turbines in the eastern states is only about 10% of their nameplate capacity. (See GE’s System Performance Evaluation to the NY State Energy Research and Development Authority.) In other words, wind turbines are 90% inefficient in the eastern USA. Here’s why.

Turbines can generate electricity only when the wind blows. In eastern states, wind conditions are inadequate to generate electricity more than 15-30% of the time. This means that a 1.5 MW turbine has a capacity for only .225-.450MW of electricity generation (1.5MW x 0.15 = .225MW; 1.5MW x 0.30 = 0.45MW). So a turbine is said to be only 15-30% “efficient” (rather than 70-85% inefficient).

But wait. What if the wind produces electricity at times when it’s not needed?

Electricity on the grid cannot be stored. If not used when generated, it’s lost.

In the East, wind is fundamentally “out of phase” with electricity demand. When the wind normally blows most (at night in winter), electricity demand is least. When electricity demand is normally highest (summer afternoons), the wind is least. The result is that most of the electricity that’s generated by wind turbines is generated at times when it’s not needed… not even usable. It is wasted. Or, in the words of GE itself:

Capacity factors of inland wind sites in New York are on the order of 30% of their rated capacity. Their effective capacities, however, are about 10%, due to both the seasonal and daily patterns of the wind generation being largely “out of phase” with the NYISO load patterns. The offshore site in Long Island exhibits both annual and peak period effective capacities on the order of 40%. The higher effective capacity is due to the daily wind patterns peaking several hours earlier in the day than the rest of the wind sites and therefore being much more in line with the load demand. As has been noted earlier, these capacity factors are based on the 2001 through 2003 meteorological data combined with the operating characteristics of the 1.5 MW GE wind turbine design. – Source: System Performance Evaluation, Prepared by GE ENERGY for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

So when we hear wind salesmen’s claims, let’s be clear about the facts:

Rated or nameplate capacity 1.5-2.0MW

Capacity factor 15-30% of nameplate capacity (Eastern US)

Effective capacity 10% of nameplate capacity (Eastern US)

In the eastern USA, a 1.5MW turbine will normally generate about 0.15MW of usable electricity; a 2.0MW turbine, about   0.20MW of usable electricity.

Claim: Windplants will provide power for significant numbers of homes.


Facts: Wind turbines power homes only while the wind is blowing. Windplants can’t produce electricity when the wind is not blowing. Neither can the electricity from a windy day be stored to use on a calm day. So when wind salesmen say a turbine will light your house, they mean it will light your house when (and only when) the wind is blowing…  hard enough for the turbine to generate electricity. All other times, during days and nights of low-wind or no-wind, your house will be dark. In the eastern USA, this might be more than half the time during an average year. For wind salesmen to say wind power will light homes… or neighborhoods or cities…   is misleading.

Claim: Windpower will help ease the coming energy shortage.

Facts: As shown in EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2007, wind turbine technology offers virtually no possibility of supplying a significant share of US energy requirements for the foreseeable future. EIA estimates that, by 2030 wind will supply only 4/10 of 1% of US energy consumption and 89/100 of 1% of US electric generation. EIA Lowers Forecast for Contribution of ‘Wind Power’

Even if all suitable highlands and ridges were saturated with windplants to the fullest extent practicable, still all those turbines could generate only one-half of one percent (0.5%) of total electricity used in 1990.

This results from the poor wind conditions that prevail in Pennsylvania’s highlands, wind conditions inadequate to run a turbine at an annual average of more than 15-25% (compared to national average of about 28%) of its rated capacity.

No matter how many windmills might be generated by tax breaks and public subsidies, even sited as densely as the land itself will allow, still the wind conditions in Pennsylvania can’t generate more than 0.5% of 1990 US electric consumption with this dead-end turbine technology

Claim: Windplants will reduce our cost of electricity.

Facts: The cost of generating electricity by wind turbines is double or more the cost of electricity from natural gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. See Comparative Costs of Electricity Generation

You can expect to pay these higher costs twice, once as consumer and again as taxpayer. As a consumer, the more windpower is used, the more your electric bills will go up. Then you’ll pay again as a taxpayer, to pay for the tax breaks, subsidies and price supports that are given to wind companies. (For example, “wind farm” owners can recover the entire capitalized cost, including development costs, and whether financed by equity or debt, of “wind farms” in only 5 years by the double declining balance method of depreciation, which means that windplants are traded every 3 years or so to restore the tax benefits to new owners. That’s in addition to the $0.019 (soon to be $0.02) per kWh Production Tax Credit. Tax burden escaped by “wind farm” owners is shifted to ordinary taxpayers who don’t have generous tax shelters.)

