Pros & Cons of Wind Energy

In the U.S., the greatest source of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is the power sector, at about 38%. The largest source of power is coal, which, even though it produces less than 40% of the power, produces over 70% of the power sector's greenhouse gas emissions. (20% of the greenhouse gas emissions are from natural gas-fired power plants.) Although wind turbines have become familiar in much of the U.S., wind power still (2013) only accounts for about 4% of the power sector.

The potential for wind energy is immense, and experts suggest wind power can easily supply more than 20% of U.S. and world electricity.  The advantages and disadvantages of wind energy are detailed here to help you decide what the future of wind should be in the United States.


Economic Advantages

· Revitalizes Rural Economies: Wind energy can diversify the economies of rural communities, adding to the tax base and providing new types of income. Wind turbines can add a new source of property taxes in rural areas that otherwise have a hard time attracting new industry. Each 100 MW of wind development in southwest Minnesota has generated about $1 million per year in property tax revenue and about $250,000 per year in direct lease payments to landowners.

· Fewer subsidies: All energy systems are subsidized, and wind is no exception. However, wind receives considerably less than other forms of energy. According to Renewable Energy World magazine, conventional energy recieves US$300 billion in subsidies per year, while renewable energy has received less than US$20 billion of tax-payers' money in the last 30 years. A study published by researchers at Harvard in 2011 found that the full life cycle cost of coal power is between about 9.5 and 27 cents per kilowatt-hour, most of which is paid by taxpayers in the form of increased health-related costs. These "indirect" subsidies amount to between $175 billion and over $500 billion/year. (Numbers are in 2008 dollars. For more see here.)

· Free Fuel: Unlike other forms of electrical generation where fuel is shipped to a processing plant, wind energy generates electricity at the source of fuel, which is free. Wind is a native fuel that does not need to be mined or transported, taking two expensive costs out of long-term energy expenses.

· Price Stability: The price of electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power can fluctuate greatly due to highly variable mining and transportation costs. Wind can help buffer these costs because the price of fuel is fixed and free.

· Promotes Cost-Effective Energy Production: The cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen from nearly 40¢ per kWh in the early 1980s to 2.5-5¢ per kWh today depending on wind speed and project size.

· Creates Jobs: Wind energy projects create new short and long term jobs. Related employment ranges from meteorologists and surveyors to structural engineers, assembly workers, lawyers, bankers, and technicians. Wind energy creates 30% more jobs than a coal plant and 66% more than a nuclear power plant per unit of energy generated.

Social Advantages

· National Security/Energy Independence: Wind turbines diversify our energy portfolio and reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuel. Wind energy is homegrown electricity, and can help control spikes in fossil fuel cost. Distributed generation facilities, like many community wind projects, provide a safeguard against potential terrorist threats to power plants.

· Supports Agriculture: It is not often a new crop emerges from thin air. Wind turbines can be installed amid cropland without interfering with people, livestock, or production.

· Local Ownership: A significant contribution to the worldwide energy mix can be made by small clusters of turbines or even single turbines, operated by local landowners and small businesses. Developing local sources of electricity means we import less fuel from other states, regions, and nations. It also means our energy dollars are plowed back into the local economy.


Environmental Advantages

 · Conserves and Keeps Water Clean: Turbines produce no particulate emissions that contribute to mercury contamination in our lakes and streams. Wind energy also conserves water resources. For example, producing the same amount of electricity can take about 600 times more water with nuclear power than wind, and about 500 times more water with coal than wind.

· Clean Air: Other sources of electricity produce harmful particulate emissions which contribute to global climate change and acid rain. Wind energy is pollution free.

· Negligible Greenhouse Gases: The sources of most of our power, coal and natural gas, produce large quantities of greenhouse gases. (Coal much more than natural gas.) Wind power produces none, other than in the manufacture, installation and maintenance of the turbines. On average those greenhouse gases are offset by the clean power the turbines produce within 9 months of operation.

