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With much of the industry at this week’s WINDPOWER Expo in Dallas—including National Wind, check us out at booth #407—we thought this might be a good time to run down a variety of recent wind energy stories.

  • First up, a new study has been released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that adds to their 2008 study, 20% Wind by 2030. On the surface, this new study isn’t quite as sexy—it’s title, after all, is the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study—but it’s conclusions are just as promising.

    A bit of background: The WWSIS study was conducted to investigate the potential impact of a significant addition of wind and solar energy to the power system of West Connect, a series of affiliated utilities throughout Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Specifically, the study focused on the feasibility of the group generating 30% of its load from wind energy and 5% from solar. The study concluded that achieving such a high penetration is feasible and would require only a few key change to current practices. Chief among these changes would be creating better systems for aggregating renewable energy over large geographic areas—thus reducing overall variability—and scheduling energy disbursements at more frequent intervals.

    The study mentions a number of the benefits to the Western states should they implement West Connect’s plan. Most strikingly,”operating costs drop by $20 billion/yr, resulting in a 40% savings due to offset fuel and
    emissions.” While this drop in operating costs does not include the cost of constructing a wind farm, it illustrates how much money a wind farm can save over fossil fuels while operating.

  • In other news, “Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says there’s no evidence that the noise from wind turbines leads to adverse health effects.” While Dr. Arlene King offers that some people living near turbines may experience headaches or sleep disturbances, she concludes that wind turbine noise is not sufficient to cause hearing loss or other health effects. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers, it’s always nice to receive validation from someone with Dr. King’s credentials.

  • Former President George W. Bush was the keynote speaker at this week’s WINDPOWER conference. He was apparently well received—”The audience welcomed Mr. Bush enthusiastically, giving him standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech,” the article states—and spent much of the talk discussing signing Texas’ renewable portfolio standard in 1999 when he was governor, and about the country’s need to transition to renewable forms of energy. He said he’s enjoying retired life, living back on his ranch and being out of the limelight.

Well that about wraps it up. Keep your eye on AWEA Into the Wind blog for more updates on the WINDPOWER expo.

Wind farms are good stewards to the environment and procedures are in place to protect wildlife populations.  In fact, wind farms can save as much as 600 gallons of water per megawatt of energy generated when compared to fossil fuel generation. Turbines also take up only a 1/2 -1 acre of land permanently and they emit no harmful C02 emissions.

On the contrary,  fossil-fuel generation disturbs the environment greatly. It wastes water, emits harmful CO2 gasses, and destroys the land through continuous mining.

In fact, 39% of today’s 6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions originate from electricity generation.  Electricity generation accounts for 48% of our nation’s water withdrawals, amounting to nearly 738 billion liters per day. Coal mining is expected to destroy nearly 988,000 acres of land annually.   Also, coal mining, oil spills, acid rain, and oil platforms built along the Gulf Coast are all known causes of wildlife mortality in the U.S. A 2004 study in Nature forecast that a mid-range estimate of climate warming could cause 19% to 45% of global species to become extinct.

( Facts from the Department  of Energy’s 20% Wind Energy by 2030 Report)

Although concerns have been raised about the potential risk wind turbines have on wildlife, most notably bird and bat populations, the facts reveal that wind turbines today have little impact on wildlife if developers follow stringent siting standards.  The chart below shows that bird fatalities range from 100 million to 1 billion annually and it is estimated that for every 10,000 bird deaths, less than one death is caused by a wind turbine.

Out of 10,000 bird deaths, less than one is caused by a wind turbine.

The wind industry has taken this issue very seriously and mitigated problems related to the country’s earliest turbine installations. Improvements in technology and industry siting standards have drastically reduced impacts on bird and bat populations.

Standard industry siting standards have evolved over the last decade to steer clear of local migratory bird populations and topography, such as ridges, where birds frequent. The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, a coalition formed by the Bat Conservation International (BCI), the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (NREL), conducts research that has helped change siting standards to avoid migratory paths.

Technological improvements have also helped protect bird populations. In fact, a new radar system, called the MERLIN SCADA system, uses advanced radar technology to detect bird migratory flight paths. This technology provides real-time bird mortality risk mitigation and is the first of its kind in the world. Most often, a bird’s flight path is well above the hub height of a turbine, meaning it will not be harmed. However, sometimes flight paths are lowered due to storms and high winds.  The MERLIN SCADA system can detect avian flight patterns in these instances and automatically activate mitigation reactions, including idling the turbines when appropriate. Scientists at Pattern Energy Group developed the MERLIN SCADA radar system and its first implementation occurred on a 283 megawatt wind farm along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The MERLIN SCADA system uses advanced radar technology to protect migratory birds.

Enhancements in turbine technology design have also helped significantly reduce the potential impact turbines may have on wildlife. Turbine towers are no longer designed as lattice structures that encourage bird nesting. Today’s turbine towers are sleek, steel mono-tubes and turbine blades are larger and spin slower.

