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Desire to Know
Dr. Jane Goodall

Wind Farms is Green the new Dirty

Written by on | Modified 21 Feb, 2016 | Views 1550

Wind Power: Cheap, Clean and Green or Not? Wind turbines don’t run on wind, they run on subsidies.

Wind Power: Cheap, Clean and Green or Not?

Wind turbines “don’t run on wind, they run on subsidies.”

Warren Buffet told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska "On wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit." [22]

Environmental issues are always hot button topics. All of us want to leave a better planet for our kids and grand-kids - clean air, organic food, clean water, etc. Before you run off and hug a tree, here is what you need to know about wind power.

Wind turbine spacing

wind farmThe huge turbines require a correspondingly large area around them clear of trees and other turbines to maximize the effect of the wind and avoid interference. They should have 10 rotor diameters of clearance in the direction of the wind and 3 rotor diameters in every other direction. In an array that can take advantage of the wind from any direction, turbines need 100 to 300 acres per tower.

On most horizontal wind turbine farms, a spacing of about 6-10 times the rotor diameter is often upheld. However, for large wind farms distances of about 15 rotor diameters should be more economically optimal, taking into account typical wind turbine and land costs. This conclusion has been reached by research[2] conducted by Charles Meneveau of the Johns Hopkins University,[3] and Johan Meyers of Leuven University in Belgium, based on computer simulations[4] that take into account the detailed interactions among wind turbines (wakes) as well as with the entire turbulent atmospheric boundary layer.

A 201-megawatt initiative would place 58 to 70 wind turbines – which may be as tall as 620 feet

Turbines would be set back from residences at a standard 1,500 feet and kept at 45 decibels in order to protect residents.

Each turbine will require the use of lubricants, which can cause harm to the environment if it were to leak. A 3-megawatt turbine would require about 53 gallons of oil. We would need regulations and an environmental plan in order to reduce risk to the land.

The project, which is estimated to cover 20,000 acres with each turbine taking up half an acre, is estimated to provide clean, renewable power for approximately 53,000 average New York homes, he said.[1]

If we extrapolate space required, (20,000 acres for 53,000 homes)

Calgary has a population of 1,096,833 or about 438,733 homes. They would need 165,560 acres or 259 square miles of land for wind turbines. The current area of Calgary is 319 square miles. If the wind farm was located next to Calgary, the size of the City would be 1.8 times it's current size.

In 2014, the average residential customer in Alberta used 9927 GWh. Farms 1865, Commercial 15,155 and Industrial used 28,432 for a total of 55,379 GWh. [15] Residential customers use about 18% of the total power used in Alberta.

If Calgary has an 'average' residential to commercial use, then the wind farm would need to be 3 to 5 times as large or 777 to 1295 square miles, if wind farms were 100% efficient. On average, wind energy facilities operate at just 30 percent of their capacity.

This assumes we're average. However, Canadian per capita power consumption is among the highest in the world, with an average of about 16,000 kWh per annum. [13]

New York City has a population of 8,491,079 or about 3,396,432 homes. They would need 1,281,672 acres or 2003 square miles of land for wind turbines for residential customers only. The current area of New York is 469 square miles. If the wind farm was located next to New York, the size of the City would be 5.3 times it's current size.[5]

For New York City to be powered by wind alone, every square meter of Connecticut (5,543 sq mi) would need to become a wind farm. [22]

Note, most wind and solar companies don't define 'homes', so I'm using StatsCan 2.5 persons per home in Alberta.

Do we want wind farms in New York's Central Park or Calgary's Nose Hill Park? What about your child's school or play park?

On average, there were 156 acres of total wind farm area per MW of capacity. [17] At present, Alberta has 16,242 MW of installed generating capacity. To replace this with wind power would require 2,533,752 acres or 3960 square miles of land, at 100% efficiency. At 30% average efficiency, Alberta would need at least 13,000 square miles of land for wind turbines. However, we would still require all the current coal and gas fired electricity plants for back up.

