Resource Documents: Economics (154 items)
Documents presented here are not the product of nor are they necessarily endorsed by National Wind Watch. These resource documents are provided to assist anyone wishing to research the issue of industrial wind power and the impacts of its development. The information should be evaluated by each reader to come to their own conclusions about the many areas of debate.
Select Committee on Wind Farm Developments in South Australia, The Legislative Council, Wednesday 17 July 2013.
ALLAN AUGHEY, Mayor, Clare and Gilbert Valleys Council
PETER MATTEY, Mayor, Regional Council of Goyder
MARY MORRIS and WANDA ALLOTT
JULIE QUAST and JOHN FAINT, Waterloo and District Concerned Citizens Group
Author: Barton, Charles
I have said on numerous occasions that the inspiration for “Nuclear Green” came from David Roberts on Grist. Roberts maintained that the cost of nuclear energy was significantly higher than the cost of renewable energy. I decided to test Roberts’ claim by investigating the cost of wind energy. I wanted to find a means of estimating the cost of a one million watts (1 MW) wind generator and compare that to the cost of one MW of nuclear generation capacity. In fact, units of one billion watts are probably easier to calculate and determine than the one million unit, but the one million watt unit can be determined by dividing the one billion watt unit by one thousand.
I found it difficult to locate sources that would give me any idea of the future cost of wind generating facilities, but I did find press releases that dealt with newly announced projects; thus I could base my cost estimates on wind projects that were launched in 2008. I found press releases about new wind projects included information on the nameplate electrical output of the project and the cost of constructing the wind generators and the auxiliary facility equipment. These costs ran from $2,250.00 to $2,500.00 per one MW nameplate capacity. Nameplate capacity refers to the maximum possible electrical output that could come from a single wind generator.
As I was discover, nameplate capacity was a somewhat deceptive measure of a wind units electrical output. No wind generator produced one hundred percent of its’ nameplate rated capacity over a one year period of time. A nuclear power plant produces about ninety percent of its nameplate rated capacity over a year’s period of time. Wind generators more typically produce thirty percent or less of their nameplate capacity.
Wind generation output varies according to the time of the day and the seasons of the year. Thus, for example, wind generation during August in Tennessee will typically produce less than ten percent of rated capacity. Coastal breezes may be stronger during the day time, thus wind will generate more electricity during the day in coastal areas. Inland breezes may be stronger at night and thus more wind generated electricity is produced at night. Summer breezes generate less electricity while at the same time summer demand for electricity increases. This makes inland wind a poor match to summer electrical demands. Winds may drop during cold snaps when heating-related demands for electricity increase. Thus installing wind generators that include the same nameplate generating capacity as nuclear power plants does not mean that the equivalent amount of electricity will be available from the wind generators when customers want it.
Wind generated electricity is in many instances poorly matched to consumer demands for electricity and these consumer demands may be inflexible. For example, the summer demand for air conditioning in Texas and in many other parts of the United States is inflexible. The demand for air conditioning is not simply a luxury, but a matter of public health. The same is true of winter heating. Thus, the electrical industry must deliver electrical energy to consumers when they need it. To fail to do so would in many cases lead to problems in public health.
My studies of the cost of new wind power led me to conclude that the cost would be subject to considerable inflation. I noted that the cost of new wind generating capacity in 2008 was over twice its cost a decade ago. In 2009 there were further rises in the estimated cost of new wind construction. The most significant source of this dramatic inflation appeared to have been wind subsidies. The cost of new wind generating facilities was the lowest when there were no wind subsidies from the government. When subsidies kicked in, inflation of the cost for new wind generation facilities also kicked in. This appeared to contradict the argument for subsidies which stated the price of new wind generation facilities will drop as more facilities are built. Subsidies encourage the building of more new facilities. Advocates argue that increasing the number of facilities decreases the cost of further new facilities. Thus the subsidies of new facilities are justified as a means of decreasing the cost of new wind generation facilities. Powerful arguments emerged during the last decade that subsidies did not lead to lower wind facility cost. Quite the contrary, subsidies led to increased costs.
