Why Wind Energy Is A Bad Idea

Photo credit: ali_pk (Creative Commons)

In a casual conversation, I was asked why wind energy is a bad idea. Once again, I realized that a one or two-word answer could not convey a readily understandable and accurate picture of wind energy.

This article will try to provide such an answer in a few hundred words, where one or two won’t suffice.

There are essentially four reasons why wind energy is a bad idea.

  • It is unreliable
  • It is very, very expensive
  • It produces electricity when it isn’t needed
  • It has environmental issues

Wind farm in New York State. 2013

Wind farm in New York State. 2013

Wind can only produce electricity when the wind is blowing at between 6 mph and 55 mph. Above 6 mph, it gradually increases its output until it reaches a maximum output at around 35 mph. Above 55 mph, the wind turbine is shut down to prevent damage to the turbine.

The wind can stop blowing abruptly, so backup power generation must be immediately available to replace the wind generated electricity; or the grid could collapse causing blackouts.

Typically, gas turbine generators are kept running 24/7 so they are available to be rapidly brought online.

A sufficient number of gas turbine generators must be kept running at all times to be ready for when the wind stops blowing. This varies by region and depends on the reliability of day-ahead weather forecasts.

The electricity generated by wind has an intrinsic cost, based on leveled cost of electricity (LCOE) of around 11 cents per kWh. This compares with around 5 cents per kWh for natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants and around 6 cents for coal-fired power plants.

But there are other costs for wind energy that are seldom taken into consideration, and not included in LCOE calculations.

First, there is the cost of back-up power. It costs money to keep gas turbine generators running for no other purpose than to be ready to come on line when the wind stops blowing, or the sun stops shining in the case of solar generation.

It also costs money to build transmission lines that are used solely, or nearly so, to carry electricity from wind farms to where it can be used.

The best winds are in Montana and along the face of the Rocky Mountains, and these can be a thousand miles from where the wind generated electricity can be used. Transmission lines must be built if this electricity is to be brought to where it can be used. Though involving shorter distances, many other wind farms also need dedicated transmission lines to connect them to the grid.

Wind farms also produce electricity at night, when it isn’t needed.

More importantly, the nameplate ratings of wind turbines overstate the amount of electricity they can produce. Wind turbines in the United States have had a capacity factor of around 32%, or lower during the recent past.

Capacity factor is the amount of electricity a wind turbine, or any other power generation method, produces over a year, compared with how much it could produce using its nameplate rating.

Coal-powered and NGCC power plants typically have a capacity factor of around 85%, while nuclear power plants have a capacity factor of 90% or higher.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is constantly bragging about how many Megawatts (MW) are being installed, when a wind turbine’s true ability to produce electricity is only one-third the amount claimed by the nameplate rating.

Essentially, wind turbines produce small amounts of electricity compared with the other methods. This becomes important when hot summer days result in peak periods of usage. Not only do wind farms produce very little electricity during hot summer afternoons, but people are lulled into thinking there are large amounts of capacity available because of the substantial amount of Megawatts (MW) of wind power being installed.

As the New York Times noted:

“Peak supply is also becoming a vexing problem because so much of the generating capacity added around the country [US] lately is wind power, which is almost useless on the hot, still days when air-conditioning drives up demand.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas says that less than 10% of total wind capacity is “available” during peak summer days.

And finally, there are environmental issues associated with wind turbines.

Wind turbines kill thousands of birds every year, including Bald Eagles, a protected species. They also kill thousands of bats.

Wind turbines produce noise pollution that affects people living near them. Some people complain about the visual pollution of huge towers along the skyline in what are supposed to be pristine, scenic areas.

Wind turbines also use rare earths, where mining has caused serious environmental damage.

Whether these are better or worse than environmental issues caused by gas turbines or coal-fired power plants can be debated, but the point is that wind farms are not free of environmental problems.

Taxpayers are paying huge amounts of money for subsidies for wind turbines, which would otherwise be uneconomic. Whether subsidies for wind turbines will be maintained is still being debated in Congress.

Unreliable, very expensive electricity that’s not available when its needed is not worth the taxpayer subsidies used to build wind turbines, when there are less expensive, more reliable sources of electricity available.


Read more of Donn’s articles at his blog, Power For USA.

Photo credit: ali_pk (Creative Commons)


  1. All these problems for only twice the cost, what's not to like. This seems to be completely in line with the rest of the Crap that comes out of Washington. Nothing new here, move along.

  2. very clear explanation.

    It will be understood by all except by liberals with cranial rectal impaction, which is all of them

  3. the sun does not always shine – have to clean solar cells and the president has wasted a lot on green energy and coal works

  4. CrustyOldGeezer says:

    Wind and solar are only worth the money and effort in areas where electricty is not avaiable as in remote farms, ranches and mountain cabins.

    A few solar panels to charge the battery banks for nighttime usage, with a small "prairie windmill" used to pump water, and are still in use today, that has been converted to a generator.

    THAT is the only real use in todays world.

    Small 'windmill' generators could be used world wide with simpler maintenance and repairs, no big towers that may or may not actually produce on any given day.

  5. Richard Wm. Faith says:

    Once again, I'm here to say that government has no business meddling in the realm of the technical, because their lack of understanding makes them prone to outcomes that are unpredictable at best and disastrous at worst.