How big is a wind turbine?

Industrial wind turbines are a lot bigger than ones you might see in a schoolyard or behind someone’s house.

A 1.5 MW wind turbine of a type frequently seen in the United States has a tower 80 meters (260 ft) high. The rotor assembly (blades and hub) weighs 22,000 kilograms (48,000 lb). The nacelle, which contains the generator component, weighs 52,000 kilograms (115,000 lb). The concrete base for the tower is constructed using 26,000 kilograms (58,000 lb) of reinforcing steel and contains 190 cubic meters (250 cu yd) of concrete. The base is 15 meters (50 ft) in diameter and 2.4 meters (8 ft) thick near the center.

Some offshore windmills are 700 feet tall.

Wind turbine platform

Wind turbine baseThe steel tower is anchored in a platform of more than a thousand tons of concrete and steel rebar, 30 to 50 feet across and anywhere from 6 to 30 feet deep. Shafts are sometimes driven down farther to help anchor it.

Mountain tops must be blasted to create a level area of at least 3 acres. The platform is critical to stabilizing the immense weight of the turbine assembly.

The Good, Bad, Ugly and ?


Renewable Energy but not green. Small carbon footprint after manufacture and installation, if we do not take into account the CO2 from ramping up and down of back up plants. The thermal efficiency of fossil-based power plants is reduced when operated at fluctuating and suboptimal loads to supplement wind power. This will amount to adding between 20 and 80 kg CO2-eq/MWh to the life cycle GHG emissions profile of wind power. [23]


Cost of electricity

Ontario's guaranteed prices for wind power generators are double the U.S. average.[8]

The electricity portion of Ontario hydro bills for homes and small businesses rose 70 per cent between 2006 and 2014, which Lysyk said cost consumers $37 billion dollars in so-called Global Adjustment payments to generators -- and will cost ratepayers another $133 billion by 2032.[12]

For poor families, is the extra cost of electricity taking food of your table? Could this money be better spent on your child's education instead of the endless extra fees, levies, requests, etc. that every child comes home with weekly?

If the $37 billion dollars was spent equally over 8 years, that is 4.625 billion per year. As of 2013-14 the number of students in Ontario was: 2,015,411. Ontario could have spent an extra $2300 per child on education per year. As you see, there are always priorities and trade-offs with tax money. Could Ontario have saved money by using nuclear energy? Why are green hydro plants sitting idle, while new wind farms are being built?

Land Use

Will we use valuable crop and grazing land for wind farms? This will drive up the cost of food and/or we will become more dependent on foreign food supplies. In North America, we are already using valuable farm land to grow corn and turn it into ethanol for cars.

Greenies argue the land could still be used for crops. This may be true in 3rd world countries where land is seeded and harvested by hand. But have you seen the size of tractors, combines and farm equipment in North America? The wind turbines aren't placed neatly in a single row but scattered across the land. Once the wind is converted to electricity, its gone. Energy can be neither created nor be destroyed, but it transforms from one form to another.

Food is not an option. We should not use crop and grazing land for renewable energy. Our forests are a natural carbon-sink. Our National Parks are a treasure. Lakes and off-shore is an option for provinces/states that are not land-locked.

We have seen how bad foreign dependence on oil was with OPEC in the 70's. Do we want a similar incident with our food supply? The two worst crises of this period were the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis, caused by interruptions in exports from the Middle East. In December 1973, as part of its response to the "energy crisis," the federal government announced the creation of Petro-Canada - to boost oil and gas exploration in the North and offshore, to assist in the development of the Oil Sands and to secure reliable oil imports.[10] Prime Minister Trudeau was in favour of the Oil Sands.

Was "The Hunger Games" fiction or a glimpse into the future?

Backup Power

As wind is not guaranteed 24 hours per day, we either need to store energy in batteries or have backup plants running on coal, oil, gas or nuclear. Storing energy in batteries is costly in both dollars and environmental cost for disposal.