· Mining & Transportation: Harvesting the wind preserves our resources because there no need for destructive resource mining or fuel transportation to a processing facility.

· Land Preservation: Wind farms are spaced over a large geographic area, but their actual "footprint" covers only a small portion of the land resulting in a minimum impact on crop production or livestock grazing.



· A Variable Resource: Turbines produce electricity only when the wind blows. This variability is monitored and compensated in the same way utilities monitor demand changes each day, so there are not any actual changes in power supply for the end users.

· Aesthetics: People have widely varied reactions to seeing wind turbines on the landscape. Some people see graceful symbols of economic development and environmental progress or sleek icons of modern technology. Others might see industrial encroachment in natural and rural landscapes. There are many ways to minimize the visual impact of wind turbines, including painting them a neutral color, arraying them in a visually pleasing manner, and designing each turbine uniformly.

· Shadow Flicker: Shadow flicker occurs when the blades of the rotor cast a shadow as they turn. Research has shown the worst-case conditions would affect, by way of light alteration, neighboring residents a total of 100 minutes per year, and only 20 minutes per year under normal circumstances. Designers of wind farms avoid placing turbines in locations where shadow flicker would be a problem any significant amount of time. 

· Sound: Wind turbines are not silent. The sounds they produce are typically foreign to the rural settings where wind turbines are most often used, but as turbine technology has improved over the years, the amount of sound has fallen considerably. The sounds of wind turbines do not interfere with normal activities, such as quietly talking to one’s neighbor.

· Biological Resource Impacts: As with any construction project or large structure, wind energy can impact plants and animals, depending on the sensitivity of the area. Loss of wildlife habitat and natural vegetation are the primary wildlife concerns associated with wind energy. With modern turbines, mounted on tubular towers and whose blades spin only about 15 times per minute, bird collisions are now rare. Extensive environmental impact analysis is an integral part of project development to mitigate impacts as much as possible. The Audubon Society and Sierra Club both support wind energy development, because the environmental advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

· Construction: Wind systems can involve the transportation of large and heavy equipment. This can cause a large temporarily disturbed area near the turbines. Erosion is another potential environmental problem that can stem from construction projects. The single most reliable technique for limiting erosion is to avoid grading roads and to perform site reclamation post construction.

· Radar: Radar interference by wind turbines is rare and easily avoided through technological improvements and proper siting of turbines that are close to sensitive areas. A number of U.S. government installations have both wind turbines and functional radar, and the British military has a track record of successfully addressing these challenges.


In Summary

For the sake of the planet, national security, rural economic revitalization, and resource preservation we must promote a renewable energy economy. Wind power can be a cornerstone of that sustainable energy future because it is affordable, provides jobs, substantial and distributed revenue, and treads lightly on our environment without causing pollution, generating hazardous wastes, or depleting natural resources. Embracing wind energy today will lay the foundation for a healthy tomorrow.

Showing 9 reactions

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  • Donoven Chase
    commented 2016-04-08 13:52:46 -0500
    @dan Larson: Actually coal plants are heavily subsidized in America. I am not sure as to the figures behind that or behind the nuclear industry (which we can safely assume receives its fair share), but my own research into energy shows extensive subsidization into the coal industry.
    @pam Sinclair: I looked into the Nymedium you referenced and was unable to find any coherent sources addressing this as a concern, but I would be more than pleased to understand more about the topic as you seem to understand (in detail) how important it is. However, this only confirms the necessary understanding that generating energy is always a costly business somewhere, either to the environment and/or the pocketbook.
    To everybody: Research and development in the field of wind energy has made it immensely more feasible with less and less side effects. It is understood that no one form of energy creation will supply the entire globe, but rather a mixture of energy sources will be necessary to achieve the most desirable conditions both environmentally and economically. Two studies I have read place the world’s usage of wind power potentially at 12% by 2030. This is to be found mostly in America and Europe with stress on offshore wind projects. Furthermore, the efficiency of wind energy reduces the cost of energy across the board in states that have given funding to wind energy projects. Yes there will always be a downside somewhere, but the downsides of wind energy are fewer and less severe. Wind energy is going to be a part of the future regardless of how we feel about it.
  • Pam Sinclair
    commented 2016-02-02 11:24:20 -0600
    Nymedium is the rare earth mindral
  • Pam Sinclair
    commented 2016-02-02 11:23:33 -0600
    You people are just as slimy as the oil companies pretend preten pretend. Could you please touch on the fact that the rare earth mineral my medium is required to make the magnets that run the engines. This element is only found in China/Mongolia where it is strip minded, separated with sulphuric acid…resulting in radioactive sludge lakes that are destroying farmland and the health of Chinese workers and farmers around the plants. It is then shipped (using oil and gas I would presume) to wherever they build these steel monstrosities (o and G) and I have yet to discover once decommissioned what you will do with them.

