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Much ado about nothing: Wind farms = global warming?

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By: SGN Staff

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By Doug Peeples

SGN News Editor

 

Do wind farms cause global warming? The short answer is no. But you wouldn't know that from reading several media interpretations (or misinterpretations) of a short study published recently by a University of Albany scientist that appeared in Nature Climate Change.

 

Apparently, the flap began when Fox News published a story under the headline "New Research Shows Wind Farms Cause Global Warming." The story cites a brief study of an area in west central Texas where four of the world's biggest wind farms are located.

 

Yes, author Liming Zhou and the scientists working with him did find a warming trend in the area based on satellite data compiled from 2003 to 2011, particularly at night, and did attribute the warming to wind farms. He found that surface temperatures warmed when the turbines drew warmer air higher in the atmosphere closer to the ground.

 

So, is it a big deal? Zhou doesn't seem to think so. In a Q&A related to the study, Zhou said "Overall, the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small compared to the strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes. Very likely, the wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only redistribute the air’s heat near the surface (the turbine itself does not generate any heat), which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases due to the burning of fossil fuels."

But they're ugly, y'know...

The other slap at wind this week came from Bill Bryson, a well-known author who writes about travel, the English language and science. In a story in the UK's Telegraph, Bryson was quoted as saying the proliferation of wind farms in the English countryside (and yes, there are a lot and more to come) "threatens to damage the character of many landscapes for at least a generation."

 

In Bryson's lament, he cites the Campaign to Protect Rural England, an organization that advocates for responsible planning for renewable energy and for preserving the countryside. He said the organization has become more and more concerned about wind turbines damaging the landscape – and a surge in wind farm planning applications –  to the point of suggesting that the trend will shake people's confidence in the fight against climate change.

 

But Gordon Edge, director of policy at RenewableUK, said two-thirds of residents of the countryside support wind energy. "Wind turbines should always be sensitively sited, but one of the biggest threats to our countryside is climate change – and that is exactly what wind power can help defeat. It's time to stop tilting at windmills and get on with the urgent task of building a clean British energy industry that will boost our economy, create jobs and save us all money."

 

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