Recent battery technology from Tesla shows great promise is this area.[14] No doubt there are other companies with similar advances in batteries. But that is a story for another column.


Major sources of lifecycle emissions are: extracting and refining resources; production of steel, concrete and composites; construction of supply factories. 

Most of the parts for a wind turbine are manufactured in China, using coal-fired power plants. Shipping also adds to the CO2 footprint. China is building 368 coal-fired power plants and planning a further 803, according to the study by four climate change research bodies, including Ecofys and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.[9] Are we just shifting our CO2 problem to China?

A toxic lake poisons Chinese farmers, their children and their land. It is what's left behind after making the magnets for wind turbines ... and, is merely one of a multitude of environmental sins. [21]

CO2 Emissions

For a wind farm with 50 turbines, this is more than 12,000 tons of CO2 before any electricity is produced.[24]

Construction Costs

Construction costs for wind-power electric generators are considerably higher than those of fossil-fuel plants on a per-megawatt-of-capacity basis.

Cost for 200 MW capacity
Wind $320 million to 380 million plus $160 million for a natural gas backup plant.
Natural Gas $160 million


The constant noise can be irritating to nearby residents, so you get NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). However, if the wind farm is in a remote location, we need new transmission lines, adding to the cost and environmental impact study delays.


wind turbine blade falls offParts are falling off wind turbines - A spokesperson for NextEra said: “We temporarily shut down certain turbines in Ontario, particularly those near roadways or other public access areas, due to a potential problem.

Industrial wind turbine near Exeter - One of the giant 50-metre-long blades on the turbine appeared to have snapped on the turbine tower that is part of the Goshen Wind Farm in South Huron. 

Occupational Health and Safety Risks - a recent study by researchers from Quebec has highlighted a gap in both safety practices and awareness of the occupational risks associated with working at wind turbines.

Fire and ice buildup are also major concerns.

Health Problems

Down Wind is the explosive documentary that examines Ontario's controversial rush into industrial wind farm development. Down Wind exposes how this Canadian provinces' green energy dream turned into a nightmare for rural residents forced to live among the towering 50 storey turbines. We hear searing, personal stories of people experiencing mysterious health problems, insomnia, depression, even thoughts of suicide; their lives turned upside down by the constant noise and vibrations given off by the massive wind turbines. The documentary also reveals the staggering economic costs of these wind farms to taxpayers with huge subsidies going to big wind corporations. And how inside connections have made some government cronies wealthy, while rural communities suffer.[16]


Wind Turbines aren't economically feasible without government subsidies. Many environmentalist say it is an 'emerging technology'. However, the first windmill was invented by Heron in the first Century AD and windmills were common in Europe in the 17th and 18th Century. If they still need subsidies 2,000 years later, will they need subsidies for the next 2,000 years?


Kills Birds

They call them 'bird blenders' for a reason. It is estimated that wind turbines in the U.S. kill up to 328,000 birds annually, and, last year alone, wind turbines killed 600,000 bats.

A single incident at the AES Laurel Mountain wind farm near Elkins, West Virginia, USA killed 500 birds[6]. The incident at the tailing ponds at Syncrude calculated the value at C$1875 per bird. Will we charge wind farms the same price? Or are birds killed by wind farms 'green' deaths? Are some birds more valuable than others? Do we have a price list?

NAS (2010) find that only raptor mortality in certain California locations could pose a population-level problem. Altamont Pass in California is one of the most often criticized sites, with one report stating that almost 2,600 raptors, on average, are killed there each year (Altamont Pass Avian Monitoring Team 2008).

The threat that wind turbines pose to bats is more challenging than the risk to birds, because bats can be attracted to the movement of the blades or to insects near the blades. Bats are also of concern because they occupy an important niche in ecosystems, and because their long life span makes recovery from population declines slower (NAS 2007).

