5 myths about wind energy

Do you know where wind energy is headed? Today’s turbines are more efficient than ever before. It’s time to bust some myths:

1. Wind energy is unpredictable.

Illustration of smoke from factory and wind (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Not really. There are ways to get electricity when the wind isn’t blowing. New high-capacity batteries allow electricity generated by wind to be saved for later use. And better weather forecasting lessens the need for extensive conventional backup.

2. Wind turbines are noisy.

Illustration of wind blowing into bull horn (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Nope. Wind-energy technology has improved, minimizing mechanical noise. Typically, wind turbines are placed no closer than 300 meters from a home. At that distance, the sound of the “whoosh” that the turbine blades produce is about 43 decibels. At 500 meters, it drops to 38 decibels. A refrigerator produces about 40 decibels, while a blow dryer creates 80 to 90 decibels.

3. Wind energy is expensive.

Illustration of wind blowing money (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Not anymore. As prices fall and technology becomes more efficient, electricity from wind energy now competes with conventional energy sources. Wind turbine prices have fallen 20 to 40 percent since 2008. In some places — such as Colorado — wind power is replacing electricity from conventional power plants.

4. Turbines kill bats and birds and harm the environment.

Illustration of wind blowing bird (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Yes and no. It is true that birds and bats can fly into turbines, but U.S. wind farms have worked with wildlife and environmental groups and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lessen the impact of wind farms on wildlife. Knowledge of wildlife behavior helps preserve bird and bat populations. For instance, keeping turbine blades motionless when bats are active can cut bat deaths in half. Sound deterrents, radar and thermal imaging are other tools being tried to protect wildlife.

5. Wind is an insignificant power source.

Illustration of wind blowing pinwheel (State Dept./Doug Thompson)

Wrong. Wind is now the largest single clean-energy source in the U.S., outpacing hydroelectric power in installed capacity. Wind energy generation is growing in windy states, notably Texas and across the Midwest. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 60 percent of all utility-scale generation capacity added to the power grid in 2016 came from wind and solar resources.

And now a few facts …

  • Wind power has been used for thousands of years: to pump water, mill grain, and, now, to generate electricity.
  • A single wind turbine can power 500 homes.
  • Wind power uses virtually no water, unlike most utility-scale energy generation.
  • The United States generates more wind energy than any other country except China.