Go Green: Is wind power viable?

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In this column, staff at the Center for EcoTechnology offer advice on easy ways for people -- and businesses -- to introduce green changes in their daily lives. This column is written by EcoFellow Jenny Goldberg.

Wind power is a rapidly growing form of renewable energy that currently provides 4 percent of all U.S. electricity, according to the Environ men tal Protection Agency. Massa chu setts residents now have the option to fuel their homes with 100-percent green energy through Mass Energy's New England Green Start program. Sign up at massenergy.org/cet.

However, many people are unsure whether wind energy is a viable and safe option for powering our communities. This week, we are also ad dressing some common concerns that people have regarding wind energy:

n Wind turbines kill birds.

The only significant in stance of wind turbine-related bird deaths was in 2008 at Altamont Pass in California, which was one of the first areas in the country to significantly develop wind power. Since then, turbine siting has been greatly improved to avoid interfering with existing migration patterns. Advances in wind turbine technology, such as using larger blades that rotate slowly and eliminating possible nesting sites from bases, have also made bird deaths from wind turbines responsible for less than 1 out of every 30,000 human-related bird fatalities, according to the Department of Energy. In fact, far more birds are killed annually by air pollution from the fossil fuels that we use.

n Wind turbines are noisy and disruptive to surrounding neighborhoods.

The Department of Energy has found modern wind turbines create approximately as much noise as a typical kitchen refrigerator when viewed from a distance of 750 to 1,000 feet, meaning offshore turbines are extremely unlikely to contribute to noise pollution. In addition, the sound of the wind itself usually masks any noise produced by wind turbines or blades.

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n Wind energy is not economically viable.

The variability of wind power on a day-to-day and even minute-to-minute basis does create a small cost. However, this cost is negligible when distributed amongst the entire population.While the price of fossil fuels fluctuates greatly and is subject to rise, the price of wind energy is very stable and has the potential to go down as technology improves.

n Wind energy is unreliable and inconsistent.

No form of energy is 100-percent reliable. Power outages can and do occur at both conventional and renewable plants. When this happens, back-up power is supplied to consumers by other power plants connected through the utility system. Since our utility systems are designed to handle continuous load fluctuations, the variability of wind energy poses no issue of reliability. Several countries in Europe, such as Denmark, already successfully receive up to 40 percent of their electricity from wind power without sacrificing reliability.

Q: How can I support wind power if my utility provider does not give me the option of purchasing renewable energy?

A: If your utility company does not provide you with the option to purchase 100-percent renewable energy through New England Green Start, you can still support local wind power by donating to New England Wind Friends on a monthly or one-time basis.

Send Go Green questions to GoGreen@cetonline.org.


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