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Invalid Claims about the Potential Contribution of Wind Energy  

This paper is to respond to questions concerning the validity of various claims made about the potential for wind energy, particular including those in an outdated 1991 paper from the Pacific Northwest “Laboratory,” which laboratory is operated by Battelle.

This paper is to respond to questions concerning the validity of various claims made about the potential for wind energy, particular including those in an outdated 1991 paper from the Pacific Northwest “Laboratory,” which laboratory is operated by Battelle.

In one sense, it’s quite surprising that anyone might still be relying on claims made in the cited 1991 paper, the discredited claims that wind could supply some large percentage (e.g., 20%) of US electricity requirements, or the US Department of Energy (DOE) “goal” that wind would supply 5%.  Such claims are demonstrably false.

On the other hand, it may not be surprising that some still believe such claims recognizing that:

·         The wind industry, some DOE offices and so-called “National Laboratories,” and a variety of other wind advocates have, for more than a decade, been distributing false and misleading claims about the benefits and the potential for wind energy and understating its true costs, and

·         Only during the past 2 -3 years have the FACTS about wind energy begun to catch up with the false and misleading claims.

Summarized below are some of the reasons why the claims are false and should not be relied upon by people doing serious economic, environmental and energy planning and why much of the information coming from DOE and its “Laboratories” should not be relied on.  Serious planners must learn to discern the difference between FACTS and propaganda designed to promote various energy sources – and the interests of those promoting those energy sources.

A.      False Claim that Wind Can Supply a Significant Share of US Electrical needs. While there may be a lot of strong winds in some areas of the US, it is NOT true that those winds can be used to supply a large share of US electricity requirements. The false assertions apparently are based on looking at a map that shows wind conditions and jumping to the conclusion that the energy in the wind could be captured, turned into electricity and delivered to people needing electricity at some realistic price.

Among the FACTS that are ignored when making the false claim are the following:

1.       High cost of electricity from wind.  For many reasons, electricity from wind is very high in cost, particularly including the high initial capital costs, the need to have backup generating capacity immediately available at all times because wind turbines produce electricity only when the wind is blowing in the right speed range.  The output is intermittent, volatile, largely unpredictable and unreliable.  Popularly cited costs of electricity from wind typically do not take into account important elements of cost including the cost of huge tax breaks and subsidies that shift costs from “wind farm” owners to ordinary taxpayers and electric customers.

2.       Lower value of electricity from wind.  Electricity from wind has less value than electricity from reliable generating units because it is unreliable.  The electricity can’t be counted on when electricity demand is high.  (It has little or no real “capacity value,” as that term is used in the electric industry.)  Therefore other generating units must be built as electricity demand increases, whether or not wind turbines are built.  Electric customers end up paying twice; i.e., once for wind generating capacity and again for the reliable generating capacity.

3.       High transmission costs.  The places where winds are strong for significant periods of time are often far from the places where electricity is needed.  This means that substantial electrical transmission capacity (“power lines”) would be required, which capacity often cannot be constructed for environmental or economic reasons including:

a.        The high cost of building transmission capacity.

b.       The fact that “wind farms” use transmission capacity inefficiently.  That is, transmission capacity would have to be available all the time to meet the full rated capacity of the wind turbines, but that capacity would be used only partially or not at all much of the time because wind turbines produce electricity only when the wind is in the right speed range.  The result is high unit prices for transmitting electricity from wind turbines.

c.        Some electricity is lost as it moves over transmission lines.  Much would be lost when moved over long distances from “wind farms” to areas where it is needed.

d.       Electricity from wind, for these reasons, would not be competitive with electricity from reliable generating units located near the areas where electricity is needed.

4.       Many areas where winds are strong are not suitable for wind turbines for other reasons.  Wind turbines cannot reasonably be built in many areas for valid reasons such as remoteness from transmission lines or where they would be near parks, recreation areas, airports, roads, schools, homes and populated areas, wildlife refuges, bird and bat sanctuaries and flyways, and areas with fragile or rare ecological systems (e.g., Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas), and where terrain is unsuitable, or where scenic values are important (e.g., mountain ridges).

