Craig Rucker is executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. In this brilliant and succinct piece of analysis, Craig lays out precisely why these things do not work, on any level: economic, social or environmental.
Wind Power: Our Least Sustainable Resource?
25 October 2016
A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like the 315 Fowler Ridge units, involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and tower, plus nearly 1,100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation. Grand total for the entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe, 752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons. Offshore installations of the kind proposed for Lake Erie would likely require twice the materials needed for their onshore counterparts.
The alter ego of climate change in these renewable energy debates is sustainability: the argument that wind and other “renewable” energies are sustainable, whereas oil, gas and coal are not.
This assertion may have had some merit a few years ago, when it could plausibly be claimed that the world was running out of fossil fuels. However, it is now clear that several centuries of economically recoverable coal remain to be tapped – and the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process ensures that at least one or two centuries of oil and natural gas could be recovered from shale deposits around the world. “Imminent resource depletion” is no longer a plausible or valid argument.
Indeed, fracking provides abundant natural gas that can fuel power plants, lower carbon dioxide emissions and keep electricity prices low. Heavy reliance on wind energy (offshore and onshore) would raise electricity prices, while doing nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, since backup generators running on standby but ramping up repeatedly all day long run inefficiently and emit more carbon dioxide.
However, there is another aspect to sustainability claims, and when common environmental guidelines, policies and regulations are applied, it is clear that wind energy is our least sustainable energy source.
Land. Wind turbine installations impact vast amounts of habitat and crop land, and offshore wind turbines impact vast stretches of lake or ocean – far more than traditional power plants.
Arizona’s Palo Verde nuclear plant generates 3,750 megawatts of electricity from a 4,000-acre site. The 600-MW John Turk ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in Arkansas covers a small portion of 2,900 acres; gas-fired units like Calpine’s 560-MW Fox Energy Center in Wisconsin require several hundred acres. All generate reliable power 90-95% of the year.
By contrast, the 600-MW Fowler Ridge wind installation (355 turbines) spans 50,000 acres of farm country along Indiana’s I-65 corridor. The 782-MW Roscoe project in Texas (627 turbines) sprawls across 100,000 acres. Oregon’s Shepherds Flat project (338 gigantic 2.5 MW turbines) covers nearly 80,000 wildlife and scenic acres along the Columbia River Gorge, for a “rated capacity” of 845 MW.
The 625 to 1,600 turbines planned for Lake Erie will impact hundreds of thousands of acres, planting bird and bat killing machines across miles and miles of lake habitat – while future Canadian wind farms on the Ontario side of the lake will affect hundreds of thousands more acres, and millions more birds and bats.
Raw materials. Wind installations require enormous quantities of steel, copper, rare earth metals, fiberglass, concrete and other materials for the turbines, towers and bases.
A single 1.7 MW wind turbine, like the 315 Fowler Ridge units, involves some 365 tons of materials for the turbine assembly and tower, plus nearly 1100 tons of concrete and rebar for the foundation. Grand total for the entire Fowler wind installation: some 515,000 tons; for Roscoe, 752,000 tons; for Shepherds Flat, 575,000 tons. Offshore installations of the kind proposed for Lake Erie would likely require twice the materials needed for their onshore counterparts.
To all that must be added millions of tons of materials for thousands of miles of new transmission lines – and still more for mostly gas-fired generators to back up every megawatt of wind power and generate electricity the 17 to 20 hours of each average day that the wind does not blow.
Money. Taxpayers and consumers must provide perpetual subsidies to prop up wind projects, which cannot survive without steady infusions of cash via feed-in tariffs, tax breaks and direct payments.
Transmission lines cost $1.0 million to $2.5 million per mile. Direct federal wind energy subsidies to help cover this totaled $5 billion in FY 2010, according to Energy Department data; state support added billions more, and still more billions were added to consumers’ electric bills. The Other People’s Money well is running dry, and voters and consumers are getting fed up with cash-for-cronies wind schemes.
Energy. It is extremely energy-intensive to mine, quarry, drill, mill, refine, smelt and manufacture the metals, concrete, fiberglass, resins, turbines and heavy equipment to do all of the above. Transporting, installing and repairing turbines, towers, backups and transmission lines requires still more energy – real energy: abundant, reliable, affordable … not what comes from wind turbines.