The Unknown

Is there an environmental policy in place to study land use? Biologists are growing concerned that the placement of new large-scale solar power plants in the Mojave Desert may harm the biological diversity found there.[11] Should we have similar concerns about wind farms? Are there any independent studies?

Will we have a full environmental and health impact study before a wind farm is built?

Who is responsible for abandoned wind farms? With oil wells, the Orphan Well Association is funded by the energy industry, except for a one-time cash injection of $30 million of provincial money a few years ago. Will Alberta set up a similar association for solar and wind?

About the Author

Dr. Jane Goodall is an environmental consultant and has a degree in Environmental Science. She is married and has 2 kids.


1. Niagara Gazette
2. Optimal turbine spacing in fully developed wind farm boundary layers
3. New study yields better turbine spacing for large wind farms
4. Large eddy simulation study of fully developed wind-turbine array boundary layers
5. Wikipedia
6. Mass Bird Kill at Wind Farm
7. Tailings ponds kill more ducks
8. Ontario auditor finds hydro consumers pay billions extra
9. China coal-fired power plants
10. Energy Policy
11. Solar Energy’s Land-Use Impact
12. Ontario auditor finds hydro consumers pay billions extra
13. Electric power consumption (kWh per capita)
14.Tesla’s batteries to power two dozen Calif. office buildings
15. Government of Alberta

16. Down Wind - exposes how this Canadian provinces' green energy dream turned into a nightmare
17. Land-Use Requirements of Modern Wind Power Plants in the United States, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-6A2-45834, Aug. 2009. Paul Denholm, Maureen Hand, Maddalena Jackson, and Sean Ong,
18. Parts are falling off wind turbines -
19. Industrial wind turbine near Exeter -
20. Occupational Health and Safety Risks -
21. Wind power: Pollution on a disastrous scale-
22. Big Wind's Bogus Subsidies. Giving tax credits to the wind energy industry is a waste of time and money.
23. Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Utility-Scale Wind Power Systematic Review and Harmonization Stacey L. Dolan and Garvin A. Heath Article first published online: 30 MAR 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00464.x".
24. CO2 Emission of Wind Farms -

More Information

Wind power: Pollution on a disastrous scale - Seven million tons of waste a year was discharged into the lake, which is already 100ft high and growing by three feet each year. But we have the responsibility to recognise the environmental destruction that is being caused while making these wind turbines.

Wind Energy: The Big Swindle - Published on Apr 13, 2015. “It is time for the French people, the politicians and ecologists who have remained somewhat honest, to put a stop to this monstrous boondoggle whose consequences will become rapidly irreparable.”
English subtitles by Friends against wind.

How clean is our dirty oil? You’d be surprised - Dirtiest oil in North America is produced just outside Los Angeles, Placerita oil field.

Planned coal-fired power plants - More than 2,400 coal-fired power stations are under construction or being planned around the world, a 2015 study has revealed.

Ontario Wind Turbines - Ontario has the most expensive electricity in North America. The result of subsidized, over-priced wind power that Ontario doesn’t need.

Adverse health effects of industrial wind turbines - Roy D. Jeffery, MD FCFP. College of Family Physicians of Canada. Canadian family physicians can expect to see increasing numbers of rural patients reporting adverse effects from exposure to industrial wind turbines (IWTs). People who live or work in close proximity to IWTs have experienced symptoms that include decreased quality of life, annoyance, stress, sleep disturbance, headache, anxiety, depression, and cognitive dysfunction. Some have also felt anger, grief, or a sense of injustice. Suggested causes of symptoms include a combination of wind turbine noise, infrasound, dirty electricity, ground current, and shadow flicker. Family physicians should be aware that patients reporting adverse effects from IWTs might experience symptoms that are intense and pervasive and might feel further victimized by a lack of caregiver understanding.

Wind Energy Does Little to Reduce CO2 Emissions The Energy Collective