When I reviewed plans for post carbon renewable energy without nuclear resources, I found that the estimated price of wind generation facilities ten and twenty years into the future were not much higher or even lower than current wind generation costs. At the very least the evidence for inflation was such that planners needed to take it into account in offering possible future scenarios. Yet future renewable energy plans consistently ignored the possibility of inflation in the price of new wind generators. Furthermore, this problem seems to have escaped the entire pro-renewable community. David Roberts, for example, expressed concern for inflation in the cost of nuclear power plants without recognizing that inflation could also take place in the cost of wind generators, but the evidence was not hard to come by. We have to wonder if people like Roberts simply don’t think the questions through or whether they are aware of the problems, but for unknown reasons, avoid mentioning them.
Were this the whole story and wind generators produced equivalent amounts of energy to those produced by nuclear power plants, wind would still hold a significant advantage. This is not the case, however. In my next post, I will consider the crippling disadvantages of wind and how wind can never successfully compete with nuclear power.
In Part I, we explored past and present wind costs and noted rapid inflation. This was the first step in an exploration of David Roberts’ claim that renewable electricity was less expensive than nuclear generated electricity, but there are many other factors that I did not touch on or barely mentioned in Part I that require further exploration.
Nuclear reactors typically generate ninety percent of their faceplate electrical capacity. That ninety percent is called “capacity factor”. Reactors are typically taken off line for maintenance at periods when electrical demand is not at its peak, thus reactors are almost always available when consumers demand electricity.
In contrast, wind generators typically produce electricity at a capacity factor of about thirty percent. To equal the gross electrical output of a nuclear reactor, three wind generators producing equivalent nameplate capacity would be required, but it is more complex than that. If those three wind generators produce constant electricity ninety percent of the time, then the cost of wind would simply be three times the cost of one wind generator. This cost itself would take the cost of wind into the same range as the cost of nuclear power or higher, but there are more costs associated with wind. In the first place, wind does not blow at constant speeds even over a large area. More wind generators are required to compensate for periods of slow wind, but there are also periods of very slow wind or no wind at all. During periods of slow wind, more wind generating capacity is required to keep electrical output from wind installations up.
Mark Z. Jacobson claims that by spreading wind facilities over Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and New Mexico and linking them with high voltage power lines something like a reliable power source can be accomplished eighty percent of the time. Five wind generating facilities with the same nameplate capacity as one nuclear power plant would be spread over the four states and linked by high voltage power lines. Even then it would fall short of goals twenty percent of the time. Jacobson does not tell us how much his scheme would cost, but it would be a pretty penny. Day time winds drop in speed as temperatures soar in Southwestern states such as Texas. As temperatures soar, the demand for air conditioning swells as well, thus the generating output of Jacobson’s wind system is poorly matched to Texas electrical demand in the summertime. Some backup must be found to Jacobson’s already expensive wind system.
In 2007, when I was arguing with Roberts, I pointed out the problem of wind fluctuation and the need for backup. One of Roberts’ readers responded that the wind system could simply be connected to the grid and fluctuations could be covered as they already are on the grid. Fluctuations on the grid are covered by so called spinning reserve. That is, power plants that are kept running without covering load. If a power plant is suddenly taken off line, or if consumer demand rises quickly, spinning reserve is brought on line and begins to supply electrical energy, but spinning reserve requires fossil fuel backup. If our goal is to have one hundred present replacement of fossil fuels as the energy source for the grid, we will have to eliminate fossil fuels from our backup mix.
