Ask Will: Do windmills pollute the environment
Credit: Will Toren, The Desert Sun | July 31, 2014 | www.desertsun.com ~~
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Say, I read lately that windmills contribute to air particulates and dryness in the desert. The valley has been looking into environmental pollution, but the windmills seem to get a free ride. Is our weather/air quality affected by windmills?
Charlotte R. Rios, Palm Desert
Thanks for your question! Perhaps the article you read is this one from Popular Science, which offers up the possibility that yes, large windfarms like those at the western entrance to the Coachella Valley may have some small effect on wind direction and temperature in our desert air.
The underlying scientific principles are sound, but without hard numbers it’s hard to scale it to our environment here. The overall implication is that, at least just behind the turbine blades, wind is slowed, but scattered, creating turbulence. Some of the comments below the story seem concerned about an overall reduction in global wind force, but as someone who lives close enough to the pass to experience the wind that comes out of the windfarm zone, I can tell you it still packs a mighty wallop.
There is a slight possibility of the windmills leaving the air passing through it slightly drier. It’s difficult to believe, however, that the loss of water vapor caused by the windmills is enough to offset the increase in moisture created from evaporation of the countless swimming pools, golf course lakes and other water features across the valley.
On the other hand, it’s possible that you ran across this somewhat more strongly worded item at Climate Conversation. This website out of New Zealand has the handy feature of mentioning the Banning Pass and Palm Springs by name, identifying a photo of the former with a “Welcome to Hell, eco-style” caption.
The main beef with windpower you’ll find on this page is its cost to taxpayers in the form of subsidies. Then there’s this tidbit, however: “recent academic research shows that wind power may actually increase greenhouse gas emissions in some cases, depending on the carbon-intensity of back-up generation required because of its intermittent character.”
While this is applicable to our valley, as pollution from our own back-up, or “peaker,” power plant is a concern. However, blaming windmills for the emissions from a gas-fired plant is kinda like getting mad at your dentist a week after Halloween.
Nevertheless, Hell on Earth or not, there are real reasons to be concerned about wind power as currently derived. The Desert Sun and other sources have reported on bird deaths associated with the turbines in our neighborhood, for example. There’s also concern in some quarters about the environmental cost of turbine materials.
The question is mostly about how it compares to gas, nuclear, solar and other power sources in terms of trade-offs in pollution, writing that monthly check and staving off the “Mad Max” future. Until we find something better, as Officer Rockatansky might say: As long as we want the juice, something’s going to get squeezed.
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