Why Wind Energy is a Bad Idea

In a casual conversation, I was asked why wind energy is a bad idea. Once again, I realized that a one or two-word answer could not convey a readily understandable and accurate picture of wind energy.

This article will try to provide such an answer in a few hundred words, where one or two won’t suffice.

There are essentially four reasons why wind energy is a bad idea.

  • It is unreliable
  • It is very, very expensive
  • It produces electricity when it isn’t needed
  • It has environmental issues
Wind farm in New York State. 2013
Wind farm in New York State. 2013

Wind can only produce electricity when the wind is blowing at between 6 mph and 55 mph. Above 6 mph, it gradually increases its output until it reaches a maximum output at around 35 mph. Above 55 mph, the wind turbine is shut down to prevent damage to the turbine.

The wind can stop blowing abruptly, so backup power generation must be immediately available to replace the wind generated electricity, or the grid could collapse causing blackouts.

Typically, gas turbine generators are kept running 24/7 so they are available to be rapidly brought online.

A sufficient number of gas turbine generators must kept running at all times to be ready for when the wind stops blowing. This varies by region and on the reliability of day-ahead weather forecasts.

The electricity generated by wind has an intrinsic cost, based on leveled cost of electricity (LCOE) of around 11 cents per kWh. This compares with around 5 cents per kWh for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants and around 6 cents for coal-fired power plants.

But there are other costs for wind energy that are seldom taken into consideration, and not included in LCOE calculations.

First, there is the cost of back-up power. It costs money to keep gas turbine generators running for no other purpose than to be ready to come on line when the wind stops blowing, or the sun stops shining in the case of solar generation.

It also costs money to build transmission lines which are used solely, or nearly so, to carry electricity from wind farms to where it can be used.

The best winds are in Montana and along the face of the Rocky Mountains, and these can be a thousand miles from where the wind generated electricity can be used. Transmission lines must be built if this electricity is to be brought to where it can be used. Though involving shorter distances, many other wind farms also need dedicated transmission lines to connect them to the grid.

Wind farms also produce electricity at night, when it isn’t needed.

This has resulted in the bizarre situation where the owners of wind farms have sold electricity at a loss, for example, actually paid the regional transmission organization (RTO) 1 cent per kWh, in order to collect the 2.2 cents per kWh subsidy.

More importantly, the nameplate ratings of wind turbines overstate the amount of electricity they can produce. Wind turbines in the United States have had a capacity factor of around 32%, or lower during the recent past.

Capacity factor is the amount of electricity a wind turbine, or any other power generation method, produces over a year, compared with how much it could produce using its nameplate rating.

Coal-powered and NGCC power plants typically have a capacity factor of around 85%, while nuclear power plants have a capacity factor of 90% or higher.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is constantly bragging about how many Megawatts (MW) are being installed, when wind turbine’s true ability to produce electricity is only one-third the amount claimed by the nameplate rating.

Essentially, wind turbines produce small amounts of electricity compared with the other methods. This becomes important when hot summer days result in peak periods of usage. Not only do wind farms produce very little electricity during hot summer afternoons, but people are lulled into thinking there are large amounts of capacity available because of the substantial amount of Megawatts (MW) of wind power being installed.

As the New York Times noted:
“Peak supply is also becoming a vexing problem because so much of the generating capacity added around the country [US] lately is wind power, which is almost useless on the hot, still days when air-conditioning drives up demand.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas says that less than 10% of total wind capacity is “available” during peak summer days.

And finally, there are environmental issues associated with wind turbines.

Wind turbines kill thousands of birds every year, including Bald Eagles, a protected species. They also kill thousands of bats.

Wind turbines produce noise pollution that affects people living near them. Some people complain about the visual pollution of huge towers along the skyline in what are supposed to be pristine, scenic areas.

Wind turbines also use rare earths, where mining has caused serious environmental damage.