    I would dearly love one of you people to tackle this problem or even acknowledge it…I dare you I’m waiting?
  • Dan Larson
    commented 2016-01-15 23:14:21 -0600
    Well – In the US, wind energy is highly subsidized. Contrary to what is written, nuclear and coal plants are not subsidized. I like wind turbines, but they won’t be enough on their own. We need new technology nukes to fill the world’s power needs. (I’ll probably be censored for writing that.) I also think wind turbines could be a national security concern. They are very vulnerable.
  • Lisa Huang
    commented 2015-12-05 12:04:33 -0600
    What a great post! I came across this when writing my paper on how adopting wind energy can emerge a more sustainable future for China. I believe that the disadvantages of wind energy can be outweighed by the advantages of it. The development of wind energy can be a harm to wildlife, but further research has shown that by reducing the speeds of wind turbines, or painting them a different colour can reduce bat moralities to a great degree. Wind energy in the future will become more prominent because unlike coal, it’s abundant and a much cleaner source of energy. It provides us with our needs (electricity), and on top of that cleans the air, and creates a great number of jobs. Wind energy will definitely become the catalyst for radical change in the energy sector! :-)
  • Alec Sevins
    commented 2015-11-29 13:30:10 -0600
    This site is clearly biased toward putting gigantic machines all over the countryside and pretending that their footprint is only the point where the towers touch the ground. That same claim was used to promote ANWR drilling (see “2,000 acres myth”). The visual impact of wind turbines is huge in terms of vertical and horizontal spread, plus access roads and deforestation for tower clearances. With 250,000 already installed (45,000 in America) they are physically the biggest rural construction projects, visible to more people than fracking and mining due to their invasion of lands (and ocean) that never would have been developed otherwise.

    The “windustry” continually rationalizes away the loss of priceless scenery. These machines are just too large and widely dispersed to be environmentally benign, unless one is blind, deaf or paid to look away. The mentality of workers who install wind turbines is barely different than any other extractive industry. The platitudes of “careful siting” (a typically meaningless buzz-phrase) or “clean” (via lack of fumes during operation) are ridiculous when you consider the growing visual blight. Remove the blades from wind turbines and they look just like large smokestacks, which would be immediately called eyesores. You can’t expect the psychological salve of “no emissions” to fool people’s eyes and ears.
  • Glenda Agan
    commented 2015-07-21 06:44:09 -0500
    After reading that Denmark gets 100% of their electricity from wind, I was told that their cost was much higher than what we pay for electricity in the United States and that wind energy was heavily subsidized and also killed birds. Just wanting to check this out, can someone give me the comparison on cost of wind vs. coal, oil and nuclear energy.
  • Lisa Daniels
    commented 2015-03-26 11:51:52 -0500
    Lucy, There are a number of costs involved in installing wind turbines. Take a look at our other pages on this subject: and
  • Lucy Tidd
    commented 2015-03-25 21:28:49 -0500
    Great to know, but what are those initial costs in building wind turbines? How expensive are maintenance and operating costs? Is lots of electricity generated for these costs? I need to know more specifics and exact amounts of money. How does wind turbine energy costs compare to that of other sources (such as biomass, nuclear, hydroelectric)?