Furthermore, studies of wind penetration of the grid suggests that wind displaces natural gas at low levels of penetration and only begins to displace coal when wind penetration rises above twenty percent of electrical demand. When wind penetration arises above twenty percent, the cost of electricity begins to rise as well. For relatively small wind penetration levels, wind simply supplements other electrical generating systems. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, wind is matched to electricity generated by water driven turbines along the Columbia River. Wind, when it is blowing, is a useful tool in managing the Columbia River electrical generation system. Unfortunately, the wind stops blowing sometimes. Which means water pools created by Columbia River dams will have to be drawn down in order to meet electrical demand. Sometimes this wind failure lasts for a week or more. If the wind failed in other parts of the country where there is less hydroelectric generation capacity, relying on conventional grid resources would mean relying on fossil fuel generated electricity.
Since wind tends to displace natural gas fired generators first, it means very limited effect on grid CO2 output. As wind penetration rises, the cost of electricity rises as well. As wind penetration rises, the challenge of locating good wind generation facility sites becomes more and more difficult as the best sites are used first. Eventually, adding new sites means adding very little real world generation capacity. Adding new wind powered electrical generation facilities becomes more and more expensive per unit of output. Thus, continued use of the current grid system to backup wind does not offer a satisfactory and inexpensive means of shutting down the emission of greenhouse gases.
If the conventional grid offers no solution to the problem of wind in a post carbon world, are there alternative backup systems that can solve this problem? Several technologies have been proposed as offering means to backup wind. These include pump storage, compressed air storage, and batteries. Pump storage involves pumping water to the top of a mountain and storing it in a reservoir. As electrical demand rises, the water can be released back down the mountain to run through an electrical turbine at the mountain base. The water can be transferred between two pools, one at the base of the mountain and the other at the top of the mountain, however water evaporates from the pool therefore new water has to be added to the bottom pool. A huge amount of water would be required to provide backup electrical generating capacity to wind in the United States.
Water is not a land efficient energy source. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has dammed virtually all of the rivers that flow through the Tennessee Valley. They allow their water to flow through turbines to generate electricity. These dams produce together about five percent of the electricity generated by TVA. In order to backup wind generation virtually every mountain top in Tennessee would have to leveled and turned into a lake. This would not entirely please conservationists and environmentalists. In addition, the waters of Tennessee’s rivers are committed to a variety of uses including navigation, recreation, wildlife preservation, and household water. The pump storage approach would draw water from all of these commitments and utilize it to generate electricity. Because water evaporates from lake surfaces, the amount of water that the system discharges would be significantly less than the amount of water that currently flows through the river. If enough reservoirs were built, evaporation would greatly diminish the flow of water from the Tennessee River so that by the time the river reaches its mouth, very little water would be released into the Ohio River. Thus, pump storage does not offer a suitable backup for wind generated electricity.
Compressed air storage is a second backup scheme proposed by wind advocates. In a compressed air storage system, air is drawn into an underground chamber under pressure. When the wind is blowing, but consumers do not want the electricity generated, then the electricity is used to pump air into a storage chamber. At the time that wind is not blowing, the air is released through turbines which then power generators. There is a major problem with the compressed air storage approach. Compressed air pumped into underground chambers heats up. As the air comes into contact with the walls of the chamber, some of the heat is released into the walls of the chamber and from the walls of the chamber into the earth. When the air is discharged, it expands and as it expands, its temperature drops. Humidity in the air freezes as the air chills. As the air blows through turbines. ice particles are blown along with the air. The turbines are struck by the ice particles and are damaged by them. Think of the compressed air system as a heat pump which chills the air to be discharged. The loss of heat in the stored air is an inefficiency that cost us forty percent of the electrical energy used to pump the air into the underground chamber. In order to increase the amount of energy into the exiting air and melt the ice particles, natural gas is burned in the air stream. This does increase the generating power of the system, but also leads us back to the problem of CO2 discharge. Thus, compressed air storage is expensive, inefficient, and not an entirely useful decarbonation tool.
Finally, wind advocates note batteries as the third backup technology, but current battery technology would be too expensive and otherwise unsatisfactory for a wind backup technology even when significant advances in battery technology are factored in. The battery backup picture does not look promising.