Whether these are better or worse than environmental issues caused by gas turbines or coal-fired power plants can be debated, but the point is, wind farms are not free of environmental problems.

Tax payers are paying huge amounts of money for subsidies for wind turbines, which would otherwise be uneconomic. Whether subsidies for wind turbines will be maintained is still being debated in Congress.

Unreliable, very expensive electricity that’s not available when its needed, is not worth the tax payer subsidies used to build wind turbines, when there are less expensive, more reliable sources of electricity available.

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0 thoughts on “Why Wind Energy is a Bad Idea

    • I think Donn is wasting his time trying to convince everyone that wind energy is bad. Wind is the only commodity that doesn’t fluctuate in price. Same with solar, the price of sunlight doesn’t fluctuate either. With wind and sunlight compared to coal there’s no pollution. And compared to nuclear there’s no after affects with storage…known as the nuclear hangover.
      I’m finding out that a lot of rural people don’t like wind turbines mainly because they weren’t given the opportunity to have some put up on their farms. And then there’s land owners that have them and they’ll tell you they don’t like them either….wink wink. They’ll say they wished they hadn’t sign up….wink wink. The bottom line is they like that income that rolls in every month.

      • The free argument doesn’t hold water, as it’s the total cost that’s important.
        Sea water is free, but it’s undrinkable, just as wind is unreliable.
        As for the other comments about wink wink, there are no facts to support them.
        It’s best to deal with facts when discussing important issues. Would be interested in any you might have.

      • Dear Observer: You are serving us a thin slice of a pie without telling us what went into making the pie or what happened to the rest of the pie…wink, wink. Come back when you have the recipe, the subsidies have stopped and your pie pan is broken.

  1. Hey Donn,

    Nice post. The environmental world needs hard facts and reality doses. You supply them, and provoke beneficial debate. Thanks for all your hard work here.

    I have a question. First, check this out, and understand that I believe it’s more art than science — I presume it’s got an exaggerated Return on Investment (ROI) claim and fails to acknowledge all the other shortcomings you’ve detailed, like hidden subsidies propping up its ROI number, intermittency, chews up birds, etc.:

    Next, assume that someday someone puts together a solar/wind blend (yes, bird-deflection cages around those turbines) with home power storage, and it produces an LCOE of $.14/KWH, which is about what I’m paying now for my power right now.

    Assume further that folks like me, blessed with no zoning or permitting costs, and plenty of cheap land to self-build it (sure, hold a barn-raising) in fact build it.

    Finally, assume that (a) I stay tied to the grid, pay a $13.50/month access fee to support the grid’s capital structure (what I’m paying now); (b) get paid $.06/KWH for my excess power that I backfeed into the grid (coal power cost, right?); and (c) I’ve consumed NO taxpayer or ratepayer subsidies (direct or indirect) in the process.

    Would you have any objection to that?

    — JCD

    • The hybrid solar wind installation in Jamaica was interesting. As you point out, there’s no way to determine the ROI since they provided no financial information.
      Re your question.
      It’s not certain the $13.50 per month charge is adequate to compensate for keeping the system operating. If everyone, or most people, adopted the same installation as yours, there would also have to be a capacity charge for having the utility maintain its generating capability … same problem as in Germany.
      Otherwise It would be difficult for me to complain about what you are suggesting.
      Again, it’s a hypothetical, where most people may not adopt what you are proposing.
      I don’y know what the ROI is on the system you are proposing, or what the upfront investment is for the system including, the batteries etc.
      What about people living in cities, who couldn’t adopt what you are proposing?
      Interesting hypothetical, but may not be pertinent to the real world.
      It’s the “how can you object to motherhood and apple pie?” type question.
      I love apple pie and mothers.
      Don’t mean to be flippant, but how can I object to your proposal?

      • Yeah, I don’t like hypothetical questions for the same reason.

        But see, this area of our energy sector is so critically important, with so much local and national policy being made by gov’t bureaucrats spending OUR money and passing highly impactful regulations.

