Wind Farms: The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

December 4, 2009
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“If wind energy were to provide 20% of the nation's electricity -- a very realistic and achievable goal with the current technology -- it could displace more than a third of the emissions from coal-fired power plants.” U.S. wind farms also generated enough electricity to provide for 2.4 million homes in 2006. To put this in perspective, electricity for 2.4 million homes is more than enough electricity to power Los Angeles. Wind farms make these statistics a reality and bring influence that fossil fuels lack. This innovation introduces a new and efficient energy source. As wind farms continue to grow in use and popularity, they impact the public, the economy, fossil fuel dependency and the environment.

Not only does wind power impact the current society, but wind also played a role in various cultures throughout history. Wind energy was not created at one specific time period, but instead slowly evolved throughout history. In 5000 B.C., people sailed boats propelled with wind energy along the Nile River. China then used windmills to pump water, and windmills grinded grain in Persia and the Middle East by the year 200 B.C. As wind energy became more widespread, the technology and potential of wind energy developed significantly. The concept of windmills soon spread to Europe, where the Dutch found yet another use for the windmill by using them to drain lakes and marshes. Though industrialization decreased windmill popularity, higher technology led to the creation of wind turbines. In 1890, wind turbines produced electricity in Denmark, and later wind turbines played a significant role in supplying electricity during World War II.

The political and social context surrounding the creation of wind farms explain why wind turbines were viewed as an important innovation. Since wind turbines are a result of a slow evolution of the windmill and collaboration from many, there is no specific creator of the wind turbine. Wind turbines were created to benefit the average people and provide another, often cheaper, energy alternative for both countries and individuals. Because wind farms do not pollute, they provide an environmentally friendly energy source. Electricity can be produced from a plentiful and renewable source, the wind. As a result, the creation of wind turbines was widely supported because there was another source of energy to turn to during fluctuations in the price or availability of fossil fuels. Wind turbines raise the public’s awareness of the resources and technology around them. They promote the importance of renewable energy and the importance of a cleaner, healthier world.

Because wind farms are a new alternative to fossil fuels, they bring a variety of new impacts to the environment. Wind farms reduce the harm on the environment caused by extracting and transporting fossil fuels. Coal mining and oil extraction sites disturb the surrounding environment, while collecting wind energy does not. Additionally, pollution and global warming, which are both important issues that the world faces today, are reduced with wind farms. No hazardous wastes, greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, or pollution from fossil fuel power plants are released at wind farms. Wind energy is important to help accomplish the U.S.’s goal to stop greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Scientists believe that carbon dioxide needs to be significantly reduced to help prevent rising temperatures and other harms associated with global warming. Wind energy produces 99% less carbon dioxide than coal. Less water is also used in wind farms than in coal power plants. To collect energy from coal, .49 gallons/kilowatt hour of water is necessary compared to the .001 gallons/kilowatt hour for wind energy. In addition, wind farms bring several negative impacts to the environment. Erosion occasionally accompanies wind farms, but in most cases can be prevented. Studies have also shown a slight increase in bird and bat deaths caused from wind turbines. Overall, the positive impacts on the environment outweigh the negative because wind energy displaces many harmful aspects of fossil fuels.

Because wind energy is a renewable energy source, it decreases dependency on fossil fuels. Wind is a resource that can always be counted on while fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource that will eventually run out. Some scientists estimate that at the current rate of consumption, fossil fuels could potentially run out in as few as seventeen years. Dependency on foreign oil is also reduced with wind farms. Countries can produce their own energy with wind farms instead of invading other countries for oil. While fossil fuels are not readily available to all countries, wind is a resource accessible to all. Since collecting only 10% of the wind’s kinetic energy worldwide would be over the world’s yearly energy demand, wind energy can help prevent disputes over oil and other fossil fuels. Clearly, wind farms offer one solution to problems with foreign oil dependency.

Although wind farms may by expensive short term, they benefit the economy in the long term. Converting entirely to wind energy may at first have a harsh impact on a country’s economy. Fossil fuels are often cheaper and easier to acquire than the expensive technology associated with wind farms. Large, complex systems to store the energy from wind are needed. However, individual electricity costs would not drastically increase. The San Francisco Chronicle explains that, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy, “Although wind power currently costs more than electricity generated by natural gas or coal, expanding wind would add about 50 cents to the typical American’s monthly electric bill.” In Denmark, it is assumed that wind energy becomes cheaper as it expands; it is estimated that a kilowatt of electricity produced by wind costs about the same as a kilowatt of electricity produced by a coal-fired power station. Additionally, an article reporting on the wind debate in Europe concludes, “In a small, relatively crowded country like Denmark, wind is regarded as safe, a job creator (20,000 jobs in Denmark alone) and a serious energy provider.” Out of all other energy technologies, wind energy provides the most jobs per dollar invested. Lastly, electricity costs are stabilized because of wind energy. Wind is always available, unlike oil which fluctuates in price according to its availability. Winds farms, as they continue to increase in number, eventually create a positive impact on the economy.

As well as benefiting the economy, wind farms increase public health and awareness. Wind farms release no harmful emissions or pollutants like many fossil fuel power plants. Fossil fuel power plants are the cause of 159 premature deaths, 1,710 emergency room visits, and 43,300 asthma attacks. Wind farms make the public more aware of renewable resources. Wind farm developments educate people on the technology available to them, and they let them know that there are ways to reduce the harms from fossil fuels. With the public more aware, there is a greater demand for wind energy. “Public opinion in support of wind power tends to become even more strongly in favor once the wind turbines are installed and operating, a finding from several surveys carried out in the UK and in Spain.” Wind farms’ impact on public health and awareness is only one of the many significant impacts from wind power.

Though wind farms are not yet a main source of energy, they have already begun to set standards for energy production worldwide. Because wind energy is cleaner and less polluting than fossil fuel power plants, wind farms have a positive impact on the environment. They can help to reduce the world’s dependency on fossil fuels, and though they are an expensive technology, benefit the economy in the long run. Wind farms help improve public health and educate citizens on renewable resources. This innovation is already a reality, and the impact of wind farms continues to grow as the need and popularity of renewable energy increases.

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