Highly efficient batteries are expensive, while inexpensive batteries are not efficient. For example, lead acid batteries i.e. batteries used in cars are heavy, that is, they use lots of material, but they hold a relatively small charge especially when their size is considered. It is certainly conceivable that the efficiency of lead acid batteries can be increased in the future, but even if they are ten times more efficient they still would be heavy and require a considerable amount of material. Lead batteries also do not have long useful lives and must be replaced every few years. Lead batteries even if made ten times more efficient would not be satisfactory power sources for automobiles or trucks.
High temperature batteries may weigh less and have longer lives, but like lead batteries, they may not be satisfactory energy sources. It remains to be seen whether high temperature batteries can be made efficient enough to serve as backup to wind generated electricity, but I am not going to put my money on it yet. At any rate, high temperature batteries are probably going to be quite expensive compared to nuclear sources.
Although lithium batteries are useful for small mobile devices, it is doubtful that they would be equally useful for large scale backup of wind generated electricity because of their cost. Lithium batteries are relatively lightweight, but improving their efficiency is proving challenging.
Are there any technologies that I have not mentioned that could backup wind generators? Some time ago, on “Nuclear Green” I offered a brief study on the use of Molten Salt Reactors as backup for wind. Molten Salt Reactors would seem to offer a possible route to solving all of the problems associated with wind backup, but they offer a problem as wind backup, namely that Molten Salt technology would not simply function as a wind backup, but as a wind replacement as well. Therefore, if you start building large numbers of Molten Salt Reactors there would be no need for wind generators which are not very useful to begin with.
Author: Palmer, William
Presented at: 3rd Climate Change Technology Conference, May 27-29, 2013, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec
This presentation will show the necessity to research beyond the simplistic impressions that are too often used to justify major public policy decisions when selecting choices. We will see that what may seem to be an obvious choice can actually have produce the wrong results. Instead of aiding the environment, the wrong choice can hurt the environment, and the public.
Bad choices do have adverse impacts.
There is probably general agreement in this room that wastage of any resources is not wise.
However, we must acknowledge that civilization requires energy to progress. Reducing energy consumption to zero may not be advisable, if it takes us back to cooking with fires and lighting with whale oil. We need to look at the impact of the choices we make.
An Ontario Power Authority was put in place to plan the future energy decisions for the province. Then, from May 2005 to February 2013, the Ontario Minister of Energy issued at least 65 “directives” to the OPA, telling it what decisions it was to make, tying its hands to make decisions by science – instead directives were often driven by ideology rather than careful thought, and the consequences were not always what was desired.
As examples, directives called to bring into service 10,800 MW of “new” renewable electrical generation by 2015. Mostly this would be wind generation. The Green Energy Act took away local planning, authority, and reduced normal business case evaluations.
The Ontario Auditor General noted in his annual review in 2011 that the directives had a number of undesired results, including these and rate increases.
Some of the directives failed to understand the basic principles of electrical generation. It was assumed that generation could be added to the system anywhere, and then users could draw from the system anywhere, as if the system was just a big bathtub. In reality it is more like a tub filled with sponges, that introduce time delays and losses.
Truth is, if generation travels long distances from the source to the consumer there will be little left, and stability issues become pronounced as transmission lines get longer.
Ideally generation wants to be located near the user – which in Ontario means close to the GTA, and yet, even while there is a major generating site at Pickering, the directives continue to predict that remote, intermittent wind and solar from as far as James Bay will replace Pickering.
It’s not that easy!
To select the best choices, we need to look at the electrical system.
Here is the Ontario electrical system from the data of the Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO) for a week in January. You can see that over 66% of the base (night time) load comes from continuously operating nuclear generators (red), supplying about 10,000 MW. Hydro (green) supplies some of the rest of the base load, with some contribution from gas fired generation (purple). Day time increases to peak loads were met by increases in hydro, gas, and coal (yellow).
