Alternative energy is a hot button issue these days. Wind power is often considered one of the better options. It provides clean energy with little expenditure after the initial capital to build the turbines. Individual households and farms can use wind power, but massive wind farms are considered part of the way of the future.
Wind farms have a number of advantages.
1. Their construction and maintenance provides jobs in rural areas that often suffer particularly badly from recession and depression. They also reduce dependence on foreign oil and may, thus, help the overall economy.
2. They cost little to maintain, and pay for themselves relatively quickly.
3. Wind energy produces no pollutants or waste. It is completely clean, renewable energy that does not contribute to global warming. The only fossil fuels used are lubricants, which could potentially be replaced with biological products.
4. Large wind farms can be constructed off shore in shallow parts of the ocean or lakes, where they use no land and are in nobody’s direct way. Often, these offshore wind turbines produce even more energy than those built on land and they tend to be larger.
5. Wind turbines are easy to build and install, and a wind farm can be up and running much faster than any other kind of power plant.
However, wind energy also has quite a few disadvantages.
1. One of the biggest concerns with wind energy is the effect on migrating birds and bats. This can be mitigated by careful location, but the truth is that birds do fly into turbine blades with sad regularity.
2. Many people find wind farms to be an eyesore. In addition to being ugly, they make a constant, low grade noise. As a result, there is a fairly strong ‘NIMBY’ factor with wind farms, which is one of the reasons why offshore turbines are being promoted.
3. Unreliable energy. The wind is under nobody’s control and even if turbines are sited in areas with strong prevailing winds, they can still be becalmed, resulting in reductions in energy generation. Storing energy from higher production times is even harder with wind than with solar and adds to the overall construction cost.
4. Heavy land use. Another reason for the move to offshore wind energy production is that wind farms require a lot of turbines, spaced quite far apart. They thus use land that could be better employed for other reasons and result in forest clearance and other environmental issues. However, wind turbines can be combined with other land use, especially grazing livestock.
Many of these problems, however, can be mitigated and some constitute myths. Offshore siting does not always eliminate the NIMBY factor, as some owners of coastal property object to the turbines ‘breaking up’ the horizon. The noise generated by turbines goes down each year as better designs as developed. Bird collisions are rare and turbines can be positioned away from migration routes. Overall, the pros of wind power outweigh the cons.