Just Because Windmills Don't Cause Global Warming Doesn't Mean They Don't Suck


We know that: windfarms ruined the ocean view of late Sen. Ted Kennedy's Cape Cod home; are shredding birds to smithereens like carrots in a Cuisinart; and are too intermittent and unreliable as a stand-along energy source and usually needs back up by awful fossil fuel sources. But do they also cause global warming?

A frontpage story in the London's Telegraph earlier this week citing a study that examined temperature data from Texas suggested that they did. (Texas is the biggest wind energy producer in the U.S.):

Usually at night the air closer to the ground becomes colder when the sun goes down and the earth cools.

But on huge wind farms the motion of the turbines mixes the air higher in the atmosphere that is warmer, pushing up the overall temperature.

Satellite data over a large area in Texas, that is now covered by four of the world's largest wind farms, found that over a decade the local temperature went up by almost 1C as more turbines are built.

This could have long term effects on wildlife living in the immediate areas of larger wind farms.

It could also affect regional weather patterns as warmer areas affect the formation of cloud and even wind speeds.

The study, published in Nature, found a "significant warming trend" of up to 0.72C (1.37F) per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to near-by non-wind-farm regions.

The team studied satellite data showing land surface temperature in west-central Texas.

"The spatial pattern of the warming resembles the geographic distribution of wind turbines and the year-to-year land surface temperature over wind farms shows a persistent upward trend from 2003 to 2011, consistent with the increasing number of operational wind turbines with time," said Prof Zhou.

But after the article made this the biggest enviro story of the week, the study's authors did a Q&A, pointing out that the notion that windmills cause climate change is not quite true. They noted that the warming they observed was "local and small compared to strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes." In other words, it's not global warming.

The irony that a cure for global warming is actually causing global warming might be too good to be true. But what is true is that had wind energy not been powered by crony capitalism, it would have been long ago blown away by the gales of destruction unleashed by its more viable competitors.

Capitalists like T. Boone Pickens have been peddling wind's potential to their Congressional cronies for years. Consider some of Pickens pronouncements that Heritage's Robert Bryce fracked in the Huffington Post last year:

About three years ago, one of the wind industry's biggest boosters, T. Boone Pickens, was claiming that natural gas prices had to be at least $9 for wind energy to be competitive. In March 2010, Pickens was still hawking wind energy, but he'd lowered his price threshold saying, "The place where it works best is with natural gas at $7." By January of this year, a chastened Pickens was explaining that you can't "finance a wind deal unless you have $6 gas."

That may be true, but on the spot market, natural gas now sells for about $4 per million Btu.

The upshot is that global warming or not, despite massive subsidies, wind power ain't going anywhere fast. Bryce again:

During the first half of this year, the U.S. installed just 2,151 megawatts of new capacity. That means that 2011 may be even worse for the domestic wind industry than 2010, when U.S. wind generation capacity grew by 5,100 megawatts. And that 2010 total was about half of the 10,010 megawatts added in 2009. Indeed, this year domestic wind additions may be smaller than at anytime since at least 2006.

The bald eagle can soar again. Long Live the U.S. of A.