As Offshore Wind Ramps Up, Scientists Flag Potential Impacts

Yves here. This is a careful and judicious article about the potential environmental downsides, and maybe some upsides, of coastal wind farms. Knowledgeable readers are encouraged to pipe up.

By Becki Robins, a freelance author who writes about science, nature, history, and travel. Her work has appeared in Science News, Comstock’s Magazine, Hakai Magazine, and others. Originally published at Undark

Last year, the Biden administration announced an ambitious goal: enough offshore wind to power 10 million homes by 2030. The move would reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, and strengthen energy security. It would also help the United States — which was responsible for just 0.1 percent of the world’s offshore wind capacity last year — catch up with renewable energy leaders like China and Europe.

The plan is already well underway: Massive turbines are rising off the coast of Massachusetts, and more projects are planned up and down the U.S. coastlines. Advocates say these turbines, and other offshore projects around the world, are a crucial tool in minimizing the effects of climate change: The technology is touted as clean, renewable, and plentiful. And, since offshore wind farms aren’t located in anyone’s backyard, they are, at least in theory, less prone to the political pushback onshore wind power has faced.

It will take a lot of turbines to meet Biden’s 2030 goal, and while wind turbines don’t use fossil fuels or generate carbon emissions, they are enormous structures, with some reaching heights of more than 850 feet above the water’s surface. (The Statue of Liberty, in comparison, stands a little over 300 feet.) As such, they will likely have some effect on the ocean environment.

Scientists already know some of the local impacts of wind farms. For example, they can, somewhat counterintuitively, reduce local wind speed. They also create their own local climates, and cause disturbances in the water in the form of a downwind wake. But what those changes might mean for marine life or for industries that depend on ocean resources is something that scientists are still trying to figure out.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., offshore wind has become the subject of bitter political disagreement and fear, fueling lobbying and lawsuits aimed at halting projects before they even begin. As researchers work to model potential outcomes, they stress that they don’t want to derail offshore wind, but rather seek to better understand it so that any negative effects can be minimized, and positive effects maximized.

Scientists have a lot more work to do before they can know the true effect of thousands of offshore wind turbines, as well as how and where they should be built. There may even be questions they haven’t thought to ask yet, said Ute Daewel, a scientist who studies marine ecosystems at The Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon in Germany.

“It’s so complex,” she said, “that I sometimes think we probably also miss a lot of things that might happen.”

Advocates of offshore wind turbines can point to a range of benefits — starting with their proximity to the places most in need of clean energy. Around 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the ocean. Energy demand in densely populated coastal regions tends to be high, so offshore wind farms will be located close to where they are most needed.

Evidence suggests offshore wind power could lower energy costs, especially during extreme events like cold snaps when energy demands are high and wholesale prices peak. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy says that, in addition to reducing carbon emissions, the technology would improve human health by cutting air pollution from fossil fuels.

But wind farms have also come under intense criticism from a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including conservation nonprofits worried about the impact on marine ecosystems, fishing industry groups concerned about access to traditional fishing grounds, coastal homeowners keen to maintain their views, and groups that appear to be funded by large oil companies hoping to stifle competition.

Some of those criticisms focus on the impact on animals. Like onshore wind, the turbines can kill birds, though some researchersstudying large-bodied waterbirds like sea ducks and geese have found they tend to avoid the turbines, which may mean less bird mortality offshore. Recent criticism from Republican lawmakers also suggests that the noise from offshore wind turbines might kill whales, although the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s no evidence to back up this concern.

Meanwhile, some research suggests wind farms might even help fish and other marine life. “A lot of people say, hey, this is going to be a habitat improvement because there’s going to be rocks on the bottom, which make artificial reefs,” said Daphne Munroe, a shellfish ecologist at Rutgers University. “And that’s absolutely true. But it’s a shift away from what was there.”

