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Debunking Common Wind Energy Myths

Published June 15, 2017
More energy efficiency resources

Global warming has made the development of clean energy a necessity. In recent years, we've have seen significant advancements in this area, with wind energy emerging as one of the frontrunners among clean energy sources. Unfortunately, opponents have spread outdated and incorrect information. Let's look at the most widely-spread myths about wind energy.

Wind turbines against a blue sky

Table of Contents

Myth 1: Wind Farms Are Unsightly and Destroy Tourism

Some people do not like the look of wind farms. However, tastes differ considerably, and many people view wind farms as an interesting feature when visiting a scenic landscape. In a 2008 survey commissioned by the Irish National Tourism Development Authority, the majority of respondents felt that wind farms did not detract from the scenery. Respondents were three times as likely to say that wind farms had a positive impact on scenery as they were to say that it had a negative impact.

Biggar Economics, a Scottish consulting firm, looked at the question differently. Rather than surveying tourists, they compared the growth of wind farms to the growth of tourism employment between 2009 - 2014. If wind farms hurt tourism then you would expect that an increase in the number of wind turbines would result in a decrease in tourism employment. However, the data did not support this hypothesis. The authors concluded that there was "no relationship between the development of onshore wind farms and tourism employment".

Myth 2: Wind Farms Are Noisy

First, here is a video from the British newspaper, The Telegraph, that gives you a sense of how loud a wind turbine can be.

Measuring the amount of noise generated in nature by a wind turbine is difficult. General Electric (which manufactures wind turbines) has a graphic that estimates the noise created by a wind turbine situated 300 yards away from the listener to be louder than a refrigerator, but more quiet than a window mount air conditioner.

One explanation for complaints about the sound generated by wind turbines is that sounds don't have to be very loud to be annoying. This, and several other excellent points, are made in this balanced discussion of wind turbine noise.

bald eagle helping to test systems to prevent wind turbines from striking birds
National Wind Technology Center works to develop systems
to prevent bird strikes. Source: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Myth 3: Wind Farms Kill a Lot of Birds

Let's start with credible wind turbine bird mortality estimates. In December of 2013 the peer-reviewed journal Biological Conservation published an article that estimated that between 140,000 and 328,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines in the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii).

While those are big numbers, let's compare them to other causes of bird mortality:

  • In May of 2014 the peer-reviewed Journal of Wildlife Management estimated that between "89 and 340 million birds die annually from vehicle collisions on U.S. roads".
  • January 2013, the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications estimated that free-ranging domestic cats kill between 1.3–4.0 billion birds per year in the United States. (This estimate has come under criticism.)

When compared to annual bird mortality numbers in the hundreds of millions and billions, the contribution of wind turbines seems minor.

Myth 4: Wind Farms Are Detrimental to Human Health

The authors of this article are neither doctors nor medical researchers. What follows is our interpretation of the state of concerns about wind turbines and human health.

There is little doubt that wind turbines cause annoyance, and possibly stress, among people that oppose the construction of wind mills near their homes. Annoyance and stress can decrease quality of life, and may have long-term health effects. These indirect health effects can be linked to wind farms, though the same kind of indirect link could be made to any number of annoyances.

There are also concerns that wind turbines create a low-frequency noise called infrasound, which may cause "wind turbine syndrome". Wind turbine syndrome is blamed for a range of maladies such as disturbed sleep, headaches, dizziness and tiniitis.

NPR has a balanced survey of the topic, including discussion of the possibility that this "syndrome" is caused by the nocebo effect: learning that some people believe that wind turbines cause health concerns causes people to experience anxiety and the accompanying physical effects.

There have been numerous reviews of peer-reviewed scientific studies (in 2009, 2011, and 2015) that have concluded that wind turbines do not directly cause health problems.

Myth 5: Wind Farms Lower Property Values

In 2013, the US Department of Energy funded a study that looked at more than 50,000 home sales in 9 states. All of the home sales were withing 10 miles of a wind farm, and about 1,200 of the sales were within 1 mile. The study found "no statistical evidence that home values near turbines were affected".

In 2016, a study published in the Journal of Real Estate Research analyzed more than 122,000 home sales from 1998 - 2012. These sales occurred in densely inhabited areas of Massachusetts near 41 different wind turbines. The study found "no net effects due to [wind] turbines".

Conclusion

There are more than 40 offshore wind projects currently underway, which can operate in waters as deep as 1 kilometer. These floating wind farms are currently more expensive than their onshore siblings. But, if their proponents are correct that costs can be brought down significantly, they may offer a way to categorically eliminate all of the concerns mentioned in this list of common myths.

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