Most people favor the ideal of wind energy. It offers cheap, renewable power with no greenhouse gas emissions or other deadly wastes. Compared over the course of a year to a power plant fired by fossil fuels, a one-megawatt wind turbine keeps 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 6.5 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 60 pounds of mercury out of the environment. They’re more efficient, too, especially compared to coal plants: Wind farms produce up to 39 times more power than they consume against 11 times for coal.
But while the concept of wind power entices, the reality turns some people off. The spinning blades kill birds. When they’re operating, wind turbines are loud from even hundreds of feet away. And wind can be finicky, sometimes leaving expensive wind turbines silent and useless.
The arguments go the other way, too. Wind turbines kill birds, yes; but a recent study suggests that while turbines kill tens of thousands of birds yearly, nuclear plants account for hundreds of thousands of bird deaths and those plants fired by fossil fuels kill millions. According to other estimates, cats kill 100 times more birds annually than do wind turbines (2.4 billion vs. 234,000). Regarding noise, supporters point out that wind farms typically inhabit secluded areas away from settlements, like mountain tops, prairies, deserts, and offshore.
A big negative in the eye of some beholders is the visual impact of the huge machines against the skyline, or the constant rotation of the blades and their flicker of shadow across the landscape. No doubt people who live within sight of wind farms share strong opinions one way or the other on the issue of aesthetics. In vast, open spaces like the American West, with clearer air and larger turbines, “within sight” can stretch to 25 miles. Interestingly, research shows that people who link wind farms to cleaner, safer air find them more appealing visually.
As for my opinion on the aesthetics of wind power, I unashamedly find the machines beautiful, like sleek, vintage aircraft. Even the old Dutch windmills seem to me as majestic sailing ships standing in port. How about you? I’ve included some of my favorite public domain images to help you decide.
“Charles F. Brush.” Wikipedia.
“Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy.” Clean Energy Ideas. 18 Oct 2019.
Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects, pp 140-179. The National Academies Press. 2007.
“How Do Wind Turbines Work?” Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. U.S. Department of Energy.
“Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018.” Lazard. 8 Nov 2018.
Matthijs and Jakoba. “How Kodiak Island Became 100% Renewable Powered.” Wheels on Wind. 30 Aug 2018.
Sovacool, Benjamin K. “The Avian Benefits of Wind Energy: A 2009 Update.” Renewable Energy, pp. 19-24, Jan 2013.
Steffen, Andrea D. The Largest Wind Farm in the World is Now Under Construction.” Intelligent Living. 18 Feb 2020.
Sullivan, Robert G. et al. “Wind Turbine Visibility and Visual Impact Threshold Distances in Western Landscapes.” Argonne National Laboratory (IL).
“Threats to Birds: Migratory Bird Mortality.” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 14 Sep 2018.
“Types of Wind Turbines.” Wind Explained. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 4 Dec 2019.
“What is Wind Energy?” American Wind Energy Association.
“Wind Energy and the Environment.” Wind Explained. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 4 Dec 2019.
“Wind Energy by the Numbers.” Pennsylvania Wind Working Group.
“Wind Turbine.” Wikipedia.
“Wind Turbine Design.” Wikipedia.
Woods, Bob. “US has only one offshore wind energy farm, but a $70 billion market is on the way.” CNBC. 13 Dec 2019.