Munroe studies pressures on marine ecosystems, including the effects of climate, pollution, and resource exploitation. She’s also the lead author of a 2022 Bureau of Ocean Energy Management study on the impacts of offshore wind on surfclams — a type of clam commonly used to make chowders, soups, and stews. (The BOEM study was funded by the federal agency; Munroe has received funding from wind farm developers to conduct other projects.)

The fishing industry fears wind farms will affect their ability to yield a profitable catch — especially since the windy, shallow waters that support a rich diversity of sea life also tend to be ideal locations for turbines. Some scientists say these fears have been overblown — a 2022 study, for example, concluded that the Block Island Wind Farm located off the coast of Rhode Island does not appear to negatively impact bottom-dwelling fish. (Coastal regulators in the state of Rhode Island mandated the study be conducted and paid for by wind farm developers.) Others, like Munroe, say specific fisheries such as Atlantic surfclams will be significantly affected.

Surfclam fishing in wind farm areas, said Munroe, is logistically difficult, if not impossible, since vessels use dredges that drag though the sand to collect the clams. The presence of power cables on the ocean floor, she said, would make it too dangerous to use this kind of equipment around wind farms.

Installed boulders surrounding turbine foundations will also create obstacles, according to Munroe. “Each of the foundations is going to have what’s called scour protection,” she said. “So basically, big boulder fields that are going to be placed around the base of the turbine foundation in order to prevent the sand from scouring away.”

Currently, there are no legal restrictions on fishing in windfarm areas, Munroe said, just physical ones. “They could still get out there, but in order to fish efficiently and be able to get the catch they need and get back to the dock in a reasonable amount of time, it just wouldn’t be feasible,” she said. In her 2022 study, Munroe and her co-authors concluded that the presence of large offshore wind farms could cause fleet revenues to decline by up to 14 percent in some areas.

The industry has also been vocal about other consequences, such as habitat destruction and the possibility that the turbines’ sound might affect fish populations. In Maine, lobstermen worry that heavy mooring lines will drive their catch away. In Massachusetts, groups that represent fishing interests have filed lawsuits against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on the grounds that the agency failed to consider the fishing industry when it approved the 62-turbine Vineyard Wind project.

“The Bureau made limited efforts to review commercial fishing impacts,” wrote the plaintiffs in one of the Vineyard Wind lawsuits. “The limited effort that was made focused almost solely on impacts to the State of Massachusetts and on the scallop fishery, despite other fisheries being more active in the lease areas.”

Physical changes to the ecosystem, such as the placement of turbine foundations and scour protection, are some of the more obvious impacts of offshore wind turbines. But wind farms might elicit more subtle changes in local weather, affecting wind patterns and water currents, which models predict could reverberate through the food chain.

A 2023 study led by oceanographer Kaustubha Raghukumar, for example, found that turbine-driven alterations in wind speed could produce changes in ocean upwelling — a natural process where cold water from the deeper parts of the ocean rises to the surface — “outside the bounds of natural variability.” Those cold waters contain nutrients that support phytoplankton, the single-celled plants and other tiny organisms that form the basis of the oceanic food chain. Shifts in upwelling could have an impact on phytoplankton — although those impacts are still in question, particularly as climate change alters the equation.

Raghukumar and his colleagues at Integral, an environmental consulting company, based their predictions off historical data. But such an approach might not create an accurate picture of what will happen in the future as some scientists predict warmer global temperatures will produce stronger winds and increased upwelling, while others foresee localized decreases in upwelling. In their 2023 paper, which was funded by the California Energy Commission and the Ocean Protection Council, the authors noted that wind farms might reinforce — or even counteract — some of these climate change-driven changes in upwelling, but that all remains uncertain.

While Raghukumar’s study didn’t model how changes in upwelling might affect marine life, other scientists are closely studying possible changes to the ecosystem, though these are also likely to be complex and difficult to predict. A 2022 papermodeled the effect that planned wind farms might have in the North Sea, off the coasts of the U.K. and Norway, and concluded that they could influence phytoplankton, which could alter the food web.