  6. Richard Wm. Faith says:

    From a Constitutional perspective, government exists to "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity", and to this end, we "elect" SO-CALLED "representatives" to REPRESENT US (which they DON'T!) in government. Our government and its PURPOSE have been HIJACKED by GLOBALISTS who ceaselessly strive to further increase their already obscenely excessive wealth by enslaving us and taxing us into extinction. We need to use any and all means of FORCE AND COERCION to cause our political partieS to QUIT promoting candidates who participate in this scam. We can START the process by refusing to donate money to their campaigns UNTIL AND UNLESS they TAKE AN OATH of ANTI-GLOBALISM, AND we secure the means of PROSECUTING THEM in the event that they default on that oath.

  7. Joe Martin says:

    This article is full of false statements. Like wind turbines or hate them? Either way, don't let the garbage in this article be your guide.

    • Could you be more factual ? So far you come across as if ideology was your only guide, which is not at all helpful in this discussion.

    • Joe, where is your proof and evidence that the article is garbage? I worked for a public utility for 17-years and my primary job was engineering customer's electrical needs and problem solving customer's electrical problems.

      There are no false statements in the article, however, some of the figures are understated, and there are additional omitted expenses. The average cost of generation is 15 cents per kWh not including the cost of the machine, the taxpayer subsidy, or the standby generators all of which actually raise cost closer to $1 per kWh. The article also failed to include the extremely high maintenance cost plus the 20-year overstated life of the machines which are failing after 10-years not 30 as government predicted.

      What about the tens of thousands of machines that are already abandoned because of failure and/or the subsidy ran out? And how about the view, seeing my tax dollars spent building hundreds of worthless machines destroying my 25-year pristine view of Mt. Rainier.

      Wind machines are only good to line the pockets of those that build them, thanks only to taxpayer money.

      Texas did a study and found that for the mandated 15% wind and solar they could build 7-nuclear
      plants, one of which would provide more (and reliable) power than the wind and solar combined.

      Without massive environmentally hazardous battery banks, wind and solar power are virtually useless.

      • Joe, One more thing I neglected to mention is that our hydro-power produced rate cost is 25% higher because of mandatory wind subsidy, how much is yours?

  8. Florida Jim says:

    Wind, solar, battery, electric cars have been abandoned in Europe as far too expensive and costly to maintain. Our foul EPA and Obama both said prior to his election" the energy costs for taxpayer will necessarily skyrocket due to the economy" Energy is now higher than ever gas is at $3.50/gallon vs$1.83 when Obama took office It is a scam to drive up energy prices so Solar, wind and electric can compete no other reason. Here is a quote from a Chris Horner book: Power Grab By Christopher Horner

    Despite years of effort the results are as follows, based on a study in 2009 reported in the Wall Street Journal:
    Traditional onshore wind power breaks even with gas at$8.33 or oil at $92; offshore winds breaks even with gas at $17.14 or oil at $189;solar thermal needs natural gas at $35.66 or oil at $393; good old photovoltaic solar[on rooftops everywhere] natural gas needs to be at $59.61 oil at $657/barrell today those costs are close to $3.00 and oil at $72.
    For every green job created in Spain , financed by Spanish taxpayers,2.2 jobs were lost;the programs resulted in the destruction of 110,500 jobs; each green magawatt installed on average destroed 5.39 jobs elsewhere in the economyand in the case of solar photovoltaic the number reaches 8.99 jobs per magawatt hour installed-Spain, Denmark, Germany all are closing their "green job" programs as far too costly with no results.

    "Power Grab" exposes the agenda of the Obama administration and its allies, from the "green jobs" to the Cap & Trade energy tax as ways to cram down the left's long held wish list of demands, and dream of "organizing society". Horner spells out how each scheme works , whom benefits, the costs and what it spells for each of us. Power Grab lays bare the plan to replace your individual liberties with the state, securing the left's dream of making decisions for you and your family: what you can drive, how you can live, and what sort of jobs and future they deem acceptable for Americans.
    Power Grab exposes the incestuous relationships between the Obama administration and the piles of taxpayer money it wants to pipeline to the Big Green juggernaut consisting of Big Business and Big Labor. Horner shows that the green agenda is not about a clean environment as it is about redistributing income from us to them.

    The list of those who benefit from this enormous scam includes most of the elites in the Administration and their campaign contributors:Gore, Jeffry Immelt, John Doerr, Clinton, Browner, Chu, Holdren, Sunstein, Anthony[Van] Jones, Tom Borelli,
    Waxman, Emanuel, Axelrod, Jarrett, Lisa Jackson, John Kerry, Barbra Boxer,Nancy Pelosi, Ken Salazar, Soros, Cathy Zoi et al.
    In other ares of business and environmental organizations the list is endless: Chicago Climate Exchange, World Wildlife Foundation, Sierra Club, SEIU union, Joyce Foundation, Greenpeace,EPA, FCC, AFL/CIO union, Federal Employees union, Exelon, General Electric, ACORN offshoots still hidden, Apollo Alliance and every left -wing organization in the country will reap benefits form the biggest scam in history using CARBON CREDITS, a program of selling shares of "hotair" originated by Ken Lay of Enron and heavily involves Jeffry Immelt of GE. This scam will dwarf the Finance and mortgage scandals and make "trillions of dollars" for those listed above all at our expense..

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