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Environmental effects
CO2 emissions and pollution
Wind power consumes no fuel for continuing operation, and has no emissions directly related to electricity production. Operation does not produce carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, particulates, or any other type of air pollution, as do fossil fuel power sources. Wind power plants consume resources in manufacturing and construction. During manufacture of the wind turbine, steel, concrete, aluminum and other materials will have to be made and transported using energy-intensive processes, generally using fossil energy sources. The initial carbon dioxide emissions "pay back" within about 9 months of operation for off shore turbines.Wind power may affect emissions at fossil-fuel plants used for reserve and regulation:It is sometimes said that wind energy, for example, does not reduce carbon dioxide emissions because the intermittent nature of its output means it needs to be backed up by fossil fuel plants. Wind turbines do not displace fossil generating capacity on a one-for-one basis. But it is unambiguously the case that wind energy can displace fossil fuel-based generation, reducing both fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.A study by the Irish national grid stated that "Producing electricity from wind reduces the consumption of fossil fuels and therefore leads to emissions savings", and found reductions in CO2 emissions ranging from 0.33 to 0.59 tonnes of CO2 per MWh.
Net energy gain
Any practical large-scale energy source must replace the energy used in its construction. The energy return on investment (EROI) for wind energy is equal to the cumulative electricity generated divided by the cumulative primary energy required to build and maintain a turbine. The EROI for wind ranges from 5 to 35, with an average of around 18. EROI is strongly proportional to turbine size, and larger late-generation turbines are at the high end of this range, at or above 35. Since energy produced is several times energy consumed in construction, there is a net energy gain. The energy used for construction is produced by the wind turbine within a few months of operation.
Ecological footprint
Unlike fossil fuel and nuclear power stations, which circulate or evaporate large amounts of water for cooling, wind turbines do not need water to generate electricity. However, leaking lubricating oil or hydraulic fluid running down turbine blades may be scattered over the surrounding area, in some cases contaminating drinking water areas. A wind turbine at Greenpark, Reading, England, producing electricity for around one thousand homes
Land use
To reduce losses caused by interference between turbines, a wind farm requires roughly 0.1 square kilometres of unobstructed land per megawatt of nameplate capacity. A 200 MW wind farm might extend over an area of approximately 20 square kilometres.Clearing of wooded areas is often unnecessary. Farmers commonly lease land to companies building wind farms. In the U.S., farmers may receive annual lease payments of two thousand to five thousand dollars per turbine. The land can still be used for farming and cattle grazing. Less than 1% of the land would be used for foundations and access roads, the other 99% could still be used for farming. Turbines can be sited on unused land in techniques such as center pivot irrigation. The clearing of trees around tower bases may be necessary for installation sites on mountain ridges, such as in the northeastern U.S.Turbines are not generally installed in urban areas. Buildings interfere with wind, turbines must be sited a safe distance ("setback") from residences in case of failure, and the value of land is high. A lakeshore demonstration project by Toronto Hydro in Toronto has been built.Offshore locations use no land and avoid known shipping channels. Most offshore locations are at considerable distances from load centres and may face transmission and line loss challenges.Wind turbines located in agricultural areas may create concerns by operators of cropdusting aircraft. Operating rules may prohibit approach of aircraft within a stated distance of the turbine towers; turbine operators may agree to curtail operations of turbines during cropdusting operations.
