Re­cent stud­ies high­light con­cerns with wind power

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

THE rap on wind power is that it isn’t prac­ti­cal. New re­search re­in­forces this be­lief, and sug­gests wind power isn’t as en­vi­ron­men­tally ben­e­fi­cial as claimed.

The stud­ies, au­thored by Har­vard re­searchers and pub­lished in “En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search Let­ters” and “Joule,” ex­am­ined how much land area would be re­quired to meet fu­ture U.S. en­ergy de­mands if en­ergy pro­duc­tion in­creas­ingly tran­si­tions to green power sources. They also ex­am­ined the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of wind farms.

The land-area study con­cluded wind farms will need five to 20 times more land than pre­vi­ously es­ti­mated. This is largely be­cause of the “wind shadow” ef­fect. An up­wind tur­bine re­duces wind speed down­wind, which means tur­bines must be spaced farther apart to max­i­mize ef­fec­tive­ness. This fac­tor has been ig­nored in many other stud­ies on wind power fea­si­bil­ity.

Given the re­sis­tance of many com­mu­ni­ties to wind farms, this find­ing rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant lo­gis­ti­cal bar­rier to in­creased wind power use. While peo­ple like the idea of wind power, few are ea­ger to have wind farms near their homes. This is true not only in con­ser­va­tive ru­ral Ok­la­homa, but lo­ca­tions across the na­tion. Writ­ing at City Jour­nal, Robert Bryce notes that the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates this year in “deep­blue Ver­mont” fa­vored re­new­able en­ergy “in prin­ci­ple” but op­posed new wind en­ergy de­vel­op­ment. An ef­fort to put a wind farm off­shore near Cape Cod was tied up for years due in part to op­po­si­tion from lo­cal res­i­dents who ob­jected to hav­ing tur­bines within sight of their homes. The op­po­nents in­cluded for­mer Sen. Ted Kennedy.

If smaller wind power projects draw strong lo­cal op­po­si­tion, then the neg­a­tive re­sponse will be ex­po­nen­tially greater for even larger wind farms.

What of the en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit? The sec­ond study found that if you cov­ered one-third of the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. with enough tur­bines to meet elec­tric­ity de­mand, the wind farms would warm the sur­face tem­per­a­ture by 0.24 de­grees Cel­sius. The change to night­time tem­per­a­tures was even more dra­matic — up to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius. Those tem­per­a­ture changes would be caused by the fact that wind tur­bines mix ground-level and higher-level at­mos­phere while also re­duc­ing at­mo­spheric mo­tion.

That en­vi­ron­men­tal find­ing is in keep­ing with at least 10 other stud­ies. In fact, Har­vard re­searchers con­cluded that the warm­ing ef­fect caused by wind tur­bines would be larger than any off­set­ting en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit from re­duced green­house gas emis­sions for the next cen­tury.

Study au­thor David Keith, a pro­fes­sor of ap­plied physics at Har­vard, said, “The di­rect cli­mate im­pacts of wind power are in­stant, while the ben­e­fits of re­duced emis­sions ac­cu­mu­late slowly. If your per­spec­tive is the next 10 years, wind power ac­tu­ally has — in some re­spects — more cli­mate im­pact than coal or gas. If your per­spec­tive is the next thou­sand years, then wind power has enor­mously less cli­matic im­pact than coal or gas.”

The prob­lem for wind power sup­port­ers is that most peo­ple put more weight on im­me­di­ate im­pact than any hy­po­thet­i­cal im­pact cen­turies down the road. Un­til the im­me­di­ate, neg­a­tive im­pact of wind power projects is re­duced, the in­dus­try will con­tinue to face un­der­stand­able re­sis­tance from many cit­i­zens.

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