Claim: The wind industry will create many local jobs.

Facts: The track record shows only one job is created for every 15 wind turbines, and it’s a low level job at that. Even a large wind installation  employs only a few security and maintenance personnel.. While the construction phase may employ more, construction lasts only several months and most of the higher skilled employees are imported from other areas (and other countries). So the real contribution of windplants to the local employment base is almost nil.

If few jobs are created, large numbers of jobs and businesses are eliminated by the devastating effect of wind industrialization on local economies, where tourism is a major factor as it is in Bedford and Somerset Counties..

Claim: Wind turbines do not hurt property values or reduce the local tax base.

Facts: Experience in the eastern USA and in Europe indicates that wind turbines precipitate a decline in residential property values of 10-15% each year for the first two or three years, with the rate of devaluation lessening in years thereafter. This holds particularly for second-home, retirement, and other planned communities. The closer the property to the turbines, and the more the visual and noise intrusion, the greater is the devaluation. Reports from real estate brokers indicate that property values start to decline as soon as the prospect of nearby wind turbines becomes known. Turbines Cast Shadow Over Land Values;Wind Turbines Blow Away Property Values

Claim: Wind turbines are good for tourism and the economy.

Facts: All things unique are tourist attractions. In their early days, strip mines were tourist attractions. All tourist attractions are not assets. Some are disasters. The wreckage of the World Trade Center was a tourist attraction, yet also a tragic loss for the surroundings. What gives a temporary boost to tourism isn’t necessarily an asset to the region, and may end up as a major liability.


More important, what’s good for tourism today may be the ruin of tourism tomorrow. Uniqueness attracts tourists, but the uniqueness of wind turbines in Pennsylvania will disappear within three years, with construction plans calling for over 350 wind turbines in Somerset County alone, staring this summer. As turbine installations become commonplace throughout Pennsylvania, their attraction will change to detraction and tourist avoidance.. Industrial land uses cause avoidance by tourists and homebuyers alike. To the extent that the economy of Somerset County depends on tourism and its scenic highlands, the damage will be breathtaking.

Nobody but the wind industry and its most zealous supporters claims that wind developments will encourage tourism. The notion that visitors will drive past hundreds of turbines in the Pennsylvania highlands in order to look at some more in Somerset County—like looking at telephone poles—is nonsense. See Blowing in the Wind, Views of Scotland: Tourism

Claim: Wind turbines are noiseless and create few disturbances.

Facts: For homeowners, noise from industrial wind turbines creates profound health and safety issues for people living within 1-½ miles. Noise interferes with sleep and causes health problems, documented by a rapidly emerging body of medical research, practitioner reports and personal injury litigation here and abroad. Ice throws and mechanical malfunctions endanger users of adjacent properties. Local setback requirements and noise limits are generally inadequate to protect the health and safety of persons nearby. Wind turbines make bad neighbors. The emerging standard in Europe is a setback of 1-½ miles. See UK Noise Association – Wind Farms are Causing Noise Problems. See also Wind Turbine Syndrome: Noise, Shadow, Flicker and Health, Noise Radiation from Wind Turbines Installed Near Homes: Effects on Health … Also Wind Turbine Accident Data , Noise Complaints on Rise, Life Under a Windplant, New Frontier for Turbines: Abilene, TX, Mars Hill residents voice concerns over wind tower noise

Claim: Persons harmed by wind turbines can take their grievance to court on the grounds of nuisance.

Facts: Holding out a remedy on the grounds of public or private nuisance is a cynical ploy to deceive those unfamiliar with case law. Courts in Pennsylvania so seldom enforce the nuisance doctrine as to make it almost archaic.

Claim: Windplants do not harm wildlife or the natural environment.

