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Wind Rush: Three Wind Myths

Wind turbines
David Wasserman/SuperStock

James Walker, a former official in the Nixon and Ford administrations and currently vice chairman of EOF Renewable Energy, is a wind energy pioneer. Once politics, misinformation, and lobbyists are set aside, he argues, hard data paint a very clear picture: The United States can achieve affordable energy independence with big investments in wind, solar, and efficiency, backed up by modern gas-generation facilities. Yet, Walker worries, "the value proposition is not well understood; there are too many myths out there holding wind back." Here are three of the most common.

  1. Wind power is unreliable because it's intermittent. Wind is not, in grid parlance, "dispatchable"—meaning it can't be switched on and off at will. Therefore, critics argue, it can never replace conventional fossil fuel or nuclear power plants. But wind is displacing the fuels such plants burn every day, particularly coal; every megawatt-hour produced by a wind turbine is one that does not have to be produced by another generator. And officials at utilities such as Iowa's MidAmerican Energy point out that the power grid has long been designed with intermittency in mind. After all, power plants of all fuel types frequently go off-line for maintenance or because of breakdowns or grid congestion. Wind is no different. And as wind farms blossom and spread, intermittency becomes less and less of a factor—the wind is always blowing somewhere.

  2. Wind Turbines will make you sick. Naysayers blame wind turbines for medical maladies supposedly caused by noise and "blade flicker." Studies by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Oregon Public Health Authority, as well as a scientific literary review by the Environmental Health Journal, have found no scientific evidence to support such claims.

  3. Wind won't help stop climate change. This line of attack, pushed by the Manhattan Institute, a think tank supported by the Koch brothers that also promotes fracking and climate-change denial, claims that wind power does nothing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says otherwise, finding that every gigawatt of wind power annually offsets 2.6 million tons of CO2. The Department of Energy estimates that if the United States could generate 20 percent of its power through wind by 2030, it would eliminate 825 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. —Edward Humes

NEXT: Wind's Close Call

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