The Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy

Wind Power
By Micky Hansen

There are many benefits of wind energy, but also problems. We'll explore these below.

People and Animals

Wind turbines impact people and animal that live in close proximity to wind farms.

The wildlife most likely to be adversely affected by wind farms are birds and bats, who are susceptible to things such as disturbance, habitat loss and collisions.




There have been a number of high profile wind farms that have been delayed and/or cancelled due to environmental concerns, including:

  • Washington, USA - Radar Ridge wind power project - cancelled due to concerns about the marbled murrelet seabird.
  • Massachusetts, USA - Cape Wind - has moved very slowly since being first proposed in 2001. Reasons for opposition include concerns about birdlife, commercial fishing potential, cost of wind-produced power, and impact of aesthetics of the area.
  • Otago, New Zealand - Project Hayes - cancelled following drawn out opposition and legal proceedings on environmental grounds.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, “if wind farms are located away from major migration routes and important feeding, breeding, and roosting areas of at-risk bird species, it is likely that they will have minimal impacts” [3].

In order to minimize these risks it is essential that a thorough study of the area, including an environmental impact assessment, is conducted before planning the building of wind farms.

 

Common Complaints About Wind Farms

The most common complaint is that wind farms are an eye-sore, and a blight on the natural landscape and scenery.

Residents living near wind farms also have both psychological and physiological complaints.

Some complain of not being able to sleep due to turbine noise, and psychological issues due to the low decibel sound and vibration that the turbines produce.

The Canadian and American wind energy associations requested an expert panel review the situation and investigate. The resulting document, Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects [4] determined the following:

  • There is no evidence that the audible or sub-audible sounds emitted by wind turbines have any direct adverse physiological effects.
  • The ground-borne vibrations from wind turbines are too weak to be detected by, or to affect, humans.
  • The sounds emitted by wind turbines are not unique. There is no reason to believe, based on the levels and frequencies of the sounds, and the panel’s experience with sound exposures in occupational settings, that the sounds from wind turbines could plausibly have direct adverse health consequences.” [4]
 

In order to alleviate some of these issues the best plan should be to educate the residents about the impact of the wind farm.

 
 

When undertaking the development of a wind farm, planners should also take into consideration the number of residents in the area, and should consider finding areas that are less densely populated to construct wind farms.

In addition, new technological developments, and methods to reduce wildlife mortality should be prioritized, to make this clean, green energy source that much greener.




Wind Energy Jobs

The United State department of energy reports, “According to the American Wind Energy Association, employment in the wind industry’s manufacturing sector has increased from 2,500 jobs in 2004 to 20,000 in 2010, with an estimated additional 14,000 manufacturing jobs planned.”[1]

Positive impact through reduced emissions

One of the most important factors in using wind energy is that it does not have the negative environmental impact that fossil fuels do. Wind energy, unlike fossil fuels, does not produce greenhouse gases, the discharge of particles and other pollutants into the atmosphere, or cause liquid or solid wastes to be discharged into water and/or soil [2].

Between the savings on energy costs for consumers that can be realized by the use of wind energy, and the increased number of employed individuals, the benefit to economies are substantial.

 
 

Article References

[1] U.S. Department of Energy. Wind and Water Program. Wind Energy Benefits

[2] Wind Energy, The Facts. Environmental Benefits

[3] Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Wind Farms

[4] Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review

[5] Renewable Energy World. Wind energy outlook 2012: An uncertain forecast. Retrieved from http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2011/12/wind-energy-outlook-2012-an-uncertain-forecast?page=2

[6] Save Our Sound: http://www.saveoursound.org/

 
First published May 21, 2012
Last updated February 16, 2021

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9 comments on “The Environmental Impacts of Wind Energy”

    1. I noticed the wiilmnlds too as I drove from the east coast to the west coast this past August. They're so beautiful. I think we were in Texas when we encountered a particularly beautiful wind farm -- something about the way the wiilmnlds were set up in the area just made them so stunning.And I do love those 70 and 75 mph speed limits across the middle states.

    1. I'm from Texas & there are so many here! My dad lives in San Angelo & when I go to travel to see him, on the way there, there are so many as far as you can see! But I don't know why there are so many here in Texas? Those are wondfreul photos you took.

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