The wind generation in Ontario (orange), with a nameplate capability of about 1720 MW supplied very little when the demand was highest. Yet, wind supplied best when the demand was lowest. This is not a coincidence, it is the nature of wind. Demand is highest in the winter when high pressure brings cold crisp weather, and then demand is lowest on mild days when the wind is blowing. You will also see that this winter, the system operators were maintaining a surplus of coal generation on the system about equal to the amount of wind generation to have a buffer for when the wind dropped – which it does.
You will even see that the day when wind was highest in output, the system demand was lowest, and what happened was that nuclear and wind output was reduced, even while some gas generation stayed on line.
If we look now at a spring week, the first thing to note is that the overall system demand is considerably lower ... and with less day to night variation.
Wind is now a bit steadier, and you see that routinely excess generation results in reduction of nuclear and hydro generation.
These too have consequences, as we will see on the next slides.
Here are the charts for the 4 nuclear generators at Bruce B, for the months of October through December 2012. You can see how often these units were derated from nominally 800 MW to about 550 MW due to excess generation – mostly from wind. Each orange spike is an overnight generation reduction.
Each one of these spikes means that steam is diverted from the steam turbine to be dumped to the condenser. Each spike means a diversion of some 300 kg/sec of steam at 4100 kPA and 250 degrees C. There is very little actual reduction in reactor power, as the reactors must stay at high power. The energy is just wasted – with an unnecessary stress put on the plant each time. Yes, they have the capability to do this, but it is not desirable operation – simply because of a directive that says buy all the available wind.
It is not good planning, it is not minimizing risk, and it is certainly not minimizing cost. In short it is a result of adapting to a bad policy directive.
Let’s summarize – we might buy 1720 MW of wind at $135 per MWh. It already forces us to derate hydro and nuclear.
Derating hydro means OPG is paid less and has less funds to do maintenance.
Derating Bruce Nuclear accommodates the excess generation, but needs to be paid some $52 a MWh for the energy as the reactors stay at high power. If a reactor is shut down it is not available to return to power for some 40 hours.
So, consumers pay $135 per MWh for wind, whether needed or not, plus for most wind generators an additional $10 a MWh federal EcoEnergy grant. Then consumers pay Bruce $52 a MWh to dump steam.
When there is still an excess consumers pay other utilities to take the excess.
The consumer pays over $350 a MWh for energy that is not even needed.
Does it help to make the consumer pay 3× for unneeded power? Is this conservation?
When the Ontario Minister of Energy announced the Green Energy and Environment Act in 2006, he predicted it would result in an electricity price increase of about 1% a year. Yet the actual prices have increased from 30% to 80% in 6 years, and the costs are increasing even faster now as more new transmission lines to handle intermittent wind come into service.
And Ontario has directives to progress from 1720 MW of wind now to some 8400 MW by 2015 and eventually to 10,800 MW – and maybe more.
As the consumer pays more, they have less flexibility to make wise choices. Manufacturing has a harder time to pay energy bills. It is not a coincidence that Xstrada moved its electricity consuming smelting operation from Ontario to Quebec, or that Caterpillar moved jobs out of Ontario, or Stony Creek Dairy moved out of Ontario ... or that more jobs are being lost. How long will Ontario have an automotive industry when suppliers have plants in the USA with energy costs half of Ontario’s?
The decisions are not aiding climate change mitigation, they are only driving the effects elsewhere.
Let’s look at 4 years in January of system demand (in blue) and wind output (scaled from 0 to 100%) in red.
You can see that wind has the nature to be available when the system demand is low, and then drop rapidly as the system demand rises. Wind also routinely is of low availability for days on end when the system demand is highest. Storage for days is not what is talked about by the street corner battery banks – they are talking of perhaps 15 minutes of storage. Converting wind energy to hydrogen and then burning hydrogen (in fuel cells or generators) will increase the costs by several orders of magnitude again.
If we look at 4 years of July wind versus system data, we find that in the second time of the year when the system demand peaks, the summer. Wind does even more poorly. The overall wind system performance in the summer is in the order of 10 to 15% on average, and it is often less than 10% for days on end. Seasonal storage from spring to summer would be even greater as we convert wind energy to hydrogen and store it in caverns.