Facts: Turbines fragment forests, destroy habitats and ecosystems, degrade watersheds, and reduce populations of various species of woods and water creatures, some of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. “Do wind turbines harm animals?” , Windpower: What Does It Harm? See also, Compilation of Windfarm Mortality Reports

Claim: Projections of thousands of wind turbines coming to Pennsylvania’s Highlands are inflated just to scare people.

Facts: Meeting the Rendell Administration’s present RPS goals will require construction of 36,000 – 48,000 wind turbines in Pennsylvania’s Highlands. (RPS stands for Renewable Portfolio Standard. A renewable portfolio standard is a government requirement for electricity providers to obtain a minimum percentage of their power from designated renewable energy resources by a certain date.) The Pennsylvania RPS was enacted in November 2004 and calls for 18% of the states electricity to come from qualifying renewable sources by 2021. Do the math:

  • The Rendell Administration has set Pennsylvania’s RPS in 2021 at 18%. Prevailing estimates are that windpower will be about 70% of that amount, or .18 x .70 = 0.126 of 2021 electricity consumption from windpower. See  U. S. Energy Information Administration
  • Pennsylvania electricity consumption in 2004 was 143,501 MW. For simplicity, we use the 2004 consumption total for 2021(without adjusting for the prevailing 1.7-1.9% annual growth rate), so 143,501 x 0.126 = 18,081 MW  is the RPS goal for windpower.See PA Electricity Consumption 2004
  • Nationally, the average output of wind turbines is 26% of rated capacity. Wind conditions in the Northeast are far less favorable than many areas of the USA, with most eastern estimates ranging 18-20%. (General Electric, manufacturer of wind turbines, admits to the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) that its turbines’ effective capacity factor is only 10% in New York State inland sites.) For simplicity, use 25%, putting the actual average output of each turbines at 1.5MW x .25 =  0.375 MW actual output per turbine.  Since the RPS goal is 18,081 MW, it will require 48,216 1.5MW wind turbines for achievement. Or, if the 2MW turbines are used, then the requirement will be only 36,162 turbines in Pennsylvania Highlands.
  • Arriving at a final estimate would require an adjustment for the (almost 2%) projected annual growth in electricity consumption between 2004 and 2021.

Claim: Wind turbines make a small footprint, minimizing impacts on forests, watersheds and ecosystems.

Facts: Taking into account the infrastructure required to support turbines (such  as substations, transmission facilities and easements, oil storage areas, maintenance roadways and such), wind power on average requires about 50 acres per megawatt of rated capacity and 150-200 acres per megawatt of actual output, after accounting for transmission and maintenance infrastructure. So a 2 MW turbine requires about 100 acres, and a wind ‘farm’ of 50 of them consumes 5,000 acres to generate about 25 MV… when wind is blowing hard enough for maximum output.

Wind power is enormously land-intensive. When turbines are put in wooded areas, turbine developers usually prefer to clear-cut the surrounding 800-1000 feet in every direction, and about 8,000 feet in the direction of the wind, to enhance wind conditions.  Different brands/models require different amounts of cleared land, ranging from about 30 acres/turbine to over 100 acres/turbine, with an average in actual practice of about 50-60 acres per megawatt of nameplate capacity.

If Pennsylvania’s 18% RPS goal requires about 18, 000 MW of wind-generated electricity, it will require 48,216 1.5MW wind turbines to generate it (using 25% capacity factor).. At 150-200 acres per MW of actual output, an RPS goal of 18,000 MW will consume 2,700,000-3,600,000 acres of ridgetops and. highlands. At 640 acres per square mile, that’s 4219 – 5625 square miles.that will be industrialized by windplants.

Because wind conditions in the eastern USA are not as favorable for turbine technology as other areas of the country, the preferred siting of windplants in the East is usually along the highest ridgelines. Prevailing siting practice is 5-8 turbines per mile. Siting 48,000 turbines along ridgelines would consume 6,000 – 9,600 miles of Pennsylvania’s highest (and hence most scenic) ridges. By virtue of their size, movement, and elevation (200-400 tons towering 400+ feet atop the highest ridges), they’ll dominate the landscape for 20-25 miles in every direction.

That will be about 48,000 turbines with the prospect of producing a maximum of less than 0.5% — that is half of one percent — of the nation’s 1990 electric consumption.

Claim: Wind turbine technology will soon advance to where wind generation is efficient, competitive and self-sustaining.

