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Limits of Wind Powered Electricity

Pollution Free Wind Power is Not Problem Free Electricity

Wind power is often suggested as an alternative to coal fired generation of electricity. While wind power is clean, there are still limitations that must be considered.

Wind driven electrical generation is seen as a green alternative to coal or nuclear powered electrical generation. There is no pollution co-produced with wind powered electricity and no carbon burned to CO2. There are a number of other potential problems. These problems must be taken into account when planning for a wind generation project.

Birds and Bats Killed

Many animal conservationists are often the first to complain about proposed wind farms. Their objection is that the spinning blades are dangerous to bats and night flying birds. According to a National Academy of Science (NAS) study (Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects), between 20,000 and 37,000 birds died in 2003 due to impacts with wind turbines.

While that number sounds large, it is only a small part of bird deaths caused by various human causes. The report "found no evidence of significant impacts on bird populations", but noted there has been little research done on the "environmental impacts of these facilities". It recommended that future permits include requirements for pre- and post- installation environmental studies.

Lack of Predictable Output

Wind farms produce electricity only when the wind is blowing; blowing within a certain range of wind speeds. That range depends on the type facility constructed. If the speed is too slow, the blades do not turn. If the wind speed is too high, breaks are applied to stop the blades to protect the equipment from damage.

This variability of electrical output can cause problems for utilities, especially if the wind farm is large. In February 2008 a Texas utility had to cut power to large industrial customers when an unexpected drop in wind generation coincided with an increase in demand. The emergency lasted about three hours while other production was brought online.

Electromagnetic Interference

A recent study noted that there are potential issues with interference with radio and television reception (NAS, Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects). All generators have the potential for this interference, but wind turbines cannot be as well shielded as generators in a power plant. This potential interference restricts where wind farms can be placed.

A slightly different form of interference deals with radar. Instead of the generator being the culprit it is the rotating blades that cause potential problems for radars. The British Military recently objected to an off coast wind farm in the North Sea. They determined that the wind farm location would cause a blind spot in their radar coverage.

Blight on the Landscape

The most common objection is that wind farms lower property values. The ideal location for wind farms is a wide open area with few obstructions to wind flow. The same areas are frequently valued for their scenic vistas. Many people feel that a wind farm detracts from the scenic value.

None of these potential problems call for the elimination of wind power generation of electricity. Most of these problems can be addressed early in the site selection process. The NAS study provides a "Guide for Evaluating Wind-Energy Projects" to help planners address these issues early in the development process.

Wind power is not the answer to the various energy problems facing society, but is can be part of the mix of answers. Identification of the potential issues early can lead to a site selection that will overcome most, if not all, of those problems. This can lead to an early acceptance of the wind farm by the local population.


Submitted by SuperGreenMe on Oct 31, 2008