Overall, the industry is very proactive in developing preventative measures to protect wildlife populations. Wind energy was established on ecological principles and values and its goal is to uphold these ideals in all aspects of its development.

Technological improvements, research, and stringent siting methodology speak to the industry’s commitment to environmental protection and safety.

AWEA’s Into the Wind blog links to a story from Fox Toledo about how the residents of Fowler, Indiana have reacted to a nearby wind farm:

And when it comes to noise, nobody seems to take issue.

“I don’t hear them at all,” said Charlene Deckard.

“In the house I hear nothing,” Elmira Deckard said.

And from Don Clute: “If a train goes by a mile away it makes more noise than I’ve ever heard from a wind tower.”

The residents of Fowler appear to feel overwhelmingly positive about the turbines—one resident, Charlene Deckard, even calls them attractive—and the economic benefit that they provide.

If nothing else, this only goes to show that there’s nothing like spending time near a turbine to make one realize that noise isn’t much of an issue at all.

A new study conducted by a panel of seven experts from a variety of technical backgrounds has concluded that there are no indications that wind turbines have an adverse impact on the health of those living nearby. The study, a joint project between the Canadian Wind Energy Association and the American Wind Energy Association, attempts to delegitimize medical complaints by those living near wind farms.

In the study’s conclusion, it stated:

1. Sound from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss or any other adverse health effect in humans.
2. Subaudible, low frequency sound and infrasound from wind turbines do not present a risk to human health.
3. Some people may be annoyed at the presence of sound from wind turbines. Annoyance is not a pathological entity.
4. A major cause of concern about wind turbine sound is its fluctuating nature. Some may find this sound annoying, a reaction that depends primarily on personal characteristics as opposed to the intensity of the sound level.

This issue of annoyance was the one concession the panel was willing to grant, allowing that the swishing sound made by turbine blades could be perceived as an irritant by some. However, they tempered that concession by stating that this swishing sound was no louder than the ambient noise in an urban environment.

The authors also address Wind Turbine Syndrome in particular:

In particular, the panel considered “wind turbine syndrome” and vibroacoustic disease, which have been claimed as causes of adverse health effects. The evidence indicates that “wind turbine syndrome” is based on misinterpretation of physiologic data and that the features of the so-called syndrome are merely a subset of annoyance reactions. The evidence for vibroacoustic disease (tissue inflammation and fibrosis associated with sound exposure) is extremely dubious at levels of sound associated with wind turbines.

Because the study was funded by the wind industry—though, as one of the authors of the study, Dr. Robert McCunney, stated, “We had almost total independence doing this paper”—it is unlikely to sway the minds of those committed to the idea of wind turbine syndrome. To everybody else, however, it should be viewed as conclusive.

Read the entire study here.

Another one bites the dust.

A string of myths have besot wind energy for as many years as the industry is old. Yet the growing market for the most promising form of renewable energy has invited a great deal of scrutiny that has consistently erased fears and converted detractors.  As the wind industry continues to grow opposition continues to shrink. The myths, once an unfortunate byproduct of a young technology, are evaporating.

A long-standing misconception of wind’s impact on property values, a topic once considered an unstudied gray zone, now joins the ranks of retired myths. A new study funded by the US Department of Energy and conducted by the Berkeley National Laboratory has conclusively shown that proximity to a wind farm, from 800 feet to 10 miles away, has no “consistent, measurable, [or] statistically significant effect on home sales prices.” Impact on property values has been a difficult issue for many people who support wind energy but were hesitant to introduce the technology to their own community. The conclusions of the DOE study should alleviate much, if not all, of that hesitancy.

Previous studies have alluded to the results of the DOE study but have fallen short of its expansive scope that has provided definitive answers. The research team collected data from nearly 7,500 sales of single-family homes situated within 10 miles of 24 existing wind facilities in nine different U.S. states and used eight different hedonic pricing models, as well as both repeat sales and sales volume models. In the case of each model, no statistical evidence pointing toward a negative impact on property values was uncovered.

You can read the entire 164-page study here. In the meantime, we are left to ponder which myth will fall next.

Amongst the small contingent of wind energy detractors, a recurring concern has been the risk imposed by turbines on various forms of wildlife, most specifically, avian wildlife. Some opposed to wind development have argued that spinning rotors of a wind turbine atop its tower pose a severe threat to wildlife. However, thanks in part to a new study addressing the subject, it appears that these arguments have been misguided at best and miss the bigger picture of the risks every human structure imposes on local wildlife populations. Conducted by the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the “Comparison of Reported Effects and Risks to Vertebrate Wildlife from Six Electricity Generation Types in the New York/New England Region” broke the pattern of looking solely at the wildlife impacts of wind energy by examining six major power generation methods to compare and contrast the risks of each energy source. An important guiding procedure of the study involved analyzing the entire project life cycle of energy sources: resource extraction, fuel transportation, facility construction, power generation, transmission and delivery, and decommissioning of the facility. The results showed that the renewable sources – wind and hydro – posed the least significant wildlife impacts when compared to their nonrenewable counterparts – coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear. Coal was found to exhibit the largest impact.

