January 5, 2001
I am writing to correct some false assertions you made in a recent editorial (Tilting at Windmills, Jan. 2).
First, to say that wind turbines produce a “scream like a jet engine” is misleading. The latest models of wind turbines produce a sound intensity of between 55 and 65 decibels, depending on the technology in use. (A jet engine of a plane taking off is 150 decibels. Normal conversation averages 60 decibels.) Yet this reduces to below 40 decibels within three rotor blade lengths from the turbine (about 130 metres away). This is in the absence of other sounds, which tend to mask wind turbine sound intensity anyway.
Second, there is no definitive scientific proof that wind turbines cause high bird fatalities. Even where avian fatalities might be an issue, for instance during migratory seasons or in areas with certain species of birds, measures can be taken. Siting wind turbines in appropriate places, changing the design of the turbine’s rotors or installing devices to ward off vulnerable species (as is done at airports) all reduce the risk to birds. To state, as you do, that “wind turbines are bad for birds” is spurious.
Finally, it is sheer dishonesty to say that wind power is expensive. One reader has already mentioned the issue of the externalities associated with other power sources. Factor in these externalities and wind power will be cheaper than the US$1,000 per kilowatt hour quoted by Lawrence Solomon on Dec. 28 (Not in a Free Market World). The existence of these market externalities, which allow power generators to send carbon dioxide into our atmosphere without paying a fair market price for doing so, amounts to a perverse subsidy in such generation technologies as coal-fired power stations. Furthermore, wind turbines cover the energy used to manufacture, commission and decommission them between two and three months, making their production costs extremely low. Few other power generating technologies can claim this.
Wind turbines are certainly not the only solution to our future energy challenges. But they are indeed a valid part.
Andrew Hurst, Energy and Environment Team, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, England.