Positive Developments in Wind Energy

Wed, 2014-01-08 09:48

As the U.S. wind industry faces uncertain times with the year-end expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), recent studies show positive signs that wind energy still has the strength to endure through the uncertainty. Upon reviewing several reports that addressed controversial wind industry issues including noise disturbance and health impacts, home values, project costs, and domestic job creation, findings in each study supported wind’s viability as a clean alternative energy source.

Innovative Growth

Late in 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released the 2012 Wind Technologies Market Report. The report shows increases not only in wind power capacity but also in the amount of wind turbine components being manufactured in America. This is good news for domestic job creation. The report estimates 72% of the wind turbine equipment installed in the U.S. in 2012 came from domestic manufacturers, nearly tripling from 25% in 2006-2007. Even product design is looking promising according to the report. Since 1998, the average capacity of wind turbines has increased by 170% due to design innovation. Average wind turbine prices have also continued to decline. According to the report, “These price reductions, coupled with improved turbine technology and more favorable terms for turbine purchasers, are exerting downward pressure on total project costs and wind power prices.”

Noise Studies

people near wind turbineSeveral new developments out of Australia related to wind turbine sound cast doubt on the claims of many anti-wind groups that suggest noise from turbines, including sounds not audible to humans, are causing adverse health impacts. A detailed study of infrasound and low-frequency sound emissions was conducted at the largest wind farm in Australia, 420MW Macarthur Wind Farm. (Infrasound is defined as sound waves below the range of human hearing – less than 20 Hz – often originating from natural sources such as earthquakes, volcanoes, avalanches, and animals.) The study compared the sound levels at residences within 1-2 miles of the wind farm to find differences in levels with and without turbines running. The study tested sound levels before any turbines were running and compared that to running up to 140 turbines. The infrasound and low-frequency sound levels remained unchanged before and after construction of the project. Although anti-wind groups claim that wind turbine sound negatively impacts health, the claims were not scientifically supported by this study or others conducted in the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S.

Another Australian scientist, Professor Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, has conducted research that suggests complaints about turbine sound and health effects in Australia were heavily focused in areas where anti-wind groups have been conducting public campaigns. Professor Chapman’s findings did not find a direct correlation between wind noise and health problems, but he suggests that anti-wind campaigns are impacting the perception that symptoms are being caused by turbines.

Home Values

A recent study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that there is no statistical evidence that home values near turbines are negatively affected. The study looked at more than 50,000 home sales near 67 wind facilities in nine U.S. states. This is the second large-scale analysis that study author Ben Hoen has been involved in that has shown the same result. "Regardless of the home's model and construction, regardless of how we slice the data set, we still ended up with the same result: We cannot find evidence of an impact that turbines have on nearby property values," Hoen said.

Positive Developments

Wind power technology continues to improve, helping to keep project costs down. The recent developments in wind energy noise are consistent with most studies that have found no direct link between wind turbines and health effects. While further research is warranted, the stability in home values illustrates that concerns have not been widespread enough to detract from the environmental upside of wind. That’s all good news for wind, for our planet, and for a healthy, sustainable future.

Photo Credit: Kara Allyson via photopin cc

By Amy Malloy