Impact on wildlife
Danger to birds is often the main complaint against the installation of a wind turbine, but actual numbers are very low: studies show that the number of birds killed by wind turbines is negligible compared to the number that die as a result of other human activities such as traffic, hunting, power lines and high-rise buildings and especially the environmental impacts of using non-clean power sources. For example, in the UK, where there are several hundred turbines, about one bird is killed per turbine per year; 10 million per year are killed by cars alone. In the United States, turbines kill 70,000 birds per year, compared to 57 million killed by cars and 97.5 million killed by collisions with plate glass. An article in Nature stated that each wind turbine kills on average 0.03 birds per year, or one kill per thirty turbines.In the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) concluded that "The available evidence suggests that appropriately positioned wind farms do not pose a significant hazard for birds."It notes that climate change poses a much more significant threat to wildlife, and therefore supports wind farms and other forms of renewable energy.Some paths of bird migration, particularly for birds that fly by night, are unknown. A study suggests that migrating birds may avoid the large turbines, at least in the low-wind non-twilight conditions studied. A Danish 2005 (Biology Letters 2005:336) study showed that radio tagged migrating birds traveled around offshore wind farms, with less than 1% of migrating birds passing an offshore wind farm in Rønde, Denmark, got close to collision, though the site was studied only during low-wind non-twilight conditions.A survey at Altamont Pass, California, conducted by a California Energy Commission in 2004 showed that onshore turbines killed between 1,766 and 4,721 birds annually (881 to 1,300 of which were birds of prey). Radar studies of proposed onshore and near-shore sites in the eastern U.S. have shown that migrating songbirds fly well within the reach of large modern turbine blades.A wind farm in Norway's Smøla islands is reported to have affected a colony of sea eagles, according to the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Turbine blades killed ten of the birds between August 2005 and March 2007, including three of the five chicks that fledged in 2005. Nine of the 16 nesting territories appear to have been abandoned. Norway is regarded as the most important place for white-tailed eagles.
The numbers of bats killed by existing onshore and near-shore facilities has troubled bat enthusiasts. A study in 2004 estimated that over 2200 bats were killed by 63 onshore turbines in just six weeks at two sites in the eastern U.S. This study suggests some onshore and near-shore sites may be particularly hazardous to local bat populations and more research is needed. Migratory bat species appear to be particularly at risk, especially during key movement periods (spring and more importantly in fall). Lasiurines such as the hoary bat, red bat, and the silver-haired bat appear to be most vulnerable at North American sites. Almost nothing is known about current populations of these species and the impact on bat numbers as a result of mortality at windpower locations.
In Ireland, construction of a wind farm caused pollution feared to be responsible for wiping out vegetation and fish stocks in the Lough Lee. A separate landslide is thought to have been caused by wind farm construction, and has killed thousands of fish by polluting the local rivers with sediment.
Offshore ocean noise
As the number of offshore wind farms increase and move further into deeper water, the question arises if the ocean noise that is generated due to mechanical motion of the turbines and other vibrations which can be transmitted via the tower structure to the sea, will become significant enough to harm sea mammals. Tests carried out in Denmark for shallow installations showed the levels were only significant up to a few hundred metres. However, sound injected into deeper water will travel much further and will be more likely to impact bigger creatures like whales which tend to use lower frequencies than porpoises and seals. A recent study found that wind farms add 80–110 dB to the existing low-frequency ambient noise (under 400 Hz), which could impact baleen whales communication and stress levels, and possibly prey distribution.
 A turbine on fire at Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd after an oil leakOperation of any utility-scale energy conversion system presents safety hazards. Wind turbines do not consume fuel or produce pollution during normal operation, but still have hazards associated with their construction and operation.There have been at least 40 fatalities due to construction, operation, and maintenance of wind turbines, including both workers and members of the public, and other injuries and deaths attributed to the wind power life cycle. Most worker deaths involve falls or becoming caught in machinery while performing maintenance inside turbine housings. Blade failures and falling ice have also accounted for a number of deaths and injuries. Deaths to members of the public include a parachutist colliding with a turbine and small aircraft crashing into support structures. Other public fatalities have been blamed on collisions with transport vehicles and motorists distracted by the sight and shadow flicker of wind turbines along highways.When a turbine's brake fails, the turbine can spin freely until it disintegrates or catches fire. This is mitigated in most modern designs by aero brakes, variable pitch blades, and the ability to turn