Although wind’s most notable wildlife impact is on birds and bats, the study points out that during the transmission and delivery stage, all forms of electricity generation pose moderate risks to these and other animals. When the impacts of all phases of energy production are considered, wind’s overall risks decrease significantly relative to other modes of energy production. Rene Braud, Director of Permitting and Environmental Affairs for Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy, notes that much of the talk surrounding wind energy’s bird and bat impacts have been “fear-based.” The negative hype “hasn’t been based on science. The study gave us some objective, good research into what we’ve thought all along,” she adds.
Still, in spite of wind’s minimal comparable wildlife impacts, the wind industry continues to look at ways to minimize those moderate risks. “For every project National Wind works on, we notify and consult with Fish and Wildlife officials early in the development process, which improves a project’s compatibility with wildlife considerations. We conduct the necessary vegetation and endangered species studies in order to avoid negative environmental impacts as much as possible,” said Chuck Burdick, Wind Developer at National Wind.

With the Senate looking at possible national renewable electricity standards, the NYSERDA study helps to clarify important information and set the story straight on another wind energy myth.

With concurrent increases in energy prices, concern about climate change, and growth of the wind industry, some homeowners are becoming alarmed by a rumor that wind turbines decrease property value. However, in reality there is no connection between wind turbines and declining property values. In 2003, the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP) released a widespread investigative report after completing a research study entitled, “The Effect of Wind Development on Local Property Values”. Intended to uncover the validity of the property value reduction tale, the document revealed that “the presence of commercial-scale wind farms do not appear to harm ‘view shed’ property values.” The study looked at 25,000 homes across the United States that were located in the area known as the ‘view shed’ of a wind farm – the area within a 5 mile radius of a wind farm. The wind farms selected were greater than 10 MW in generating capacity.

The study found that, like many other human-made structures that are visible in the immediate and distant horizon, including buildings, grain elevators, water towers, silos, telephone poles, utility poles, transmission line towers, advertisement bill boards, and communication and cell phone towers, wind turbines do not have a negative effect on property value. Quite on the contrary, the study discovered that, in many cases, the property value actually increased in the presence of a wind farm. In fact, the study states that, “for the great majority of the projects, the property values actually rose more quickly in the view shed than they did in the comparable community. Moreover, values increased faster in the view shed after the projects came online than they did before.” Although this cannot comprehensively be contributed to the wind farms, this trend is a fascinating possibility to consider.

Multiple other research studies echo these same results. For example, a new report that studies wind farms across two states, spanning from 1998 through 2006, shows that wind energy facilities do not harm property values. In fact, some new-home buyers are embracing the benefits of such ‘green energy’ growth in their areas. Conducted by Peter J. Poletti, Ph.D., MAI, President of Poletti and Associates, and an Illinois Certified General Real Estate Appraiser, the study compared property sales in the target areas with non-wind farm areas with similar characteristics.

In another study completed several years ago, Ben Hoen, a Bard Center on Environmental Policy graduate student, looked at actual home sales near a 30-megawatt wind project with 20 installed wind turbines in central New York State. Over a decade, he examined 679 home sales occurring within 5 miles of the project. He found no evidence to support a drop in property values. To greatly expand the sample, Hoen teamed up with Ryan Wiser, a scientist with the Electricity Markets and Policy Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to continue the study. Together, they began research on the first methodical, juried and, eventually, published study on the documented effects of wind turbines on property values. Their preliminary results, as predicted, did not indicate a drop in property values due to wind farm installations. The finished study examined 3,500 to 5,000 home sales near 8 to 10 operating wind turbine projects.

In a presentation of preliminary findings from four sites with a total sample size of 2,195 home sales, the team stated that they had found “no statistical evidence to support that property sales within 4 to 7 miles of a wind facility were adversely affected.”

No statistically significant data indicate that there should be a concern about loss of property value in the view shed of wind farms. Neighbors of wind farms, along with the rest of America, stand to benefit from wind energy developments as they help us stimulate the economy through the creation of green jobs and concomitantly mitigate climate change by increasing our use of our abundant clean energy resources.

In recent years, a few small town newspapers have published articles in which people link area wind turbines to adverse health effects. However studies reveal this isn’t true. Wind developments are professionally maintained and regulated in order to ensure the maximum safety of neighboring residents. The myth that turbines cause chronic health issues has mainly been spread via reports from self-diagnosed individuals and stands in the face of these facts:

  • A report conducted by the United Kingdom’s Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform states that: “In 25 years of wind generation, with 68,000 turbines installed worldwide, no significant reports of health issues exist. This includes Denmark, whose turbine density is 30 times that of the UK.”