        So it seems necessary to take what we find and construct some working models to consider.

        You no doubt grasped that my question systematically stripped away your objections to renewable power. Ditto for its core message: If I’m willing to invest my own money in a hybrid energy rig AND make it work economically, then I can’t fathom any reasonable objection to that.

        So by definition, this point that you make is irrelevant: “I don’t know what the ROI is on the system you are proposing, or what the upfront investment is for the system including, the batteries etc.”

        It’s irrelevant because it’s my money to invest, and I’m very careful with it, so let me worry about the ROI. Hence, if I can get up a 30-year life cycle rig that fetches me LCOE power at $.14/KWH and, say, a 10-year or less payback cycle, then I’ll do it. More importantly, you shouldn’t care about ROI because that’s my choice to make and it doesn’t cost you or society anything (i.e., I’m NOT proposing any subsidy-sucks).

        You SHOULD care, in contrast, if what I do impacts fellow ratepayers (i.e., the utility must bear an extra expense to accommodate me and my power), or I create some new pollution stream. That’s fair.

        Hence, this explorative debate. To that end, I think it’s useful to model a potential “Joe Six Pack” level rig like I proposed, then encourage others to build on it — proffer ideas on how we could make it work.

        And for better or worse, government’s pressuring utilities like mine to alter their game (mine is heavily invested in coal plants, so it’s belly-aching big time in its billing-insert newsletter about the new, coal-plant-killing EPA regs). Consequently, grid restructuring for variable (wind, solar, tidal) power is coming down the pike.

        So we may as well explore the most successful ways to address “forced green” using private, rather than public, dollars. The above rig, for example, seems to be little more than an array of solar panels combined with a vertical wind turbine array, conjoined by combiner-box tech. It doesn’t seem all that super-advanced, and we country bumpkins have been known to jerry-rig all sorts of things (read: if that works, it will be copied and knocked off quickly, analogous to the way windmills spread by the hundreds of thousands through the American West in the 19th and 20th centuries).

        Plus new stuff’s coming along all the time:

        http://phys.org/news/2014-08-graphene-framework-bridges-gap-traditional.html#jCp

        So it seems even more important to not only acknowledge, as you have done, a green energy mode’s shortcomings, but also ponder and explore ways that it could be made to work — especially using private capital like I’ve proposed here.

        Cheers!

        — JCD

  2. Obviously it would be stupid of me to object to your spending your money, but establishing what you do as a benchmark for what every other person should do, is not, in my view, appropriate.
    Again, what do the people in cities do?
    And will everyone be agreeable to make the same investment as you?
    If not, it means tax payer money has to subsidize wind and solar, or what ever else comes along.
    I closely watch technology developments because they can impact whether wind and solar etc., can become economically attractive.
    It would be great if they could, but there’s nothing I see on the horizon that is a game changing technology.
    Meanwhile we are thundering down the path of destroying the grid and undermining the economic viability of utilities, for no reason other than to cut CO2 emissions … a fools errand.
    As for the Jamaican installation, yes it’s possible to cobble together contraptions such as that, but they also have favorable conditions in terms of irradiance levels and wind levels. Since there was no financial data, it’s impossible to determine whether their installation is worth the money.
    And how much electricity does it supply? 80 kilowatts, enough for a few toasters and some lighting. (sorry for the sarcasm).
    What will they do when a hurricane comes by?
    I also got a chuckle out of the man on hands and knees trying to clean the solar panels. Labors cheap there, but I wonder what it will cost to maintain the installation? And will it survive a hurricane? Big question with all the sail area created by the solar panels.
    Thanks again for your comments.

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  9. Hello Donn, could I please get your last name. Im using this for evidence in a debate round and I will need your full name.

