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The impossibility of wind power

Posted: July 14, 2012 at 8:00 am   /   by

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to Western Free Press, you know that I personally am not a big fan of wind power. Actually, that is putting it rather mildly. While it is by no means my primary focus, when I do have occasion to comment on wind, my comments are rather unequivocal and sometimes a bit caustic. 

Needless to say, the environmentalist’s reaction to this is to presume that I am in the pocket of “big oil,” in the thrall of corporations generally, or I am somehow by my very nature an inveterate despoiler of the earth. In fact, none of these things are so. Rather, I am opposed to wind power because it is unviable in the market and incapable of meeting our energy demands with even the remotest semblance of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, or genuine environmental soundness. On the last element, the point can actually be strengthened: wind power is terrible for the environment. In plain English, wind power doesn’t work. It’s a bad idea.

More evidence for that has now been laid out in a useful editorial in National Review Online:

Between 1985 and 2011, global electricity generation increased by about 450 terawatt-hours per year. That’s the equivalent of adding about one Brazil (which used 485 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010) to the electricity sector every year. And the International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about one Brazil per year through 2035.

How much solar capacity would be needed to produce 450 terawatt-hours? Well, Germany has more installed solar-energy capacity than any other country, with some 25,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic panels. In 2011, those panels produced 18 terawatt-hours of electricity. Thus, just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand, the world would have to install about 25 times as much photovoltaic capacity as Germany’s total installed base, and it would have to do so again every year.

The scale problem is equally obvious when it comes to wind.

At the end of 2011, the U.S. had 47,000 megawatts of installed wind-energy capacity. (Only China, with 62,000 megawatts, had more.) In 2011, all the wind turbines in the U.S. together produced about 120 terawatt-hours of electricity. Thus, just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand by using wind energy, we would have to install about 3.75 times the total current installed wind capacity in the U.S. every year. That means that global wind-energy capacity would have to increase by about 176,000 megawatts each and every year.

That would be an enormous challenge, given that between 2010 and 2011, global wind-energy capacity increased by just 41,000 megawatts. That’s a record increase, and one that advocates of renewable energy are quick to laud. But those same advocates refuse to acknowledge the energy sprawl inherent in wind energy, nor will they admit the growing backlash against the wind industry.

Let’s consider the extent of the energy sprawl if wind energy were to supply that 450 terawatt-hours per year of incremental electricity demand.

The power density of wind energy is roughly two watts per square meter, or about five megawatts per square mile. That means that by the end of 2011, the U.S. had covered a land area of about 9,400 square miles, just slightly smaller than the state of Maryland, with wind turbines. Therefore, to keep up with the growth in global electricity demand by using wind energy alone, the global wind industry will need to cover a land area of some 35,000 square miles — about the size of Indiana — with wind turbines. And it will have to do so every year from now through 2035.

read the whole thing

As is typical of the utopian left—of which most self-described “environmentalists” are card-carrying members—scale is an issue they do not care to understand.

Entitlement programs are going to collapse and conceivably bankrupt the entire nation for more than a generation?

Be quiet, you heartless monster. Government is taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.

Wind power produces so little energy, and uses such a large footprint to do it, that we’d have to cover the whole nation in windmills just to keep up with the yearly increase in demand . . . to say nothing of existing demand?

La la la, I can’t hear you. I’m imagining wind turbines on sunlit hills, taking care of all our energy needs, with butterflies and laughing children playing beneath them.

Yes, and then to that vision of butterflies and children, you can add piles of dead bats and migratory birds and pools of toxic neodymium waste. Blighted formerly pristine landscapes and massive, resource-wasting transmission systems.

Go right on imagining, you supporters of Big Wind. Because imagination is all you have. The rest of us live in the real world, where wind doesn’t work.

Christopher Cook

Christopher Cook

Managing Editor at Western Free Press
Christopher Cook is a writer, editor, and political commentator. He is the president of Castleraine, Inc., a consulting firm providing a diverse array of services to corporate, public policy, and not-for-profit clients.

Ardently devoted to the cause of human freedom, he has worked at the confluence of politics, activism, and public policy for more than a decade. He co-wrote a ten-part series of video shorts on economics, and has film credits as a researcher on 11 political documentaries, including Citizens United's notorious film on Hillary Clinton that became the subject of a landmark Supreme Court decision. He is the founder of several activist endeavors, including (now a part of Western Free Press) and He is currently the managing editor of and principal contributor to
Christopher Cook