  • Dr. David Colby, recognized by CBC television as Canada’s “foremost expert on wind turbines and health problems,” recently released a report that analyzed the effects of wind turbines on human health He found no evidence to suggest that wind turbines posed a health risk. Although he mentioned that occasional ice falling from a turbine’s blade can be dangerous, he noted that mandatory turbine setbacks help to ensure that this risk is minute.

  • Wind turbines do not produce emissions or waste products. Consequently, when compared to conventional forms of electricity generation, wind turbines represent a very healthy, clean method of energy production. Emissions from coal fired power plants have been directly linked to diseases ranging from lung cancer to heart disease, while nuclear facilities are infamous for leaving behind massive quantities of radioactive wastes that remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. Meeting more of our electricity needs with energy harnessed from the wind not only helps avoid the negative health effects from coal and spent nuclear fuel, but also helps mitigate global climate change. In the big picture, wind power is a key advancement as we strive towards a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future

    TRUTH: The cost of wind energy is now competitive with that of conventional power plants. In fact, wind energy is the cheapest form of new power generation, second only to natural gas. In the past 20 years, the cost of electricity from utility-scale wind systems has decreased by more than 80%. In the 1980s, wind-generated energy cost roughly 30 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today, this number has dropped to less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour – a price that is now aggressive with many conventional energy technologies.

    This dramatic decrease in price can be attributed to an increase in supply generated from the growing number of plants being built and their increasing size. Advancements in technology have also greatly helped lower the cost of wind energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is working towards developing a new generation of wind turbine technology that is expected to generate electricity at prices competitive with natural gas generation – the least expensive conventional power source.

    When compared to other renewable energy sources, wind is more cost-effective. Solar and geothermal energy can cost almost twice as much as wind. Other forms of energy such as coal and natural gas are subject to extreme price fluctuations and supply problems that do not affect wind energy. Furthermore, fossil fuels have many hidden costs that are not associated with wind energy. Society must pay for the negative environmental effects of fossil fuel energy such as polluted air and water, fuel spills, health care costs, and global warming. According to the American Lung Association, power plant particle pollution has been linked to roughly 600,000 asthma episodes per year, increasing patients’ use of asthma medication and emergency hospital visits. Health costs due to outdoor air pollution have been estimated to range from $14 to $15 billion each year.

    Contrarily, wind energy does not pollute the air and has, overall, a much more positive effect on the environment. Because wind power is not a direct source of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and mercury, the hidden costs described above from fossil fuel energy are avoided.

    Finally, wind energy can utilize the federal production tax credit to make it competitive with heavily subsidized, conventional forms of energy. The credit reduces the tax liability of a wind farm’s owners and cuts the cost of wind energy to the consumer. Also, with an effective location, wind turbines that last about 30 years can pay for themselves within the first 15 and provide landowners with long-term income. Despite the fact that wind is unpredictable and does not reach full capacity 100% of the time, the overall cost of wind energy will always be cheaper.

    With production costs dropping, wind energy is becoming an increasingly competitive source for energy. Fueled by its economic value and environmental benefits, it is expected that by 2030, wind could meet 20% or more of the United States’ electricity demand. It is expected that further increases in wind farm size along with the development of new technologies will continue to decrease the price of wind energy in the future.

    Wind energy in the United States currently produces roughly 17 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. This amount is equal to powering approximately 1.6 million average American homes for a full year. Generally, a usual one-megawatt turbine generates enough electricity for 300 homes.

    Wind turbines are efficient and one way to simply measure overall efficiency is to examine the “energy payback”. Energy payback is the amount of energy it takes to produce a particular amount of energy. The energy payback of time for wind is very comparable to conventional plants, if not better! In a recent study, the University of Wisconsin-Madison identified the average energy payback of Midwestern wind farms to be between 17 and 39 times as much energy as they consume compared to generation of 16 times for power plants and 11 times for coal plants. Remember, they also produce electricity from a natural, renewable resource without emitting any greenhouse gas emissions!

    As far as operating costs, wind energy tends to be more expensive than other traditional power technologies in up-front, capital costs. However, rapid price fluctuations and supply problems are significant issues for fossil-fuel generated energy. But with no fuel costs involved for wind energy, along with the low operations/maintenance cost across a wind farm’s life span, this renewable energy source is now very competitive with traditional ones. Furthermore, with the Production Tax Credit (PTC), state-of-the-art wind power plants can generate electricity for less than 5 cents/kWh, which is also cost-competitive with other fossil-fuel generating energy sources. For example, the new wind farm being built near Lamar (MN?) by Xcel Energy will save consumer $4.6 billion in their power bills!

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