2021-01-03 Myth: Wind Turbines Cause Climate Change

The anti-wind turbine NIMBYs will try to grasp at any excuse to get rid of wind turbines. One myth is that they cause heating and climate change. Not true.


More anti-wind turbine rebuttals:

2021-04-19 <<


Michael Goggin on Sep 9, 2011

Hi Willem,

It is unfortunate to see people continuing to propagate the myth that wind energy doesn’t significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. There’s a large, well-established body of empirical evidence showing that as states like Colorado and Texas have added wind energy to their grids, their carbon dioxide emissions decreased by even more than had been expected. That data was used to directly refute the Bentek study even before the study came out 18 months ago, and the Bentek study has since been widely dismissed as the fossil fuel industry attack piece that it is, except for continued efforts by the fossil fuel industry to continue spreading its misinformation. There are also dozens of power system studies conducted by utilities, government agencies, and independent grid operators showing that adding wind energy to the grid results in larger emissions savings than the 1:1 offset commonly expected, largely because additional wind energy forces inflexible coal plants to be taken offline for extended periods of time and the share of their output not directly replaced by wind is replaced with more flexible and cleaner natural gas generation. I won’t waste time repeating the full discrediting of the Bentek study that has already taken place, but you can read through that with the numerous links at the bottom of my post.

Ireland emissions: I was interested to see the Fred Udo piece mentioned in your post as I hadn’t seen that yet. It only took a few minutes to unravel the statistical trick Udo was using to get his results, which might explain why his analysis wasn’t published in a peer-reviewed journal and rather appears on an obscure Dutch anti-wind website. This appears to be a classic case of a lurking (or confounding) variable being used to misleadingly present correlation as causality. In this case the lurking variable appears to be cold weather and its impact on heating demand, data that Udo should have had access to but that (for reasons you can speculate) he chose not to use in his correlational analysis.

What tipped me off was in part 3, Figure 3 of his text, where Udo called out an event in Ireland around June 9-12 2011 when the carbon intensity of Ireland’s electricity production surged. I was curious what might have caused that event so, on a hunch, I pulled weather records for Ireland. Sure enough, there was an abnormally cold spell when temperatures fell into the 30’s and 40’s F, 10 to 20 degrees below normal for that time of year. Aha! Cold temperatures drive heating demand, forcing Ireland’s numerous fossil-fired combined heat and power (CHP) plants to fire up and run at a high level of heat production (and subsequently more emissions/MWh since CHP plants relative to the rest of the fleet are not optimized for electricity production, and CHP plants being run to produce maximum heat are not being operated in a way that is optimized for electricity production; moreover, it appears that the emissions associated with heat production are rolled into the data that Udo is using, so a CHP plant producing only or mostly heat and little or no electricity under cold conditions like these would score at infinity CO2/MWh). A smaller possible factor is that higher demand for electric heating drives higher merit order, less efficient fossil plants to operate to meet the abnormally high electric demand.

As one would expect, cold spells and home heating demand often correlate with high wind speeds, which is how Udo was able to draw his false conclusion that wind was the causal factor. Sure enough, a closer examination of the spikes in emissions/MWh in Udo’s data show that all are associated with cold spells, and only some are associated with an increase in wind output. It doesn’t take a statistician to tell you which is the causal factor in that relationship. Had Udo himself been more interested in finding the actual causal relationship at play here, he might have noted that the correlations between wind output and emissions intensity varied widely from month to month (as one would expect for weather-driven seasonal changes in electric demand), usually a strong indication that another variable may be the actual causal factor.

I should also point out that, contrary to Udo’s claims, EirGrid’s method of calculating the emissions savings of wind is accurate. The plant-specific heat rate curve that they are using would account for all of the impacts wind energy would have on the efficiency of the fossil fleets under all operating conditions.

Cost: To touch briefly on the cost issue, I’d suggest consulting with any of various independent analysts about how the cost of wind energy compares against other sources of electricity – some links are below. As is noted, the cost of wind energy has fallen drastically in recent years, though that hasn’t stopped some from using old data to perpetuate the myth that wind energy is significantly more expensive that alternatives. FERC’s collection of signed power purchase agreements showing the actual $/MWh costs for hundreds of generating projects from different electricity sources also backs up the conclusion that wind energy is very affordable. Moreover, when one looks at the history of extreme volatility in fossil fuel prices and the inevitability that fossil fuel prices are going to vary and likely increase in the future, wind energy looks even more attractive as a way to lock in an energy resource that will continue to have zero fuel costs for the life of the plant. Of course, that doesn’t even begin to factor in the massive environmental, public health, and societal costs of other sources of electricity production.




Miscellaneous: On the topics of infrasound, property values, and other false claims used to attack wind energy, I’d suggest reading the consensus of scientists that all of those concerns are unfounded – the links are below. Of course, the most important point is that when compared to the massive environmental, public health, and quality of life impacts of other energy resources, wind energy and other renewables are far and away the best option of powering our society.



As mentioned earlier, summaries of the evidence refuting the Bentek studies:





Michael Goggin,
American Wind Energy Association

Bill Hannahan on Sep 10, 2011

Michael, the Bentek study is of the Denver area grid which includes several wind farms in the surrounding area.

The wind industry response did not identify errors in the Bentek study, they simply redrew the boundary conditions to include the entire state of Colorado, most of which has very little wind power, integrated over a period of several years.

Colorado has closed many old coal fired plants, replacing them with modern coal and gas fired plants resulting in substantially reduced emissions per kwh. The pro wind studies report these savings, but leave it to the reader to wrongly associate them with the construction of wind farms.

There is really no contradiction between the reports. The opposing reports simply hide the effects of unreliable undispatchable wind power by burying the effects within a large mountain of unrelated data. In my opinion that is unethical.

Michael, if the money spent on windmills had been spent replacing more coal plants with gas, hydro and nuclear plants, would emissions be higher or lower than they are now?

More reading;



Michael Goggin on Sep 10, 2011

Bill, the DOE data for Colorado are from the 2007-2008 time period, before the state began shifting from coal to gas. In fact, as I noted in the documents I linked above, there was a shift from gas to coal during that time period as natural gas prices rose drastically in the first half of 2008. That shift from gas to coal actually masked some of the emissions savings of wind. In analyzing the data for Colorado and Texas I was very careful to explore all possible factors that could have accounted for the decline in emissions (load growth, fuel shifting, imports/exports, hydro production, etc), and wind energy was the only factor that stood up as a possible explanation. I encourage you to go through the DOE data yourself and see if you can find another credible explanation for what happened.

Also, most of the wind power in Colorado is not in the Denver area, contrary to your claim. Regardless, Xcel’s Colorado power system is dispatched as an integrated whole so you need to look at the whole system to get an accurate sense of what is actually happening.

You claim I didn’t identify any errors in the Bentek reports, yet I provided a long list of errors in the last document I linked to in my original comment, copied below. The first three and the last one on the list are the main flaws in Bentek’s first report – the other flaws apply to their second report. The two biggest flaws were that they cherry-picked a very small number of hours of wind output and fossil plant operations that fit the conclusion they wanted to find, and then extrapolated from those. They also assumed that all fossil plant cycling on the power system was caused by wind energy, which is absurd given that load changes cause a large share of plan cycling. Plants have been cycling ever since the days of Edison and Westinghouse, and the Bentek methodology would argue that wind was responsible for that even though there was no wind energy on the system then.

“Fatal Flaws in the Bentek Reports
How could the Bentek reports get the answer so wrong? The Bentek reports are plagued by numerous and fundamental methodological flaws that result in massive errors that render the reports’ conclusions meaningless:
– Wrongly assuming that all variability on the power system is caused by wind energy, even though variability in electric demand has a far larger impact.
– Cherry-picking outlier events for wind variability and then extrapolating them as normal behavior.
– Cherry-picking an isolated instance of the pollution control technology at a coal plant failing, blaming wind energy for the emissions increase, and then extrapolating that as the normal impact of adding wind.
– Understating the emissions reduction benefits of wind energy in California by excluding the fact that wind is actually displacing the state’s large imports of coal power.
– Greatly understating the emissions benefits of wind in the Pacific Northwest and California by ignoring the fact that displaced hydropower is stored behind the dam and used later to displace fossil fuel use and emissions.
– Only looking at hourly snapshots of the power system and therefore excluding the vast majority of the emissions savings when wind energy causes emitting power plants to turn off for an extended period of time.
– Failing to model the process by which grid operators actually choose which power plants to operate. That type of analysis is the only way to accurately assess the impact of adding wind, or any other resource, to the grid.”

The answer to your question about whether emissions would be lower or higher if we had spent the money on gas, hydro, and nuclear instead of wind is easy – they would have been much higher. As I laid out in my initial comment, wind energy is very affordable compared to those energy sources (assuming it was even feasible to build large amounts of new hydro or nuclear and to do so in a reasonable time period), and the emissions savings for wind are much larger than for gas.

Michael Goggin,

American Wind Energy Association

Paul O on Sep 10, 2011

Willem, with the recent Soyndra debacle in mind, and with the emerging realization that Wind Turbines may not in fact be performing as advertized in terms of CO2 reduction, one must reconsider the how, and the standards by which public funds are given, loaned out, or otherwise put at risk.

1) Is there any legislative or administrative guideline for the government to show that investments of public funds can in fact meet their stated objectives (I’m not quite sure how to correctly phrase this).

2) Who has access to the 1/4 hourly datasets? Do the Feds? Once public funds are accepted, how can the recievers withold this data from the public?

Michael Goggin on Sep 14, 2011

A. U.S. DOE emissions data showing major emissions savings from wind are not truly estimates as you claim, but rather straightforward calculations based on precise data about the amount of fossil fuels being burned in a power plant. Unless you’d like to argue that wind energy somehow changes the carbon content of fuels being burned or to invoke some sort of Medieval alchemy to explain that wind energy changes the amount of carbon emitted for an identical amount of carbon-based fuel put into a plant, the DOE data are going to precisely reflect actual emissions.

B. Yes, CHP comprises around 5% of Ireland’s generating fleet, and during cold spells like this when they are all running at full output that would be 10% or more of generation, which is large enough to drive the emissions increase noted, particularly if some of those plants are producing all heat and no power and therefore registering infinity emissions/MWh. As I pointed out, another major factor unrelated to CHP that explains the increase in per MWh emissions is that cold weather drives a sharp increase in electric heating demand, which causes less efficient, more expensive fossil plants to run as the higher demand forces grid operators to move up the supply curve of available generating plants. The EirGrid data clearly shows an increase in electric demand associated with the cold spells that are triggering the spikes in emissions/MWh.

C. Sorry, the DOE data and the EirGrid method still capture the amount of fuel being burned. You offer no reason why method #2 won’t produce results that are identical to method #3. Moreover, the DOE method that shows major emissions savings from wind is in fact the method #3 that you propose.

Michael Goggin,
American Wind Energy Association

Michael Berndtson on Sep 15, 2011

I am new to this website and truly appreciate the number of fellow enginerds (Chem E’s, yeah!). Reading the articles and comments are the biggest time sink in the history of time sinks – keep it up. I’ve been doing feasibility studies for around 25 years, mostly for environmental cleanup and pollution control.

The process for determining the feasibility of power generation alternatives seems to be very similar to that of cleanup alternative selection (especially politically charged Superfund site remediation). That is, instead of focusing on the goal of cheap/clean power or a cleaned up site, we (interested parties) become mired in the technology selection process, i.e. picking technology winners and losers. Basic elements of feasibility evaluation are effectiveness, implementability and cost; however, there always seems to be competing economic and political elements (interest) weighing upon a truly sound evaluation. The result being a goal fitted to the solution (technology) rather then the other way around.

My suggestion is to keep our focus simply on the goal, which is cheap/clean/safe energy generation and distribution. To do this we need to establish CO2 limits, safety/risk limits (apparent to current and future earth inhabitants) and acceptable societal cost considering all competing outlays be it defense, health, and welfare.

May the best (most feasible) technology and/or combination of technologies win.

Jeff Watts on Apr 15, 2012

“If 1,000 MWh of excess wind energy is generated, about 900 MWh arrives, after line losses, at the pumps, about 720 MWh arrives in the upper reservoir, about 576 MWh leaves the hydro plant (ignoring evaporation losses, a big factor in Spain), about 518 MWh arrives, after line losses, at the consumers; an example of the “power” of pumped storage. “

I think this statement mistates the cost of hydro pumped storage. Assumably the length of power lines to a pumped storage facility and then to the consumers would be longer than just a direct path to the consumer. But the line loss attributable to the hydro plant would be the difference between the two routes (directly to the consumer vs through the hydro plant) not the total line length.

So for example: Assuming average line loss is roughly the same, if the direct path resulted in a loss of 150 MWh of energy and the path to the pumped hydro storage resulted in a loss of 158 (the total above; 100 first leg + 58 second leg) then the additional energy loss for pumped hydro would only be 8 MWh. And thus Pumped Hydro would be considerably more efficient than implied above.

This wouldn’t change the fundamental end result, but it would properly allocate the energy losses. Large energy line losses will generally be the result of Wind Power built in rural locations, not due to the hydro plant. Unless, of course, the hydro plant is built somewhere other than a reasonably direct line between the Wind Power fields and the consumer.

Jeff Watts on Apr 15, 2012

“Unfortunately, using hydro for balancing wind removes a portion of the lowest cost supply from the grid to accommodate the highest cost supply.”

Not necessarily. In many scenarios the result is just time shifting the period when the hydro power is produced. If the capacity of the hydro powers generators is much larger than the average load and the water is not needed at a time when the wind is blowing hard, then there is no loss. Granted, that won’t be true in all cases.

Mike Barnard on May 21, 2012

There are 165,000 wind turbines operating world-wide with a capacity of over 240 GW. They are on track to exceed the total production capacity of nuclear energy by 2016. Why?

Because they produce inexpensive energy with very little environmental downside compared to other forms of generation and create lots of jobs.

Because they pay back the CO2e used in their full lifecyle and their full lifecycle costs within a few months.

Because they don’t cause human health problems, unlike fossil fuel generation.

Because they give off less low-frequency and infrasound than waves on a beach unlike gas generation plants.

Because they are a strong net positive for wildlife and the environment in general, unlike fossil fuel generation. For example, 14 million fewer birds would die annually if all of the fossil fuel world-wide were replaced with wind energy (that’s true for nuclear too).

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