the nacelle to face out of the wind. Turbine blades may fail spontaneously due to manufacturing flaws. Lightning strikes are a common problem, also causing rotor blade damage and fires. When ejected, pieces of broken blade and ice can be thrown hundreds of meters away. Although no member of the public has been killed by a malfunctioning turbine, there have been close calls, including injury by falling ice. Large pieces of debris, up to several tons, have dropped in populated areas, residential properties, and roads, damaging cars and homes.Often turbine fires cannot be extinguished because of the height, and are left to burn themselves out. In the process, they generate toxic fumes and can scatter flaming debris over a wide area, starting secondary fires below. Several turbine-ignited fires have burned hundreds of acres of vegetation each, and one burned 80,000 hectares (200,000 acres) of Australian National Park.Electronic controllers and safety sub-systems monitor many different aspects of the turbine, generator, tower, and environment to determine if the turbine is operating in a safe manner within prescribed limits. These systems can temporarily shut down the turbine due to high wind, electrical load imbalance, vibration, and other problems. Reoccurring or significant problems cause a system lockout and notify an engineer for inspection and repair. In addition, most systems include multiple passive safety systems that stop operation even if the electronic controller fails.Wind power proponent and author Paul Gipe estimated in Wind Energy Comes of Age that the mortality rate for wind power from 1980–1994 was 0.4 deaths per terawatt-hour. Paul Gipe's estimate as of end 2000 was 0.15 deaths per TWh, a decline attributed to greater total cumulative generation.By comparison, hydroelectric power was found to have a fatality rate of 0.10 per TWh (883 fatalities for every TW·yr) in the period 1969–1996. This includes the Banqiao Dam collapse in 1975 that killed thousands. Although the wind power death rate is higher than some other power sources, the numbers are necessarily based on a small sample size. The apparent trend is a reduction in fatalities per TWh generated as more generation is supplied by larger units.
Historical experience of noisy and visually intrusive wind turbines may create resistance to the establishment of land-based wind farms. Residents near turbines may complain of "shadow flicker" caused by rotating turbine blades. Wind towers require aircraft warning lights, which create bothersome light pollution. Complaints about these lights have caused the FAA to consider allowing fewer lights per turbine in certain areas. Windmills at La Mancha, Spain, made famous by the 1605 novel Don Quixote, are a national treasure.These effects may be countered by changes in wind farm design.Modern large turbines have low sound levels at ground level. For example, in December 2006, a Texas jury denied a noise pollution suit against FPL Energy, after the company demonstrated that noise readings were not excessive. The highest reading was 44 decibels, which was characterized as about the same level as a 10 mile/hour (16 km/hr) wind. Wind turbines at Magrath, Alberta, Canada.Newer wind farms have larger, more widely spaced turbines, and so look less cluttered than old installations.Aesthetic issues are important for onshore and near-shore locations in that the "visible footprint" may be extremely large compared to other sources of industrial power (which may be sited in industrially developed areas). Wind farms may be close to scenic or otherwise undeveloped areas. Constructing offshore wind developments at least 10 km from shore may reduce this concern.
Examples of opposition to wind power
  • June 29, 2003 - after the Cape Wind project was proposed several miles off the coast of Cape Cod, some environmentalists raised objections, as did U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy who owns a summer home in the area.
  • On October 16, 2003 in Galway, Ireland, construction of the foundation of a wind farm caused almost half a square kilometer of bog to slide 2.5 kilometers down a hillside. The slide destroyed an unoccupied farmhouse and blocked two roads. Nearby residents expressed concern over these environmental impacts.
  • On January 12, 2004, it was reported that the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against wind farm owners for killing tens of thousands of birds at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area near San Francisco, California.
  • On December 4, 2007, environmentalists filed lawsuits to block two proposed wind farms in southern Texas. The lawsuits expressed concerns over wetlands, habitat, endangered species and migratory birds.
  • On December 7, 2007, it was reported that environmentalists opposed a plan to build a wind farm in western Maryland
  • On February 4, 2008, according to British Ministry of Defence turbines create a hole in radar coverage so that aircrafts flying overhead are not detectable. In written evidence, Squadron Leader Chris Breedon said: "This obscuration occurs regardless of the height of the aircraft, of the radar and of the turbine."
  • A February 21, 2008 article in Scoop reported on environmentalist opposition to a proposed wind farm in New Zealand.
An April 16, 2008 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that three different environmental organizations had raised objections to a proposed wind farm at Shaffer Mountain in northeastern Somerset County, Pennsylvania, because the wind farm would be a threat to the Indiana bat, which is listed as an endangered species
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