Renewable energy wind turbines as electricity sources possess extreme environmental problems not found in its renewable energy rival–solar photovoltaic. These problems are due to rotation during operation of 130-foot or more long, thirteen-ton turbine blades with tip speeds of 200 miles per hour.
An unavoidable problem of wind turbines is killing flying creatures. The Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) has produced a video “Eagle lawsuit ruffles wind industry feathers.” The video records an eagle being killed by a wind turbine. It appears the eagle went back for a second look at the turbine and a blade struck the fatal blow. Possibly the eagle thought the turbine was a bigger bird.
A companion article by CFACT is “Wind turbines kill up to 39 million birds a year” by wildlife expert Jim Wiegand. Details of studies on bird fatalities caused by wind turbines are cited in this article.
It has been long known wind turbines are devastating to bat populations. A U. S. Geological Survey Report “Bat Fatalities at Wind Turbines: Investigating the Causes and Consequences” mentions thousands of bats are killed annually at wind turbine sites around the world. Besides being minced by turbine blade rotations, bats are subject to deaths by other means as explained by the August 26, 2008 Scientific American article “On a Wing and Low Air: The Surprising Way Wind Turbines Kill Bats.”
Bats are killed by pressure pulses causing burst blood vessels in their lungs. Due to these deaths being caused by remote features of wind turbine operations and bats very small body weights, bat carcasses may be located large distances from offending wind turbines and never found. As nocturnal creatures, bats are particularly vulnerable to wind turbines because their operations are frequently late at night when demand for electricity is at its lowest.
In another article by CFACT, “Greens work to still wind, darken solar power projects” by Professor Larry Bell is cited several examples where environmental groups like the Audubon Society and Sierra Club have stopped wind projects due to massive bird kills anticipated by wind turbines. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the United States had at the end of 2012 more than 60,000 Megawatts of wind turbine output supplied by 45,000 turbines.
The majority of wind turbines are located in vast agriculture areas of the United States stretching from Texas to Canada. The estimate of 39 million annual bird fatalities by Jim Wiegand may be a gross underestimate. Bats devour insects and their loss in agriculture areas may have devastating impacts on future agriculture production.
Other environmental problems of wind turbines are their influence on humans. Effects of long-term exposure to low-amplitude pressure pulses unnoticed by humans may be a future problem. In addition are sound pulses at about 20 cycles per minute matching turbine’s speed of rotation. Long term health effects from these disturbances can’t be known.
Other problems with wind turbines are they catch on fire and explode. In 2011, an upper New York state wind turbine exploded and spread debris for 1/4 mile. Pictures of wind turbine fires in Texas and other locations are found here. Additional problems are winter ice forming on blades. Spinning turbine blades have thrown refrigerator-size pieces of ice hundreds of yards.
Wind turbines should be subjected to the same Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) critera imposed on nuclear power plants. The MCA for a nuclear plant is a Loss-of Coolant-Accident (LOCA) in which reactor coolants stop flowing and reactor cores are subject to melting due overheating.
The MCA for a wind turbine is a 13-ton turbine blade snaps off during operation and the blade is hurtled possibly one-half mile. If the blade lands in a local high school football stadium during Homecoming, thousands could be killed before the 13-ton blade comes to rest. Exclusion zones surrounding wind turbines need to be established to protect the public from injury. A smaller scale injury is individuals being struck by decapitated eagles or similar flying creatures.
These are a few violent environmental problems with wind turbines unknown to solar photovoltaics. Like solar energy, additional environmental assessments need to be made about wind turbines energy requirements to build and install them in comparison to energy output during operating lifetimes. Environmental effects of acquiring rare earth metals for generator magnets, large quantities of fiberglass and other metals, and vast amounts of concrete for turbine bases need evaluated. Like solar energy, the intermittent operation of wind turbines require fast responding fossil fuel electricity sources to maintain continuity of electricity supply. Poor performance of backup electricity supply may reduce or even eliminate wind turbine’s savings of fossil fuel use.
Like solar photovoltaics, wind turbines are expected to have a practical operating lifetime of around 25 years. What happens to wind turbines no longer useable? Will the country be strewn by unsightly landscapes of tall towers with dangling turbine blades? This is a view of thousands of still wind turbines shown on I-10 west of Palm Springs, CA that I visited years ago. Whether they been torn down today I am unaware.