Some analysts have said it requires more energy to manufacture, haul and install these Cuisinarts of the air and their transmission systems than they will generate in their lifetimes. However, no cradle-to-grave analysis has ever been conducted, for the energy inputs or pollution outputs.
Health. Environmentalists regularly make scary but wildly speculative claims about health dangers from hydraulic fracturing. However, they and wind energy companies and promoters ignore and dismiss a growing body of evidence that steady low frequency noise from wind turbines causes significant human health problems, interferes with whale and porpoise navigational and food-finding systems, and affects other wildlife species.
Sudden air pressure changes from rapidly moving turbine blades can cause bird and bat lungs to collapse. In addition, serious lung, heart, cancer and other problems have been documented from rare earth mining, smelting and manufacturing in China and Mongolia, under those countries’ far less rigorous health, workplace safety and environmental regulations.
To date, however, very few health or environmental assessments have been required or conducted prior to permit approval, even for major wind turbine installations, much less the grand “visions.”
Environment. Raptors, bats and other beautiful flying creatures continue to be sliced and diced by wind turbines. However, government regulators continue to turn a blind eye to the slaughter, and the actual toll is carefully hidden by wind operators, who treat the data as trade secrets and refuse to allow independent investigators to conduct proper studies of bird and bat mortality. Furthermore, wind turbines are increasingly being installed in sensitive wildlife habitat areas, like Lake Erie and onshore areas like Shepherds Flat, as they are often the best remaining areas for relatively abundant, consistent wind.
Jobs. The myth of “green renewable energy jobs” is hitting the brick wall of reality. While turbines installed and maintained in the USA and EU create some jobs, many of them short-term, the far more numerous mining and manufacturing jobs are in China, where they are hardly “green” or “healthy.” Moreover, as Spanish and Scottish analysts have documented, the expensive intermittent electricity generated by wind turbines kills 2.2 to 3.7 traditional jobs for every “eco-friendly” wind job created.
Electricity costs and reliability. Even huge subsidies cannot cure wind power’s biggest defects: its electricity costs far more than coal, gas or nuclear alternatives – and its intermittent nature wreaks havoc on power grids and consumers. The problem is worst on hot summer afternoons, when demand is highest and breezes are minimal. Unable to compete against cheap Chinese and Indian electricity and labor, energy-intensive industries increasingly face the prospect of sending operations and jobs overseas.
All of this is simply and completely unsustainable.
13 thoughts on “Wind Power: Economically, Socially & Environmentally Unsustainable”
You mentioned Rare Earth Metals but did not mention how much and that China owns 97% of world supply.
Snowy hydro system cannot operate without electricity from coal fires power stations. It relies on off peak electricity supplied from coal fires power stations to pump water back up to the holding ponds, so the water can be used over and over. without this the dams would be empty in quick time. so once again the spin from the Canberra politicians , with green energy is a myth, along with wind turbines pumping into the grid how does Canberra become green, remember electrons do not have, bar codes, tracking numbers, or post codes they just snuggle up to each other in the grid, coal fired, wind, or solar. But the spin from one electricity provider in their pre amble whilst you are waiting on the phone is ” for a small extra charge we can provide you with green electricity ” no you cannot and where is the trade practices act for false and misleading information.
The information on the ACT’s wind reverse auctions, or ‘smoke and mirrors’ efforts to appear green that I refer to in my comment below, can be found here Jim.
None of the wind farms would appear to be located in the ACT.
In addition to the list of materials required to construct a wind farm, Craig Rucker might also have added to his masterful article both the materials requirements and the necessary fossil-fuel inputs required for the construction of the access roads on a wind farm. The building the roads is the first phase of construction. Approximately half a kilometre of road is required per wind turbine, as this is the required separation distance between turbines. The roads are used for no other purpose, other than servicing the needs of the wind farm. For a 300 turbine facility, (which if it uses 3 MW wind turbines, that corresponds to some 100 MW on average of intermittent, unreliable output in Australia), that represents some 150 kilometres of access roads as a minimum. These roads are not bush tracks, remember they have to be sufficiently substantial to support the transport of the many trips of concrete mixers carrying the concrete required for the turbine foundations, the transport of the wind turbine components to each turbine site, and the movements of the 1000-plus tonne mobile crane required for the erection of each and every wind turbine. The building of these roads is a major civil engineering works activity. It takes a lot of fossil-fuels to mine and crush the rock for the gravel in the road base, its transport and packing, not to mention the bulldozing and and the cutting and filling of the land path upon which the roads are to be built. What is required is of the order of at least several hundred thousand tonnes of crushed rock, concrete, bitumen, etc., all requiring the burning of enormous quantities of fossil fuels in its manufacture. I doubt, that if a proper Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) study were to be conducted, no wind farm’s so-called CO2-emissions-free output could ever offset the CO2 emissions of the fossil fuels required in the construction of the access roads, much less any of the other energy-consuming components identified in Mr Rucker’s excellent article. Well spotted, STT.