Facts: Industrial wind turbine technology is widely acknowledged as a dead-end technology.  Wind turbines are nothing new. For decades, wind turbine technology has been rejected as economically and financially unwise, with virtually no prospect of ever becoming competitive or financially self-sustaining. Only because of recent tax legislation has interest in it been revived.

Yet once the public comes to understand the incapacity and inefficiency behind wind turbines, politicians will no longer support them, and the tax breaks and other public subsidies that now sustain them will quickly dry up. Since wind turbines without public subsidies are huge money pits, rapid disinvestment will soon follow, leading to large-scale abandonment of wind installations across the eastern highlands. Somerset County’s scenic heritage will have been transformed into a towering industrial junkyard.

The latest annual energy forecast issued by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates that, by the year 2030, wind energy would supply less than 1% of US electric generation and about 4/10 of 1% of total US energy consumption.
This forecast, which likely overstates the potential contribution of wind energy, helps show that officials of the wind industry and US Department of Energy are misleading the public, media and government officials with their claims that wind might supply 20% of US electricity. EIA Lowers Its Forecast for the Contribution of “Wind Energy”

Claim: Industrial wind developers are out to provide a public service.

Facts: What’s powering the current wind turbine construction boom are unprecedented income tax sheltering opportunities, coupled with price and demand supports in the electricity market.. As a result of recent legislation, windplants are built to shelter income of high-income professionals, with investment capital coming mainly from big cities of the East and West Coasts. Since the tax benefits include double declining balance depreciation over 5 years, windplants are typically traded after about three years (after the model of ENRON), so that new buyers can start the depreciation cycle all over again. That’s in addition to the $0.019 (soon to be $0.02) per kWh Production Tax Credit. Tax burden escaped by “wind farm” owners is shifted to ordinary taxpayers who don’t have generous tax shelters. Add to this another 10% for tax benefits and subsidies at the state level. See Wind Broker (Forbes), If the Cap Fits: Why Our CEO’s are Warming to Kyoto (WSJ)

The level of enrichment opportunities in the wind industry from combined public subsidies and market supports has little precedent in the American economy.  Tax breaks and market supports are driving a construction boom in wind turbines that is limited only by the availability of suitable land within the state.

Left to its present course, the current turbine construction boom resulting from market interventions coupled with tax breaks and other public subsidies for turbine investors will have permanent consequences of historic proportions. Wind industrialization will dramatically alter Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley landscape to a degree not seen since the 19th-century lumber barons denuded Penn’s Woods. Editorial, Altoona Patriot-News

Query: Who will take them down when they’re done?

Once permits are secured, ownership of windplants is typically transferred to single-asset LLC’s to insulate the developer, wind company, and subsequent windplant owners from legal liability beyond the value of the turbines themselves. This has the effect of insulating the wind company and subsequent owners from any litigation for damages, as the depreciated value of the turbines becomes marginal at best. It also leaves the landowner without financial recourse should the owner abandon the wind installation, rather than clearing the turbines and restoring the land to its former condition. Some jurisdiction protect against this eventually by requiring an escrow in the amount of the estimated total cost of decommissioning. But most jurisdictions require only a fractional escrow. (An escrow requirement of 25%, for example, gives the windplant owner a 75% discount for walking away, rather than decommissioning responsibly. )

Tax breaks for wind and other non-oil sources popped up in 1992, expired in 1999 and were renewed only intermittently, most recently in 2005, when Congress voted a two-year extension. Investors responded with the current construction boom, booming even in the Northeast where wind conditions make wind turbines far less efficient than in other parts of the country. But the tax breaks will soon expire, and as the popular naivite’ evolves into a more realistic view of windpower, the disappearance of political support for tax breaks will be soon followed by disinvestment of windplant owners and large scale abandonment of windplants. Where the escrow is inadequate to cover decommissioning, the landowner will likely be left holding the bag… and rusting turbines will dominate the landscape even more offensively than strip mines of the last century.

Conclusion: Current policy of unlimited consents for wind power stations across the Pennsylvania Highlands is tragically flawed, will never be the answer to climate change issues, cannot fulfill the national energy supply requirements expected of it and inflicts an extensive and unjustifiable environmental cost.

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