In 2015, wind energy was the number one source of newly installed electric power capacity in the United States. According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are approximately 1,000 utility scale wind projects – which represent 74,512 megawatts (MW) and over 48,800 wind turbines – installed across 40 U.S. states, plus Puerto Rico and Guam. There are also more than 500 wind manufacturing facilities spread across 43 states.
For many years, North Carolina has been a leader in the wind supply chain and has nearly 30 manufacturers of various wind turbine components. According to NCSEA’s 2015 N.C. Clean Energy Industry Census, there were over 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the wind sector. The state’s first commercial-scale wind project is currently under construction near Elizabeth City, which will have 104 turbines when completed with the power sold to Amazon.
Despite its potential to stimulate local economies and lower energy bills, misinformation is threatening to slow the expansion of wind energy projects, investments, jobs and manufacturing opportunities here in North Carolina. The following are some of the common misconceptions people have regarding wind energy – along with evidence-based counter-points:
MYTH: “Wind energy will increase my utility bill.”
FACT: Wind energy is proven to save ratepayers money. For example, Iowa generates 30 percent of its electricity from wind energy (the highest percentage in the country), and their retail prices are 38 percent less than the national average.
MYTH: “Wind turbines do not benefit local communities.”
FACT: The Amazon Wind Farm US East is a huge economic driver for Pasquotank and Perquimans counties – both Tier 1 counties. The total of tax revenues and payments to the 60 landowners from the first phase of the project will inject more than $1.1 million into the local economy each year. In Perquimans County, Iberdrola Renewables will pay nearly 3 times more in taxes to the county than the second largest taxpayer, Dominion Power.
Additionally, Iberdrola Renewables will also be responsible for maintenance and improvement to over 60 miles of road – at no cost to citizens!
MYTH: “The sound and flicker shadows from wind turbines cause health problems.”
FACT: Despite many studies on this subject, there is no evidence to support a link between noise and shadows from wind turbines and any self-reported illness. Additionally, new wind development software allows developers to see where some shadowing may occurs, and as a result, mitigation measures can be taken to include setbacks and vegetation buffers.
MYTH: “Wind power is expensive and cannot compete with other conventional sources of energy.”
FACT: In the last 7 years, the price of wind energy has declined by more than 66 percent. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind accounted for more than 35 percent of the new generating capacity in 2015, while all renewable resources together provided 68 percent of the new capacity. For comparison, 8.6 gigawatts (GW) of wind power was installed in 2015, while only 6 GW of natural gas was installed.
MYTH: “Wind power is a niche industry, and no one will invest in it.”
FACT: Wind power has attracted investments from business giants, such as Amazon, Apple, Google, IKEA, Microsoft and Walmart. North Carolina’s first commercial-scale wind farm, developed by Iberdrola Renewables, will generate approximately 670,000 megawatt-hours of wind energy annually starting December 2016, which will be sold to Amazon. This is equivalent to enough to power for more than 61,000 US homes in a year.
MYTH: “Wind farms pose a threat to military training programs and Mission Readiness.”
FACT: Existing state law in N.C. and federal law requires the Base Commander at major military installations to be consulted on all wind energy projects. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense has a very strict permitting process for any wind project that must be followed.
In fact, U.S. Department of Defense spokesperson Eric D. Badger, Maj, USAF, has addressed concerns that the operation of North Carolina’s Amazon wind farm would negatively impact a particular radar installation in Virginia (“ROTHR”), stating: “The Department of Defense (DoD) has concluded that the project, with site-specific stipulations defined in a written mitigation agreement between the developer and the DoD, is not expected to create an adverse impact on DoD’s readiness and operations. Recent studies have concluded that the project as currently scoped (104 turbines, compared to 158 in a prior proposal) will not degrade the ROTHR operation.”
MYTH: “Wind turbines will negatively impact wildlife.”
FACT: In North Carolina, there are a plethora of local and environmental permits that must be obtained during the developers permitting process. The Amazon wind project passed a rigorous vetting process during the permitting phase, including a thorough review of wildlife safeguards.
According to the September 2014 report, “A Comprehensive Analysis of Small-Passerine Fatalities from Collision with Turbines at Wind Energy Facilities,” more than 5 billion small passerines (perching birds or songbirds) in North America, an estimated 134,000-230,000, or less than 0.01%, collide annually with wind turbines. The authors of the study estimate that all bird fatalities from wind turbines range from 214,000 to 368,000 annually–a small fraction compared with the estimated 6.8 million fatalities from collisions with cell and radio towers, 1.4 to 3.7 billion fatalities from cats, and of the many other, much larger threats that birds face today.