The Corner

Wind Power’s Success Doesn’t Stop Opponents’ Urban Legends

Robert Bryce’s most recent NRO piece (“Economists Without Calculators”) is yet another of his recycled, questionable diatribes on the wind power industry.

On the ability of renewables to meet growing electricity demand, Mr. Bryce himself acknowledges that wind power has made a remarkable achievement by meeting about one-fourth of the growth in electricity demand last year. Wind power has contributed 35 percent of all new generating capacity in the U.S. over the last five years. 

However, with no supporting evidence, he writes that wind advocates believe that wind can meet all our electricity needs. Even wind’s staunchest advocates acknowledge that it’s just part of the overall energy mix, and that future demand will need to be supplied by other renewable, traditional power sources, efficiency measures, and new technologies. All new energy resources have taken time to ramp up from near zero, with wind power following similar early trajectories as other energy sources, such as nuclear power, have in the past.

#more#When discussing “energy sprawl,” Bryce ignores the fact that only 2 percent of the land area of a typical wind plant is actually taken up by wind turbines and other equipment, while the remaining 98 percent can continue being used for farming, ranching, or whatever its prior use was.

A 2008 report by the Department of Energy concluded that generating 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind energy would take less land than currently occupied by the city of Anchorage, Alaska. The total footprint would be just 250,000 to 600,000 acres — far less than the 1 million acres U.S. coal mining requires every year, for example. Once built, wind farms do not require any fuel, and so do not disturb the land further.

Mr. Bryce loses further credibility by using the wrong figures. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the median wind-production land requirement is 7.8 megawatts per square mile, a value Mr. Bryce misses by more than 50 percent. 

NREL’s most recent study found that even if renewable sources were to provide 80 percent of U.S. electricity, the footprint of the land required for wind and solar combined would be an area 55 miles by 55 miles, significantly less than currently occupied by golf courses.

With respect to the (deafening?) sound levels claimed by Mr. Bryce, one can carry on a conversation at normal voice levels even standing directly below a turbine. Independent studies around the world have consistently found that sound from wind farms has no direct impact on physical health, including a survey of scientific research published in January of this year by the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection. And because it emits no air pollution, wind power actually substantially reduces public-health impacts from the energy sector.

Mr. Bryce chooses to ignore the mounting evidence in favor of wind energy, and instead endlessly recycles urban legends that have long since been rebutted. He concludes with the phrase, “op-ed writers are welcome to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” 

I agree. The facts are: Wind power has solidified its place as a mainstream, low-impact, safe source of energy — creating no pollution and using no fuel to operate — while providing much-needed jobs for American workers.

That is how it has earned such bipartisan support to keep on growing, as part of a sensible portfolio for America’s energy needs now and in the future. 

— Jimmy Glotfelty founded the U.S. Department of Energy’s Transmission Office under the George W. Bush administration, and served as its first director. He is co-founder and executive vice president of Clean Line Energy Partners of Houston, Texas, a developer of high-voltage direct current transmission lines for wind energy. 


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