It’s not good for the environment to have to overbuild the system to accommodate the variations of intermittent supply. ...
Let’s look at the actual data from the IESO and predecessor organizations of Ontario Power Generation and Ontario Hydro.
You can see Darlington Nuclear Generating Station coming on line in the early 1990’s (purple) resulting in fossil fuel (black) dropping in output.
Then, as costs increased, the government changed and took initiatives to reduce costs – laying off senior Ontario Hydro staff, and reducing maintenance. Output dropped in the nuclear generators. A decision was made to layup the Pickering A and Bruce a generators to restore the newer plants to higher performance. Coal output went up.
Then as the nuclear units started to come back on line in 2003, coal started to drop again. In 2006, with the recession, the demand decreased, and coal dropped further. New (higher cost) natural gas generators lowered the coal demand further ... it certainly was not the 4 TWh of wind that reduced coal from 40 TWh a year to under 4 TWh.
The other argument heard was that bringing on stream new renewables in wind and solar would improve health.
If we look at the unbiased data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative services (ICES) we find that from the early 1990’s even as coal output increased, then decreased (black line), the Asthma Incidence Rate for infants (yellow line) continued to decrease.
Looking at the incidence rates for older children it can be seen that the peak in infant asthma rate in the early 1990’s moved through the older age groups and is now decreasing in all groups ... but the link to coal is tenuous at best.
Perhaps the decrease in infant asthma is more closely linked to parents not smoking in front of children?
It certainly did not reduce due to wind turbines. ...
Author: May, Murray
A response to “Wind farms – to be or not to be”, Nature and Society Feb-March 2013, pp. 6-7
When I joined the public service in Canberra in 1973 as a Graduate Clerk, I was fortunate to work first with the National Estate Committee of Inquiry, a pioneering environmental inquiry of the Whitlam government that set the scene for later significant environmental policy. Not a boring public service department, but straight into the deep end with the likes of Judith Wright, Len Webb, Milo Dunphy, and David Yencken.
By the late 1980s there was a surge of public and political interest in the urgency and environmental significance of climate change. Other than reference to four, five, or six degrees, a Greenhouse Alert! broadsheet produced for Australian schools for World Environment Day 1989 could have been written yesterday. Environment Ministers set up branches, then divisions, and then whole departments to deal with the issue.
Move forward another two decades and where are we? The ‘growth forever’ model is still well entrenched. Governments have facilitated the expansion of the emissions-heavy aviation industry. Mega coal mines have been opened to export yet more Australian coal. Emissions keep rising. Yet now we have planning and environment departments, even Prime Ministers, pushing a new saviour, most often seen in the classic environmental icon of the industrial wind turbine. Convinced? I’m not. On so many fronts, including adverse health effects, divided communities in conflict, questionable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and disrupted landscapes, industrial wind scores badly.
Alby Schultz MP gave a speech on wind power in the House of Representatives on 13 February 2013 . His electorate of Hume adjacent to the ACT takes in towns such as Goulburn, Yass, and Boorowa, where considerable wind farm activity is underway or planned. He summarises the situation well when he said that “communities are at war with each other, adjacent landholders face serious land value losses and health issues continue to emerge.”
With respect to the widely discussed health issue, Simon Chapman at the University of Sydney continues to promote his psychogenic theory, suggesting that any problems linked to adverse health effects from wind farms are psychologically created. Much was also made of this so-called ‘nocebo’ effect at a Senate hearing in 2012 to discuss a bill to control excessive noise from wind farms. The nocebo effect has been used by wind energy proponents such as Chapman and various wind energy associations as a way of invalidating claims about adverse health effects.
What is dangerous about Chapman’s use of psychogenic theory is that all manner of technology (e.g. industrial wind turbines, mobile phone towers, Wi-Fi) can be declared benign, when more detailed knowledge of the areas in question suggests the opposite.