I started a PETITION “SA PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL : Demand the RESIGNATION of the Energy Minister for HIGH POWER PRICES CAUSING SA’s JOBS CRISIS and 15,000 household POWER DISCONNECTIONS, frequent POWER BLACKOUTS and the JULY 2016 POWER CRISIS” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.
Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support.
You can read more and sign the petition here:
Please share this petition with anyone you think may be interested in signing it.
Thankyou for your time.
In Ontario there was no thorough cost/benefit analysis done before the government lunged into subsidizing industrial wind turbines. The details in this article are applicable here as well. There were no health studies done to ascertain that nearby residents would be safe from noise, low frequency noise modulations and infrasound radiation.
Surely this Is a crime?
Along with the” energy used” items you’ve mentioned, I believe the following could be added….fuel used to repair/replace roads damaged during construction, fuel used to repair/replace field tiles damaged during construction.
Reblogged this on citizenpoweralliance.
While I agree with the above I do caution that Fracking is not sustainable, safe or economic. If the cost of damage to the environment, the ability to farm, the damage to health and the dangers of disturbing the lands beneath the feet of people living in areas like the SE of South Australia which is the youngest volcanic region in Australia and a district where the Indigenous people have stories of the volcanic error, and the existence of a Dormant – not extinct Volcano in the district any deep seated Fracturing of the land is fraught with danger – but SA Minister ‘Kudentcareless’ is meeting with fracking companies in Victoria attempting to bring them to SA.
The tormented SA Government is looking for anything to try and save themselves – no matter what it will cost to the people of SA – and their push to become a world leader in installed wind turbines to the detriment of the people ability to afford electricity, the turning of SA into a basket case of debt and certainty of Blackouts, and the loss of industry’s and jobs.
What is needed is not more of the same madness brought on by our Governments running scared of a situation managed by people with ‘axes to grind’ while tripping over themselves to find answers to the mess they have created by not considering things fully before rushing ahead and signing agreements which were ill researched and advised, instead what we need are people with the ability to see through the fast speak and scaremongering and see a clearer way which will not destroy the earth, the environment, ecosystems and peoples lives. There is no need for useless wind turbines which fail on every count, nor do we need Fracking which is proven to be a danger at a cost to human health, the environment and the ability to grow the food the world needs a cost which if examined thoroughly will be shown to be far more costly than any gains from the ill gotten gas supply.
There is a rule for people considering building or excavating etc here in SA and no doubt elsewhere – “Dial before you dig” , we should be calling loud and clear “Check before you destroy”.
The thought occurs to me that if Canberra and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) can, through their ‘smoke and mirrors’ efforts, achieve 100% renewables in 3 years time. Just how much land area will have been covered by wind turbines, solar fields and other renewable energy sources to get to this actual goal verses the actual size of the ACT?
And, most if not all of these wind farms are located in other States. Not in my backyard hey Canberra. It’s just the rest of us that has to suffer living next to these noisy Industrial ‘infrasonic’ Wind Farm installations that are a blight on the landscape at the expense of ‘your’ ideology. Cheers mate. That’s the Ozzie spirit. I’m alright Jack. Sod the rest of you!
The ACT already gets 90% of its power from the greatest renewable power system ever built in this country, the Snowy Hydro system.
I stand corrected STT and I agree with your comments regarding the Snowy Hydro system.
But can you explain how the wind farm reverse auction works please. And why then if he ACT already gets its energy from NSW hydro does it need to dabble in wind?
How about “draining the CANBERRA swamp”.