Wind energy is often misrepresented as “green”, “renewable”, and/or “sustainable”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s examine some of the known impacts wind energy production has on the environment.
[Please note, this article is limited to the documented ecological effects of post-construction turbine operation. Environmental impacts from component manufacturing, which includes mining, smelting, transportation, on-site construction, and recycling, while substantial, are discussed in detail on many other websites.]
In a previous article entitled- “AMERICA’S ENERGY FOOTPRINT – Another Reason to Reject Wind Power!“, I compared the massive amount of land area wind energy production requires with other energy sources. Although wind energy proponents are not deterred by the amount of land taken up by their favored energy source, a serious discussion of environmental impacts should include consideration of how much land area is affected.
For industrial scale wind farms, turbines are typically spaced at least one third of a mile apart. This is because the blades, (when they are actually spinning), create massive amounts of turbulence. In order to reach peak efficiency, turbines must be sited far enough from each other so they have “clean air” to operate in. A 2MW wind turbine generally requires roughly two tenths of a square mile, or 128 acres of land. Distances between turbines should be 6 to 10 times the diameter of the rotor for optimal efficiency. For example, if the rotor diameter of a wind turbine is 275 feet, multiplying that by 7 results in the distance apart… 275ft. x 7 = 1925ft. Topography and greed can also play a role. Financial incentives and subsidies often outweigh efficiency considerations and result in cramming a maximum number of turbines into a specified area.
Many well meaning, but woefully misinformed wind energy advocates, are in favor of removing hydro-electric dams in order to help restore fisheries, specifically salmon runs. Forget about the decades of structural improvements and new engineering technologies which have increased fish passage and survival rates at most of our dams. Let’s just focus on how many wind turbines would be needed in order to replace/equal the power generation that would be lost by the breaching of say, just four dams on the lower Snake River.
According to retired industry consultant geologist David Boleneus, the four Snake River dams produce an average of 3,033 megawatts of electricity, which is sufficient to serve 88.5% of Washington households. Attempting to match the electrical output from the four dams would require constructing and operating 13,863 wind turbines, which is more than 3 times the current number of BPA turbines now operating in Washington state. These 13,863 turbines would require a land base of 3,200,000 acres, or 5,019 square miles. To replace the power from the dams would necessitate consuming and converting more than 7% of Washington State’s land area to industrial wind farm sites at a projected cost of $175,000,000,000 ($175 billion). Of course the proverbial elephant in the room is that even with massive investments, wind energy has proven so unreliable that it cannot replace the electricity lost from those four dams at virtually any price.
But let’s not get sidetracked talking about energy equivalency, efficiency, or costs. This post is about the ecological effects of wind turbines, not economics.
Everyone has heard that wind turbines kill bats and birds, and most people are willing to live with that fact to some degree. But how serious is the impact? USGS research biologist Paul Cryan claims wind turbines are having a catastrophic impact on the bat population. Cryan says that, “Unprecedented numbers of migratory bats are found dead beneath industrial-scale wind turbines during late summer and autumn in both North America and Europe. There are no other well-documented threats to populations of migratory tree bats that cause mortality of similar magnitude to that observed at wind turbines.”
The USGS has estimated that bats benefit U.S. agriculture by as much as $53 billion dollars annually. Their continued population decline could pose a grave threat to our agricultural base. Yet bats are not the only species impacted by these killing machines.
Wind turbines are also considered the fastest-growing human-caused threat to our nation’s bird population. In 2013, a study published in The Wildlife Society Bulletin, estimated that 573,000 birds were killed by wind turbines annually. Offshore wind turbines are also responsible for killing an unknown number of marine birds. Since 2005, an estimated 3,000 new turbines have been erected in the U.S. every year, which means the numbers of birds killed today is vastly greater than it was back in 2013. The annual bird death toll due to wind turbines is expected to climb well into the millions by 2030.
As of January 2022, the U.S. Wind Turbine Database (USWTDB) counted more than 70,800 operational turbines, each of them capable of slaughtering tens of thousands of birds and bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has noted that, “the most significant threat is posed to species of large, threatened and high-conservation-value birds such as golden and bald eagles, burrowing owls, red-tailed and Swainson’s hawks, peregrine and prairie falcons, American kestrels and white-tailed kites.” These important predatory birds are valued as much for their ability to control rodents and other pest species as well as for their own intrinsic beauty. Yet the fact is, wind turbines are being given a pass when it comes to their capacity for dealing death.
According to the American Eagle Foundation, “In December, 2016, a new eagle-management plan announced a final rule by the federal government that would give wind energy developers 30-year permits to “take” or incidentally kill protected Bald and Golden Eagles, without requiring the industry to share mortality data with the public or take into consideration such critical factors as proper siting.” Covering up the enormous scale of the slaughter is necessary for politicians to continue pursuit of their “green new deal” agenda. But wait, there’s more…
Wind turbines are also known to affect soil organisms and soil fertility. A study entitled, “Vibrational noise from wind energy-turbines negatively impacts earthworm abundance”, found that “soil animals, such as earthworms (macrofauna, > 1 cm in size), are particularly likely to be impacted by the low-frequency turbine waves that can travel through soils over large distances.”
Considering the enormous land area needed to generate wind energy, the decrease, and in some cases, wholesale absence of earth worms near wind turbines could have dire implications for the continued healthy functioning of the soil biome. But nobody seems to be worried about earth worms, or good soil, or bats, or all those pesky birds. Having a “clean”, “renewable”, and “sustainable” energy source is just so much more important. At least, that’s what we are being sold.
Sources for this article include: