There are a lot of lies being spread around the internet, by people who either don’t like wind turbines, or have a hidden agenda.
Since the twenty-eighth of March, 2014, I’ve actually lived within 300 metres of two large turbines, both of which are more than more than 40 metres tall.
So in this article I want to dispel twelve of the most common myths about wind energy, using not only scientific fact, but also providing my own personal experience.
1. Wind Turbines Damage Your Health
As I just mentioned, me and my wife and two children live near two large wind turbines (which I co-own with my business partner.)
We have experienced no health problems at all since they were installed in 2014. Certainly nothing which could be attributed — in any way at all — to the wind turbines.
Also, a farmer I know who lives only a few miles away from me installed a wind turbine on his farm, more than twenty years ago.
Despite his turbine being very close to his farmhouse, he hasn’t experienced any health issues related to the turbine either. (He’s well over 60 years old, and he’s fighting fit!)
But what about large wind farms, sometimes with more than 20 or 30 wind turbines, that stand well over 100 metres tall?
Well, I agree that living near a huge wind farm is a totally different proposition from living near just one or two turbines.
A growing number of people who live near big wind farms are apparently reporting that they have developed a wide range of health problems, which have collectively been labelled ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’.
They’re alleging that various health problems are due to ‘low frequency sound issues’.
As you can imagine, this raised a lot of concern in various circles, and a lot of research has since been done on so-called ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’.
With only a few exceptions (see below), scientific research indicates that there is no link between wind turbines and the reported health issues.
Despite these scientific conclusions, a French court recently awarded €120,000 damages to a Belgian couple who live near a wind farm, saying it negatively impacted their health.
That is the first time a case has ever been won.
However, rather than this proving that wind farms cause health problems, the couple’s health was observed over a period of three years, and the case was dismissed, after it was shown there were no impacts on their health.
Regardless, the case was later won on appeal. (I can’t find any further information on how they won on. Maybe some new information came to light?)
Either way, the couple’s own lawyer was quoted as saying “This case cannot be reproduced. This wind farm caused an unusual nuisance because of its configuration but each case is difference and should be examined differently.”.
I’ll cover Wind Turbine Syndrome in future articles in a lot more detail, but if you would like to know a bit more, here’s what New Scientist magazine and How Stuff Works both have to say on the subject. (Basically what I said above – there’s no demonstrable or measurable link between wind turbines and health problems.)
Moving on, the second closely related myth is probably just as common…
2. Wind Turbines Are Noisy
On most days in Summer, there’s very low wind in my part of the world, on the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds in England.
On those days, I can’t hear any noise at all from my wind turbines, which are less than 300 metres away from my home.
However, what I can hear, much louder — on most weekends in Summertime — are dozens of motorbikes screaming along a very long straight road that is more than 3,000 metres away from my house.
(The police quite often catch motorbikes doing more than 100 mph on that stretch of road!)
Now, I have no objections to motorbikes whatsoever.
I’m just pointing out that the motorbikes on a road more than 3,000 metres away are far louder than the two wind turbines which are less than 300 metres from my home.
When it’s more windy during winter, standing outside my home I can hear our wind turbines making a gentle swishing noise.
I can’t hear them at all inside my house.
However, when it’s really windy, rather than the wind turbine noise increasing (as the blades spin faster) all I can hear is the wind blowing around my house! I certainly can’t hear the wind turbines.
Now despite my own experience with low (or no) noise from turbines situated near my house — the most vocal objectors to my own wind turbine’s planning application actually lived miles away from them.
They weren’t even able to see my turbines from where they live, let alone hear them.
Thankfully the planning authorities who make decision on turbine applications know this, and have simple rules for turbine placement.
As long as turbines are more than a specified distance away from any residential properties, to reduce noise levels below an acceptable decibel level, then consent cannot be denied due to ‘noise objections’.
In future, I think the noise issue will become less of a concern for everyone anyway.
As wind energy technology matures, turbines are not only getting larger but also operate increasingly more quiet, and more efficient too. (I’ll get to efficiency in a moment – that’s another myth!)
3. Wind Turbines Kill Birds
I’ve not once ever seen a dead bird near any of the wind turbines I co-own—either the ones near my house, or the ones on wind turbine sites we own which are dotted around the United Kingdom—including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
So, this myth is quite a curious one to me.
I did some research, and it seems that when wind farms first started appearing in America, decades ago, one wind farm in particular was situated in a valley that was commonly used by a flock of birds.
Sadly this did result in bird deaths. Unfortunately it appears this has since been the root cause of a lot of misinformation, and has reinforced the myth that wind turbines are destroying the global bird population.
However, as part of the UK planning process, wind farms are situated so as to avoid the direct flight paths of birds.
If there is any doubt, ornithological surveys has to be performed—sometimes taking months or even years—before planning permission can be granted.
As a result, bird deaths are not as common as people would have you believe.
There does appear to be more of problem in the United States, where turbines have been built in the flight path of rare Eagles and other raptors.
Hopefully the US planning laws are becoming as stringent as the US in this regard too.
Whatever number of birds are actually killed by wind turbines, it’s far less than the threat posed to them by communication towers, power lines, cars, pesticides, buildings… and especially cats!
An interesting article here puts the facts in stark contrast.
Ironically, wind turbine service engineers (who work for one of my business partner’s other companies) have even reported finding birds nesting in nacelles. (The nacelle is the large ‘box’ at the top of a wind turbine.)
I presume the birds chose that location because it’s good shelter, and they feel safe!
One final word on the myth that wind turbines are decimating the bird population; The British charity ‘Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ (RSPB) actually partnered with one of the UK’s largest wind turbine developers and renewable electricity providers (Ecotricity) to install turbines around the UK.
You can read all about it here.
As they say in the article—rather than killing birds, wind turbines are helping to fight climate change… and it’s climate change which is the real, serious and growing threat—to not just birds, but to all forms of life on our planet.
4. Wind Turbines Affect Bird Migration
There is some truth to this myth, but again it’s all to do with where wind farms have historically been situated.
An article on Clean Energy wire refers to research performed by Ana Teresa Marques that found migrating black kites migration was being affected by a badly placed wind farm at a specific location between Spain and Morocco.
However, these issues are again mitigated by giving more consideration to the placement of wind farms, and more research is being conducted.
That said, if an objector tries to tell you that wind turbines are affecting the migration of huge numbers of birds around the world, you can be rest assured they’re massively exaggerating… and propagating a myth that supports their own agenda and personal beliefs, not scientific fact.
5. Wind Turbines Cause Property Values to Decrease
An article published on The Guardian website in 2014 supports the notion that proximity to wind turbines decrease house prices.
So this may actually not be a myth. Not entirely anyway.
Yes, badly situated wind turbines may actually reduce property values, so that’s why all of the wind turbines I co-own are situated well away from any residential properties. Far enough that they won’t have affected property values at all.
The same goes for the wind farms we’re developing. They’re in far flung, remote locations—well away from any residential properties.
Correction; Some of them are near residential properties, but those are owned and lived in by the land owners who are receiving financial income fro the turbines, in the form of ground rent. As you can imagine, they’re more than happy to have wind turbines near their properties!
So, if anyone tries to tell you that all wind turbines affect property values you can let them know that’s a myth.
Some badly placed wind turbines have affected property values, but certainly not all wind turbines. The vast majority of turbines are situated far enough away from any residential properties that they don’t affect the value at all.
And of course it probably goes without saying, but offshore wind farms don’t affect property prices at all. There aren’t many houses near those, out in the sea!
6. Wind Turbines are Expensive
This is definitely one of the most ill-informed wind turbine myths out there.
Anyone who says this has obviously not done even the most basic research.
Yes, offshore wind energy production has historically been one of the most expensive forms of electricity generation, but that’s quickly changing.
The cost of offshore renewable energy is quickly reducing, as wind turbines get bigger and more efficient, and companies develop increasingly innovative new and cheaper ways of deploying them in the sea.
(Floating wind turbines being one such innovation, which we’ll cover in a future article.)
Dr Malte Jansen from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College in London recently said: “Offshore wind power will soon be so cheap to produce that it will undercut fossil-fuelled power stations and may be the cheapest form of energy for the UK.”
That’s great news for offshore wind, and would completely dispel the myth that wind turbines are an expensive way to generate electricity.
I say “completely dispel”, because although offshore wind has been very expensive, onshore wind hasn’t suffered the same issue.
Compared with other forms of electricity generation, onshore wind turbines generate energy at one of the lowest and most competitive prices possible.
The US government Energy.gov website states that “Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources available today, costing 1–2 cents per kilowatt-hour after the production tax credit.”
A report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency in June 2021 stated that ‘New solar and wind projects are increasingly undercutting even the cheapest and least sustainable of existing coal-fired power plants.’.
(You can download a free copy of that report here—it’s quite revealing. Like I said, all of the myths covered in this article can be dispelled with just a few quick searches on Google.)
One thing I didn’t read in any of the research was about the hidden cost reductions of using recycled wind turbines.
That massively reduces the cost per kilowatt of electricity produced—which can make deployment of wind turbines even more viable.
One other thing the US government article I referred to earlier mentioned earlier also states that “wind energy mitigates the price uncertainty that fuel costs add to traditional sources of energy.”
The article is obviously referring to the cost of coal and raw nuclear material to feed traditional power stations. Wind is obviously a lot cheaper. Free in fact!
To this final point though, objectors would then roll out the argument that wind turbines are inefficient.
Which brings us nicely on to the next myth…
7. Wind Turbines Are Inefficient
No power source is are able to run forever without stopping, and wind power is no exception.
It stands to reason—wind turbines are most effective in windy places!
A modern wind turbine anywhere produces electricity 70-85% of the time, with the outputs varying depending on the wind speed, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association.
A single large turbine has the ability to supply power to over 1,000 homes.
In terms of reliability, increasingly accurate weather reports are making wind much more predictable. Because wind turbines can be sited all over a country (unlike in just a few specific locations like Nuclear Power stations for example) when one area isn’t windy, other parts of a country usually are and can continue exporting clean energy into the grid.
8. Wind Turbines Affect Tourism
In 2012 the Scottish government conducted scientific research into the effect of wind farms on tourism.
Key findings concluded that 80% of UK respondents, and 83% of Scottish respondents said their decision on where to visit or where to stay would not be affected by the presence of a wind farm.
They concluded that there is no new evidence to contradict the earlier findings that wind farms have little or no adverse impact on tourism in Scotland.
9. Wind Turbines Damage the Landscape
One of our wind turbines ended up being featured on the front page of a national (UK) newspaper, with the headline that the delivery of our wind turbine to an island by beach landing craft had damaged the beach.
An objector had taken a picture of the beach, immediately after some vehicles had driven over the beach and left some tracks.
Of course, as soon as the next tide came in, all of the tracks were washed away, and the beach was instantly restored to pristine condition.
(Of course the article didn’t mention this. It was ‘inflammatory’ reportage. Because as we all know, ‘bad news sells!’)
To get the wind turbine off the beach, and up to the turbine site we used temporary access mats, which were removed once the turbine was installed. We barely touched the landscape at all.
Both that turbine and another turbine on the neighbouring island now provide enough power for a significant percentage of all the homes on both islands.
Now obviously this is an unusual example.
Not many turbines need beach landing craft to get them to a site.
Most can be delivered on standard ‘extendable’ vehicles. The only physical damage to the landscape then would be sites that have permanent access roads building to the turbines.
However, in almost all cases once a wind turbine site is decommissioned those access roads can be removed and the land returned to its original state. (In fact, that’s usually a ‘condition’ for being given planning consent by the local authorities.)
That said, a lot of farmers find the access roads really useful, to help them deliver food to livestock during winter months. So, from their perspective the landscape isn’t damaged, it’s actually an improvement.
10. Wind Turbines Take Up Too Much Land
Although most wind turbines look large, only a very small portion of land is needed for them to sit on.
An average wind farm that comprises around 20 turbines extends over an area of about 1-2 square kilometres, but only about 1-2 percent of this land is actually occupied by wid turbines and the road access tracks leading to each one.
The land in between each turbine can be used for agricultural farming and anything else, including grazing land for sheep and cattle — or any other type of livestock for that matter.
11. Wind Energy Doesn’t Stop Climate Change
This is probably one of the most stupid myths, because it’s both true, and also extremely misguided.
It’s true, because on its own, wind energy won’t stop climate change.
There will probably never be enough wind turbines on planet Earth to completely offset the effects of human carbon production.
But like all renewable energy technologies, the deployment of onshore and offshore turbines contribute to halting its progress.
Wind turbines generate electricity without emitting carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the main greenhouse gas produced from human activity.
As published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CO2 and other heat-trapping gasses that we’ve all been adding to the atmosphere have contributed drastically to climate change.
To stop or lessen climate change, clean energy sources must be created.
They’re not optional.
Although the initial creation of wind turbines does produce greenhouse gas emissions, the turbines more than make up for them by producing clean energy for up to 20 years.
Moreover, companies like Boythorpe are now reusing wind turbines, extending their life well beyond their initial 20 year lifespan.
After refurbishment of the internal moving parts, (namely the gearbox and generator), they can be deployed for another 20 years.
So the lifespan of a single turbine could be more than 40 years.
As a result the initial carbon created during manufacturing is massively offset.
According to research by the Canadian Wind Energy Association, adding just one brand new modern wind turbine to a piece of land will save over 4,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
Just think what the carbon offset savings are when you reuse the same turbine for another twenty years—forty years in total. Enormous!
12. Wind Turbines Are Ugly
Everybody’s perception of what is ugly is different. Polls, surveys and studies regularly show that the majority of people either find turbines to be an interesting feature of the landscape, or simply don’t notice them.
A 2012 Ipsos Mori poll conducted by Renewable UK, a non-profit renewable energy trade association found that in the U.K., most of the public are for the use of wind power. 66% of the U.K. public were in favour of it with only 8% against.
So, if someone tells you wind turbines are ugly, just remember that’s their own opinion, not everyone else’s!