As is now being demonstrated in countries around the world, many people object to wind turbines because of their adverse environmental, ecological, scenic and property value impacts, including noise, bird and bat kills, interference with bird migration patterns and animal habitat, strobe effect of blades, and scenic impact of the huge machines (often 30 or more stories tall).

5.       Objections to transmission lines.  Apart from the wind turbines themselves, many people object to the adverse environmental and scenic impact of transmission lines.

B.      Unrealistic US Department of Energy “Goal” of getting 5% of electricity from wind by 2020.  This “goal,” issued more than 5 years ago is demonstrably unrealistic even though it may still be found on some web sites or in printed materials.  Quite possibly, it is not more than a publicity gimmick to justify spend more tax money for DOE’S “wind energy” programs.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which is the one part of DOE that issues relatively objective information, regularly reports the amount of electricity actually generated from wind energy and provides estimates of the amounts likely to come from that source in the future.  EIA reports that:

·         In 2003, only 28/100 of 1% of the electricity generated in the US came from wind.

·         By 2025, despite the huge subsidies made available to “wind farm” owners, only 60/100 or 1% of electricity is expected to come from wind.

The latter number may prove too high because recent analyses, based on EIA data, show that the assumptions used by EIA in its forecasts may be unrealistic (including its assumptions concerned with capacity factors, capital costs, and useful life of the wind turbines).

C.      Information and data on wind energy from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and DOE’s National “Laboratories” often is unreliable.   While data and information from EIA is relatively objective, this cannot be said for much of the information from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE) and DOE National “Laboratories.”

D.      Biased Information from DOE-EERE.  DOE officials are employees of the US government and their salaries, benefits and expenses – and the millions of dollars they dispense annually to hundreds of contractors and grantees – come from tax dollars.  Therefore, one would normally think that offices such as DOE-EERE could be relied upon to provide objective analyses and information and work entirely in the national and public interest.

In fact, this is not the case.  Instead, DOE-EERE dispenses millions of dollars to the wind industry and other organizations that are not objective and exist for the primary purpose of promoting the use of wind energy.  “Studies” and “analyses” supported and distributed by DOE-EERE (including those from national “laboratories” are often highly biased.  All too often, they are based on assumptions that assure that the “study” or “analysis” appears to support a preconceived conclusion.  Also all too often, the “studies” and “analyses” are done by advocacy organizations that cannot be counted on to produce objective results.     


1.       Biased Information from DOE National “Laboratories.”  DOE has several government-owned, contractor-operated facilities that are called National “Laboratories” that undertake a variety of research, development and analytical activities.  Virtually all of the activity carried on in these facilities is financed with tax dollars.  Quite likely, the work in the “hard” sciences is objective, conducted in accordance with accepted scientific methods and engineering principles, and undergoes credible peer-review.

However, some of the national “laboratories,” including the National Renewable Energy “Laboratory” (NREL) in Colorado and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State, also engage in analyses involving public policies, programs and regulations.  Much of that work turns out not to be credibly objective, scientific or peer reviewed.  This type of work is much more akin to that carried out or sponsored by an industry trade association or other advocacy group.  These activities all too often appear biased and designed to promote a particular technology, policy, program, regulatory requirement, special interest, or perhaps even a personal philosophy.  Such “analyses” often appear designed to support preconceived notions and conclusions.  These “analyses” are often driven by assumptions that virtually assure that the desired conclusion is reached.

One example is a paper prepared for and distributed by NREL on a so-called “JEDI-Wind Impact Model” that purports to show how to calculate economic benefits of a “wind farm.”  In fact, this is an example of a “laboratory” product that overstates benefits and understates or ignores costs – in this case resulting in a faulty estimate of the potential local economic benefits of a “wind farm.”