  10. Wind energy is the world’s fastest growing energy source and is presented as the solution to fossil-fueled power. However, many of the statements made about wind energy are misleading. Wind energy is one of the lowest priced renewable energies but it costs significantly more than conventional generation and is only cost competitive with large subsidies and tax breaks. The United States has increased overall wind power capacity by 30% per year; however, wind turbines are inefficient compared to conventional generation. The maximum capacity a wind turbine can achieve is 59.3% according to Betz Law and in field studies have produced even less. Wind turbines themselves produce zero carbon emissions but the cycling of fossil fueled plants as backup negates that along with the materials required to manufacture turbines and the materials and equipment required to install wind farms in remote locations. Interest and advancement in renewable energy is important but wind energy needs to be viewed as what it is. A high cost supplement to the energy generation that is currently in place. Wind energy needs to compete on the free market, if people choose to pay higher costs and continues to progress into a viable option then the market will determine its success.

    • The fastest growing energy source is COAL. The top 3 energy sources as of today: oil, coal and natural gas. People from very poor countries NEED electricity….they’re getting it by burning coal. While burning coal has some side effects, living without electricity is much worse.

  11. Dear Donn,

    Sure, taxpayers are not happy with their money going towards this investment in the future, because everyone wants the cheapest thing possible. Little to no one cares about the environment, the most important thing to us is the disposable money we have. However, you are all blinded by the short-term effects. The next generation, or even the generations after that will be living in the ruins of our decisions today. Nuclear energy is economic and effective, with well paying jobs which no one can complain about. But, what will we do with al the accumulated nuclear waste? These will take thousands of years to decay. Yes, wind energy is not as effective, and can generate much less energy, but it is sustainable. You complain that it will not reach areas where there is less wind, but that is where technology falls into place. If we invest more money in the future, rather than the short-term, we will improve our technology in the industry that has the highest sustainability rate. You talk of birds and bats dying from the turbines, but less than 1 out of 10,000 birds are killed by turbines. Windows and buildings kill over 5500 birds. Are we planning to remove all buildings and windows? Of course not. Compare this mortality rate to the effects of nuclear energy, or even solar energy. The chemicals they use contain high levels of radiation, and are toxic. Humans are contracting new diseases from these energy sources which we have never been faced with before. You say that wind generated during the night is useless, use batteries. Improve the batteries so they can store the energy. Yes this is a lot of money upfront, but think about this analogy to electric lightbulbs. There are the cheaper kinds which will only last a few months, and with a high electricity bill. Or you can choose the expensive ones that last twice as long, and save four times as much energy. You need to finish the whole equation before you start investing. The environment you are killing with the leading sources of energy like the tar sands project will not last long, however the effects and damage there will remain for generations to come. I know that I am just a “kid” who doesn’t know much, and you might ignore this comment, but we are all faced by the thought “If I don’t do it, who will?” I am a youth activist, fighting for our future.

    • It’s great to be an activist. Some would say I am also an activist.
      But being an activist also means accepting responsibilities, otherwise a person isn’t an activist but merely a rabble rouser.
      A true activist does research about the issue, and becomes more knowledgable than any other person. That way the activist has the authority of knowledge.
      In reading your comments, it’s clear that you have more research to do.
      There’s no simple answers to the issues you raise. For example fossil fuels do a great deal of good besides generating electricity. What about the medical drugs that are made from oil, natural gas or coal.
      Investing in battery research is worthwhile, but the research may not bear fruit, or may require decades to achieve meaningful results.
      Meanwhile, there are millions of people dying around the world for lack of electricity that coal-fired power plants could bring them.

  12. In response to energy being produced when it is not needed: Hydroelectric storage. Bath County, Virginia uses a system that pumps water from a lower reservoir to a higher one during excess power production so that is can be stored as potential energy. It is then used during peak hours by using turbines. Playing devils advocate, this system is even recommendable for other power production methods, as it is used in Virginia, to take advantage of optimal operating levels. Saying that wind energy is bad pales in comparison to the harm all power production plays. If only your experience and knowledge could be coupled with the experience and knowledge of other to create a solution. Let’s work together!