For example, Chapman casts current concerns about electromagnetic fields as being merely a form of ‘technophobic’ anxiety about modern technology (Chapman, 2012). Although his background training is as a sociologist, he nevertheless gives mobile phones and mobile phone towers a clean bill of health. On the other hand, neurosurgeon Vini Khurana et al. (2010) reviewed epidemiological evidence of health risks, citing studies reporting increased prevalence of adverse neurobehavioural symptoms or cancer in populations living less than 500 metres from mobile base stations.
The shallowness and inaccuracy of Chapman’s assertions are highlighted by a major report — BioInitiative 2012 (www.bioinitiative.org) — which provides a rationale for biologically-based exposure standards for low-intensity electromagnetic radiation. With expertise in the biophysical and medical sciences, the contributing authors discuss the implications of 1,800 new studies since the 2007 BioInitiative report.
There is now reinforced scientific evidence of risk from chronic exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields and to wireless technologies. The report argues that the status quo is no longer acceptable in light of the evidence for harm, particularly given the large number of people exposed worldwide.
Chapman’s use of a one size fits all sociogenic theory is thus overworked, shallow, and simplistic. With respect to wind turbines, he ignores and is not interested in the direct biological effects of low frequency noise for example. Using the ‘nocebo’ concept as an explanation for the chronic sleep disorders from nighttime arousals related to noise is simply irresponsible.
There continues to be corporate and institutional denial of adverse health effects, in spite of the fact that there is strong evidence that wind turbines cause serious health problems in nearby residents at a nontrivial rate. The bulk of the evidence takes the form of thousands of adverse event reports. These reports provide compelling evidence of the seriousness of the problems. Nonetheless, proponents of turbines have sought to deny these problems by making contradictory claims such as the evidence does not ‘count’, the outcomes are not ‘real’ diseases and/or are the victims’ own fault, and that acoustical models cannot explain why there are health problems, and so the problems must not exist (Phillips, 2011).
There is some systematic peer reviewed research, such as a study in Maine USA, which demonstrated disturbed sleep, daytime sleepiness, and impaired mental health in residents living within 1.4 km of two wind turbine installations (Nissenbaum, Aramini, & Hanning, 2012). A study in New Zealand likewise found lower overall physical and environmental quality of life measures, including significantly lower sleep quality, in residents living within 2 km of a turbine installation (Shepherd, McBride, Welch, Dirks, & Hill, 2011). There is clearly a need for further systematic research as recommended by an Australian Senate inquiry on wind farms in 2011 (Senate Community Affairs References Committee, 2011). However, institutional inertia has been evident in implementing such recommendations to date, and in Canada, strong reservations have been expressed about the independence of proposed research by Health Canada (“Prominent physician and surgeon Dr. Robert McMurtry calls for wind turbine moratorium,” 2012).
Significantly, a legal hearing in 2011 in Ontario, Canada, heard evidence from teams of experts arguing for and against claims of adverse health effects from wind turbines. The Environmental Review Tribunal (2011) concluded: “This case has successfully shown that the debate should not be simplified to one about whether wind turbines can cause harm to humans. The evidence presented to the tribunal demonstrates that they can, if facilities are placed too close to residents.”
The current standards for assessing noise from wind farms in Australia are inadequate, particularly as they do not address the low frequency sound and infrasound strongly implicated in adverse health effects. Turbine noise has a character that makes it far more annoying and stressful than other sources of noise at the same sound level. This is in part because of an up and down amplitude modulation from the blade passage past the tower. In addition, a ‘pulsing’ infrasound and low frequency pattern is transmitted for long distances, and can readily penetrate walls and resonate inside rooms.
There is further a critique of the economics of wind power, with large subsidies being required to support wind. In Alby Schultz’s electorate of Hume alone, the subsidy for new wind turbines, excluding existing turbines, is set to reach $500 million to $1,000 million per year, or up to $10 billion over 10 years. Wind turbines are uneconomic unless they receive these very large subsidies. Moreover, wind requires backup when the wind is not blowing. Coal continues to be burnt while it is in standby mode (at least at 90% capacity), and coal consumption at power stations, according to industry figures, has not decreased.
