I saw a video on Fox Business this morning about the Mid-Atlantic wind farm proposal, and the correspondents in the video made some controversial claims, so I decided to do a wind power fact check:
1. Wind power CAN provide constant and reliable power. The first dubious claim made in the video was that wind power is “incurably intermittent.” This isn’t true, because wind farms can provide a 100% stable power output using battery energy storage, compressed air energy storage, or pumped hydroelectric storage. They can even use a relatively small buffer energy storage system to back them up for 15 minutes while peaking natural gas power plants start to back them up.
So, wind power intermittency is certainly curable, but what matters is that it is cured in the most economic way possible. I should also add that modern combined-cycle natural gas power plants, which are not only very efficient (up to 60%), but also economical, are capable of adjusting their power production in as little as a minute, which is substantially helpful in backing up wind farms when wind speeds slow down.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the wind is always blowing somewhere. With a good grid, wind from one region can easily be sent to another.
Lastly, on this point, it’s important to point out that wind power is one part of the electric grid. It is not expected and will never be expected to deliver 100% of the grid’s electricity. When the wind is blowing, it is the cheapest form of electricity in many places, so whenever it is available, it has clear economic priority.
Wind power is useful. It can be stored. And it is one (very cheap) part of a broader energy mix.
2. The wind industry “only” hired 75,000 people. This may be true, but another way to look at that is that, while wind power doesn’t even account for 2% of nationwide electricity production, it has already generated 75,000 jobs. If that market penetration figure was increased from 2% to 50%, that could translate to many more jobs. A couple million jobs generated by wind farms, which do not import fuel from overseas, would be nice, wouldn’t it? And 75,000 is certainly nothing to scoff at, either. There are only 83,000 jobs in the US coal mining industry, and that industry provides 35-40% of US electricity. There are fewer than 48,000 jobs in the “Water, Sewer, and Other Services” industry — that’s quite a bit less than wind power’s 75,000.
3. Wind power is as eco-friendly as electricity generation gets. The claim that nuclear is “far more environmentally friendly” than wind power is absurd. What do you think — is radioactive nuclear waste less harmful than wind turbines that emit no pollutants into the atmosphere or water (read about acid rain) and don’t create waste that needs to be stored for millennia?
Wind turbines require a very small amount of space on the ground (~13 feet per turbine). The space around wind turbines can usually be used for agriculture. In fact, studies have found that it improves the yields of some crops.
Photo Credit: Kim Hansen from Wikimedia Commons.
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