NIMBY: Wind vs. Fossil Fuels

Last week I focused on Texas. In spite of its strong inclination toward state autonomy, reluctance to implement new taxes, and its heavy dependence on fossil fuels, it is playing a vital role in the energy transition:

The state is a leader in renewable energy commercialization; it produces the most wind power in the nation. The Roscoe Wind Farm in Roscoe, Texas, is one of the world’s largest wind farms with a 781.5 megawatt (MW) capacity. The Energy Information Administration states that the state’s large agriculture and forestry industries could give Texas an enormous amount biomass for use in biofuels. The state also has the highest solar power potential for development in the nation.

Unlike the rest of the nation, most of Texas is on its own alternating current power grid, the Texas Interconnection. Texas has a deregulated electric service.

I have paid special attention to Georgetown, a relatively small town in Texas, and its commitment to convert entirely to carbon-free energy sourcing by January 2017. That’s way ahead of almost everywhere else in the world. The town intends to make that transition by replacing all usages of fossil fuels with wind and solar sources.

While Georgetown is an example of incredible progress, there are still barriers to the changeover. One of these, a long-time nemesis of this evolution, is the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) phenomenon. Many people worldwide have expressed their dismay at having gigantic wind farms feature prominently in their immediate field of view.

Three of my students in the Physics & Society course did a project in which they compared NIMBY attitudes directed at wind energy in the US, Germany, and China. They found the following chart in an article by Eric R.A.N. Smith and Holy Klick which reflects the opinions of Americans polled:

Graph of The Importance of Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind PowerThe factors deemed most important in the survey were the positive aspects of wind power: the turbines emit no pollution or greenhouse gases, they symbolize renewable energy, and they reduce reliance on imported energy. But those questioned also emphasized the relative perceived importance of several obstacles: wind farms are more expensive, they lower property value, are ugly, noisy and they kill birds.

All of these questions need references, though – what are these numbers in comparison to? Meanwhile, I’d like to focus on the complaint that wind power generators are ugly. This was a leading concern which caused significant delay in the construction of wind farms in a multitude of locations. Unsurprisingly, if you have an ocean view property and somebody proposes to put a wind farm in the ocean directly in front of your window, you might object.

But consider the two facilities below:

Wind Turbines and Donkeys

Coal Power Plant in ChinaThe first photograph is taken from the New York Times article, “Wind Power Is Poised to Spread to All States”:

All 50 states could become wind energy producers, according to an Energy Department report released Tuesday, once the next generation of larger, taller turbines in development hits the market.

The bigger machines — reaching as high as 460 feet — could eventually make faster winds at higher altitudes an economical source of electricity, an important part of reaching the nation’s goals in fighting global warming, said Ernest Moniz, the secretary of energy.

The second photograph is from a quick Google image search for a fossil fuel power plant.

Which view would you prefer? One of them has to provide you with the energy that you need.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.

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One Response to NIMBY: Wind vs. Fossil Fuels

  1. North Wales says:

    I came across this article after many many hours of trawling the internet for research about wind power and the benefits over other fuels,, I am compelled by some of the statistics generated in fig 3.

    In the UK a lot of people seem to think one of the main disadvantages of wind power on an industrious level is the reduction of house prices and tourism. Saying that I come from north wales which is rolling green hills as far as the eye can see,, which was not blotted with wind turbines until the last 5 years.

    On another point I would say very few birds are actually killed by wind turbines and probably more birds are killed by airplanes which is ironic as air travel is meant to be statistically the safest way to travel.

    The positive attributes of wind technology are usually outweighed by the negative in the UK, but saying that the wind speed grid in the UK does not afford us premium siting areas and it has been found solar is more cost effective, strangely less visible and more appealing. The obvious downside of solar is the amount of space taken up on a mW by mW basis in comparison to a wind turbine.

    I do believe this debate will continue on, state by state and country by country.

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