Some argue that the costs of wind generation are coming down, but this is occurring by increasing the size of the turbines, creating more community angst, as the larger turbines are a significant imposition on the landscape and have a greater low frequency noise component. The costs of other renewables, particularly solar, are expected to come down much faster. Dieter Helm (Professor of Energy Policy at Oxford University) considers that there has been much ‘hype’ about wind power and its ability to curb carbon emissions (Helm, 2012). It is no good trying to pick winners for the task of reducing carbon emissions successfully. Rather, market reforms that emphasise price are required, in order to get carbon emissions down in the cheapest way first, not the most expensive.
The mainstream ‘green’ position on wind turbines generally assumes that wind power reduces human production of greenhouse gases, and that some people may suffer some discomfort. It argues that wind power, while not perfect is of net benefit, and there is no way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without human cost. I consider that this summation to be flawed and illogical.
Both the Greens and Doctors for the Environment Australia invoke the precautionary principle in relation to coal seam gas, but ignore it in relation to wind turbines. Ironic indeed when companies like AGL are involved in both wind farms and coal seam gas, the latter mining activity producing low frequency noise emissions too. If the precautionary principle were used, setbacks from houses of at least 10 km would be justified, given the lack of a systematic research base to support the safety of wind turbines. The health problems are often severe, forcing people out of their homes. Who can say what effect it is having on other species. The pernicious nature of the sound is considerably worse than other noise sources at the same decibel level.
Arguing in favour of a flawed approach by comparison with coal is a little like saying that execution by lethal injection is better than by hanging. Ideology has primarily driven the green argument, whereas there is scant access to and awareness of knowledge on the noise and health fronts for example. This underlines the critical importance of a holistic health/social cohesion/technology/economic/climate change assessment, not in silos by people coming at it from different perspectives. When a holistic assessment is undertaken, solar PV and solar thermal are way ahead when compared with industrial wind in my view – to say nothing of energy conservation measures.
Chapman, S. (2012). The sickening truth about wind farm syndrome New Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21628850.200-the- sickening-truth-about-wind-farm-syndrome.html
Environmental Review Tribunal. (2011, 18 July). Erickson v. Director, Ministry of the Environment. Retrieved 13 March, 2012, from http://www.ert.gov.on.ca/files/201107/ 00000300-AKT5757C7CO026-BGI54ED19RO026.pdf
Helm, D. (2012, 6 February). Dieter Helm: Forget the Huhne hype about wind power. The Times. Retrieved from http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/media
House of Representatives proof Federation Chamber Bills Second Reading Speech 13 February. (2013). Speech: Alby Schultz MP (pp. 147-149).
Khurana, V. G., Hardell, L., Everaert, J., Bortkiewicz, A., Carlberg, M., & Ahonen, M. (2010). Epidemiological evidence for a health risk from mobile phone base stations. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 16(3), 263-267.
Nissenbaum, M. A., Aramini, J. J., & Hanning, C. D. (2012). Effects of industrial wind turbine noise on sleep and health. Noise & Health, 14(September-October), 237-243.
Phillips, C. V. (2011). Properly interpreting the epidemiologic evidence about the health effects of industrial wind turbines on nearby residents. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 31(4), 303-315.
Prominent physician and surgeon Dr. Robert McMurtry calls for wind turbine moratorium. (2012, 19 July). Retrieved 14 March, 2013, from http://www.canadafreepress.com/ index.php/article/48174
Senate Community Affairs References Committee. (2011). The social and economic impact of rural wind farms. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Shepherd, D., McBride, D., Welch, D., Dirks, K. N., & Hill, E. M. (2011). Evaluating the impact of wind turbine noise on health-related quality of life. Noise & Health, 13(September-October), 333-339.