Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Climate & Energy

Economic action to stop global warming

Wind

City Street with Multiple Transportation OptionsJust as with solar energy, humans have been harnessing the power of wind for centuries. Next to solar, it is the cleanest renewable energy source. Modern windmills for power generation are called wind turbines, standing at least 100 feet tall where the wind is faster and less turbulent. When the wind turns the propellers, the energy spins a generator to create electricity [EERE]. Learn and watch how a wind turbine works.

Benefits

  • Wind power is a truly clean energy source that will stop global warming, decrease our dependence on foreign oil, and is already well on its way to becoming a feasible option for all consumers.
  • Wind farms can be built quickly as demand increases.
  • Once a wind farm is constructed, the cost of the power generated is steady - unlike oil and natural gas. Wind is always free.
  • Wind is domestic power that will give a boost to the economy and job security by creating non-outsourceable jobs in the fastest-growing sector of the energy industry.
  • Wind power generation provides income for farmers, ranchers, and communities with wind farms on their land. Wind Energy Works! reports that "each megawatt of wind can provide $2,000-$4,000/year or more in farm income even though only 2-5 percent of the land within wind farm boundary is used for turbines and access roads."

Drawbacks

  • The wind isn't always blowing. However, the American Wind Energy Association explains, "The electric grid is designed to have more generation sources than are needed at any one time because no power plant is 100% reliable. It is a complicated system designed to absorb many impacts, from electric generation sources going out of service unexpectedly to industrial customers starting up energy-intensive equipment. The grid operator matches electricity generation to electricity use, and wind energy's variability is just one more variable in the mix."
  • According to the American Bird Conservancy's Wind Energy Policy, an average of 3 birds are killed per turbine per year. However, that statistic pales in comparison to the average number of annual bird deaths caused by the impacts of fossil fuels. Especially with careful planning around migratory paths and refuges, a transition away from dirty energy toward cleaner alternatives like wind will actually lower the number of bird kills each year.
  • People worry about the noise and visual appeal of so many turbines. The American Wind Energy Association says that "an operating modern wind farm at a distance of 750 to 1000 feet is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator or a moderately quiet room." As for appearance, careful planning of wind farm placement will minimize the turbines' visual impact. If our choice is between a "blemished" view and an insecure energy future suffering the impacts of climate change, which would you choose?

What It Will Take

Wind power has come a long way in the past couple of decades. It is currently the clean energy source that is most cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Costing only 2-4 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh), it is the fastest growing utility-scale energy source worldwide. In order to address climate change within its critical window for action, the Princeton University Carbon Mitigation Initiative calls for the addition of 2 million 1-MW-peak windmills (50 times the current capacity) "occupying" 30 x 106 hectares, on land or offshore.

How to Get Wind Power

  • You can obtain wind power by buying clean electricity from a power company. Customers are provided with electricity generated at wind plants or farms where tens or hundreds of wind turbines are built close together. Find out if you can buy wind power in your state from the Department of Energy's Green Power Buying Map.
  • If you have enough land (at least an acre) and a windy enough spot, you can install your own small stand-alone turbine to generate electricity or pump water. Learn about the steps needed to build your own clean energy. (And check out our interviews with Angel Wind Energy and Third Sun Solar and Wind, wind-installation companies from our Green Business Network ™.)
  • If neither of those options is available where you live, you can still offset your carbon emissions by purchasing carbon offsets for wind power. The following article tells you how:

    Shrink Your Impact, Offset the Rest »
    Find ways to offset your carbon emissions, such as purchasing credits from NativeEnergy's WindBuilders program.