Do Wind Farms Increase Global Warming?

Hey Mr. Green -- Find out the answer

Hey Mr. Green,

An article I read recently claimed that wind farms increase ground warming and drying for miles around. Have you heard such claims before? Is there validated research confirming or denying them. And if the claims are accurate, then how does the impact compare with the impacts of burning coal and oil? —Glen, in Kokomo, Indiana

Well, yes, such claims were made by the likes of Fox News online, whose headlines blared the dire prophecy that “Wind farms are warming the earth, researchers say.” The researchers said nothing of the kind, only that they found, based on satellite data, a correlation between an increase in nighttime temperature of .72 degrees C over a decade near the locations of large wind farms in West Texas. In other words, less effect on the earth’s climate than the hot air from the contrarian crowd at Fox News.

A European study concluded that in the European Union “differences caused by wind turbines remain very small compared to natural climate variability.” Researchers found that wind power installations projected to supply at least 15 percent of the EU’s electricity by 2020 might increase temperatures by 0.3 degrees C at most, and only in some regions, and lead to a slight drop in rainfall in winter. As for wind power’s effect compared to oil and coal, they concluded that it is “considerably less than that of greenhouse gas-induced climate change.” Still, they recommended further studies to predict the result of increases in wind power out to 2050, which seems a sensible application of the precautionary principle.

Returning closer to home, to our domestic wind power capital, Iowa, which gets more than 27 percent of its electricity from wind, a Fox News devotee might conclude that with all those turbines whirring, the state’s crops would be set back. But the corn yield hasn’t changed significantly, except for the drought year of 2012, which was obviously caused by forces far greater than windmills. Soybean yields have also held steady, except for that bummer of a year. As for worries about turbines drying for “miles around,” the state actually saves 3.4 billion gallons of water by using wind power, since conventional power generation demands vast amounts of water. Those farmers might rejoice if the turbines did a better job of drying out the fields, because wet, muddy soil can prevent them from planting crops on time.

Finally, if Iowans would cut their rather extravagant power use from 14,790 kilowatt hours per capita, down to, say, California’s level of 6,770 kWh per capita, they could get by mostly with wind power. But since their electricity prices are among the country’s lowest, they don’t have a lot of incentive to save. So maybe it’s time for a carbon tax.


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