The 1991 paper on wind energy prepared by analysts at the Battelle-operated Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also falls in this category of analyses that lack objectivity – apart from the fact that it is some 14 years old and much has been learned about the true costs, benefits, and potential of wind energy since 1991.

*          *         *

Fortunately, work undertaken by over 200 citizen-led groups around the world has uncovered many of the true facts about wind energy.  These groups face a huge challenge in overcoming the false and misleading information distributed by the wind industry, DOE and its “laboratories,” and other wind energy advocates – often at taxpayer expense.  However, progress is being made and much more needs to be done.  

Glenn R. Schleede

Round Hill, VA

November 20, 2005


Elliott, D.L. et al., “An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and the Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States,” Pacific Northwest Laboratory Report PNL-7789, August 1991.

An organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, that operates several DOE “laboratories” under DOE contracts.

They start producing electricity when wind speeds are about 6 miles per hour, reach rated capacity around 33 mph, shut down when wind reaches about 56 mph, and may not restart until wind speeds drop below about 45 mph.

  U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2005, tables A2, A9, A16 and A17.

  But there are cases where this is not true.  See, for example, an EIA report, “Policies to Promote Non-hydro Renewable Energy in the United States and Selected Countries,” that overstates the benefits and promise of mandated use of renewable energy in other countries.

  A prime example of such a biased study is one done by an advocacy organization called “Renewable Energy Policy Project” or REPP, “The Effect of Wind Development on Local Property Values,” May 2003.  This analysis, supported by tax dollars that flowed through DOE-EERE, used faulty methodology and cannot realistically be relied on to support valid conclusions. 

These include Oak Ridge (TN), Argonne (IL), Brookhaven (NY), Los Alamos (NM), Livermore (CA), Lawrence Berkeley (CA), National Renewable Energy “Laboratory” (CO), and Pacific Northwest (WA),

See “Errors and Excesses in the NREL’s JEDI-WIM Model that Provides Estimates of the State or Local Economic Impact of “Wind Farms,” November 28, 2004.

Elliott, D.L. et al., “An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and the Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States,” Pacific Northwest Laboratory Report PNL-7789, August 1991.

DOE has several government-owned, contractor-operated facilities that are called National “Laboratories” that undertake a variety of research, development and analytical activities. Virtually all of the activity carried on in these facilities is financed with tax dollars.Quite likely, the work in the “hard” sciences is objective, conducted in accordance with accepted scientific methods and engineering principles, and undergoes credible peer-review.

DOE has several government-owned, contractor-operated facilities that are called National “Laboratories” that undertake a variety of research, development and analytical activities.Virtually all of the activity carried on in these facilities is financed with tax dollars. Quite likely, the work in the “hard” sciences is objective, conducted in accordance with accepted scientific methods and engineering principles, and undergoes credible peer-review.

This “goal,” issued more than 5 years ago is demonstrably unrealistic even though it may still be found on some web sites or in printed materials. Quite possibly, it is not more than a publicity gimmick to justify spend more tax money for DOE’S “wind energy” programs. DOE has several government-owned, contractor-operated facilities that are called National “Laboratories” that undertake a variety of research, development and analytical activities.Virtually all of the activity carried on in these facilities is financed with tax dollars. Quite likely, the work in the “hard” sciences is objective, conducted in accordance with accepted scientific methods and engineering principles, and undergoes credible peer-review. This “goal,” issued more than 5 years ago is demonstrably unrealistic even though it may still be found on some web sites or in printed materials. Quite possibly, it is not more than a publicity gimmick to justify spend more tax money for DOE’S “wind energy” programs. DOE has several government-owned, contractor-operated facilities that are called National “Laboratories” that undertake a variety of research, development and analytical activities.Virtually all of the activity carried on in these facilities is financed with tax dollars. Quite likely, the work in the “hard” sciences is objective, conducted in accordance with accepted scientific methods and engineering principles, and undergoes credible peer-review.

Glenn R. Schleede

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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