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Science says: Wind power blows

Climate Change: If you care about global warming, you must like wind power, right? But what if wind power itself ends up contributing to a warmer climate? That appears to be the case, according to a new study.

The study, by Harvard researchers and published in the energy research journal Joule, found if the country relied entirely on wind power for energy, the average temperature in the continental United States would climb by almost a quarter of a degree Celsius.

Keep in mind that eliminating all CO2 emissions from electricity generation would, as most, cool temperatures by 0.1 degree Celsius. In other words, wind power would more than offset whatever gains came from drastic cuts in carbon emissions.

Churning the Air

Why? The researchers say that the warming comes from the fact that the wind turbines churn the air, and “the exchange of heat, moisture, and momentum between the surface and the atmosphere” cause temperatures to rise.

James Temple, writing in MIT Technology Review, said the study “raises serious questions about just how much the United States or other nations should look to wind power to clean up electricity systems.”

It also raises serious questions about why the U.S. spends billions of dollars each year subsidizing wind power.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that several states mandate that their utilities buy a percentage of their electricity from renewable sources like wind.

The combination helped boost wind power’s share of electricity generation from 1.5% in 2000 to more than 6% last year.

By the way, wind turbines aren’t just warming the climate, they’re slaughtering birds. The Audubon Society says existing wind farms kill up to 328,000 birds a year.

Land Hog

Wind energy is also a massive land hog (as is solar). One analysis found that wind farms require roughly 100 times as much land as a modern nuclear power plant to produce the same amount of energy. (Nuclear power doesn’t chop birds up or heat the climate, and produces zero carbon emissions. Yet for some reason it never factors in as a “clean energy alternative.”)

What’s more, because the wind doesn’t always blow, wind farms need other, more reliable, and usually CO2-producing, sources of energy to back them up.

The federal production tax credit for wind is set to phase out by 2020. But as anyone who follows these things knows, “temporary” tax subsidies have a way of becoming permanent.

In the meantime, will environmentalists rethink their love of climate-warming, bird-killing and land-grabbing wind power?