    • Pumped storage has been used since the early 1900s. The first was in Connecticut. Pumped storage is virtually the only type of storage that can actually work to store energy, for generating electricity.
      Unfortunately, most environmentalists oppose building dams. In addition there are very few locations suitable for building dams to create pumped storage. They are also very expensive: Just another expense to be aded to the high cost of wind energy.

  13. Donn,
    Some of your cons of wind power should be eliminated from your debate. With only a bit of research, oil hurts more animals than wind. Cost is actually not as expensive if done practically. Oil companies should actually fund alternate power sources for more efficient systems. A car has more complexities than any turbine, and if given more attention from engineers, cost would be reduced as well as efficiency.

    Here are some sample videos from youtube:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vCcHKikC8I4

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jw2jlx_H-kk

    Please before posting an article, research your pros and cons more carefully before posting them as true. This took me literally less than 30 minutes of time to find this much information. Imagine if I spent more time. Wind energy doesn’t even get a chance as an idea. What to do in cities for example. Cities have huge wind tunnels. Ever think of utilizing those? We are creative human beings. I’m sure we can think of endless amounts of ways for wind power if given the chance.
    Thanks for your time,

    Levi.

    • Vertical axis turbines aren’t new. Using an oil drum is innovative, but doesn’t produce much electricity.
      The other video was humorous at first, but then turned to character assassination. It should be pointed out that environmentalists, specifically Ehrlich in his book the Population Bomb proposed population control. It’s not clear whether Hamm’s comments were taken out of context, so shame on the commentator for not providing references.
      In addition the commentator used some old saws about subsidies. For facts see http://bit.ly/1tExYMl
      By the way, wind turbines kill birds and bats, possibly more than have been killed by oil spills. (There’s no reliable research available on that.)
      It would appear as though you need to do more research, and not rely on superficial you tube videos. My articles are vigorously researched and are factually correct.
      Thanks for your comment.

  14. Donn, very well written and researched article. Most people only want to discuss how well renewable wind energy makes them feel, and skip over the complete carbon footprint circle as well as the higher financial costs they are subsidizing to be able to feel good.
    Have you written or researched on the subject of the turbines affecting the weather. My farm and home is located in the rain shadow (my term) of a wind turbine farm which has been operational in 13, 14 and 15.
    I have lived and farmed in the area for about 30 years and it seems as though since the turbines have been operational that they are diverting small rain storms that we badly need to raise crops and feed, around them and in some cases completely dissipating the storm.
    The turbines do not seem to affect extremely large storms, or fronts.
    By the way eventually one does get used to the red blinking lights bouncing off the wall in your bedroom or kitchen at night and my neighbors who live right next to them are unable to hear them anymore after they become numb to the tone that the blades make. I wish turbines were half as good as everyone thinks they are, society would really reap the benefits, and also that everyone had the biggest turbine available on the market installed 2000 feet upwind from their home.
    Thanks, Steven

  15. As I understand it there are three major problems with turbines

    1) A generator requires constant pressure, for example
    a) The weight of water in a dam
    d) The pressure of steam in a coal fired plant
    With wind there is no constant pressure
    A generator needs to ramp up and down to suit demand
    The generator must be in control
    The wind doing it’s own thing is hopeless

    2) The big one.
    Wind turbines do not work. They are one giant fraud
    Turbines do not produce 50/60Hz electricity
    They produce many harmonics other than 50Hz
    These additional harmonics are detrimental to the whole grid power system
    A turbine cannot boil water in a kettle

    2) These additional harmonics are illegally added on to consumers power accounts
    No further comment required here

    This all adds up to a giant fraud and people have to be held to account

    Our electrical system generation, grids, motors and appliances are designed for 50/60Hz
    To deliberately and knowingly introduce these other, additional and dangerous harmonics is potentially criminal.

    Your comments please

    Brian Johnston

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