Daewel, the study’s lead author, stopped short of drawing conclusions about what these changes might mean for the ecosystem as a whole. “We cannot say if that’s really a bad thing or a good thing because the ecosystem is very dynamic, especially in the North Sea,” she said.

Changes to ocean processes could impact fish survival, but, again, no one is really sure how. “Young fish need to be in a specific area at a specific time to find the right types of prey,” said Daewel. “So this redistribution of ecosystem parameters, that could mean that there might be a mismatch, or a better match also, for fishery life stages. But this is purely hypothetical.”

With or without wind farms, climate change is already altering the timing of critical ecosystem processes, said Robert Dorrell, lead author of a 2022 paper that investigated the effects of offshore wind on seasonally stratified shelf seas — coastal regions where water separates during the spring into different layers, with warm water at the top and colder water at the bottom. Shelf seas only represent about 8 percent of the ocean, but the phytoplankton that bloom there generate an estimated 15 to 30 percent of the organic matter that forms the basis of the food web.

Phytoplankton — the single-celled plants and other tiny organisms that form the basis of the oceanic food chain — bloom off the east coast of New Zealand in October 2009. There is some evidence that offshore wind farms can affect phytoplankton through shifts in ocean upwelling, or mixing, which could in turn alter the food web. Visual: Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen/NASA

In seasonally stratified shelf seas, phytoplankton grow in the upper layers, using up nutrients but also creating a food source for a myriad of marine animals. When the bloom is over, ocean mixing, a natural process driven by wind and waves, helps bring oxygen to the bottom layers and nutrients to the top, ensuring that creatures at every level can thrive. But climate change is expected to increase ocean stratification, which interferes with natural ocean mixing.

“When you have cold water underneath, which is of a higher density, that density difference makes it harder in general to mix water vertically, upwards or downwards,” said Dorrell.

Dorrell and his co-authors believe that wind farms could provide a partial solution to this problem by introducing artificial mixing of stratified shelf seas. This process, Dorrell said, is a little like stirring a cup of French coffee. “We have a nice coffee on the bottom and then you have foamy milk on the top. And if you would get a spoon and stir your French coffee you would mix the light milk up with the heavier coffee below.”

In much the same way, the downwind wake generated by an offshore turbine could help mix the warm and cold layers of water, which might help offset some of the effects of climate change.

Fortunately, scientists like Dorrell say, there is time to figure out the more subtle nuances of offshore wind and its larger effects on the marine ecosystem. “I think what we have to remember with offshore wind is that although there are plans underway at the moment, they are long-term plans,” he said. “In the U.K., for example, there are targets for 2030 certainly, but there are targets all the way through to 2050 and beyond. And there’s certainly time there for research to inform and support and maximize the best delivery of offshore wind for the benefit of everybody.”

Daewel added that papers like hers, which might suggest potential problems, aren’t an argument against wind farms. Instead, they are a call to closely monitor existing wind farms and those that will be built in the future. “I think that’s kind of the rule here, to be cautious and make sure that you understand what’s happening to your system while you’re building,” she said.

It’s possible that the way wind farms are built and where they are placed might help reduce potential negative impacts on the ocean ecosystem, though that research has yet to be done. “I think it will be a really interesting optimization kind of study, to kind of place the turbines in different locations and different densities,” said Raghukumar. The information gleaned from such a study, he said, could be used to balance the benefits of wind energy against any adverse consequences.

As research into the impacts of offshore wind energy continues, scientists say it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective, since fossil fuels also affect the ocean by driving changes to the climate.

“It’s not our intention to say this is a negative development. It’s also not our intention to say wind parks destroy the ecosystem. That’s not what our research shows,” Daewel said. “I just want to stress the research shows that we need to expect changes, and it’s better to learn that as soon as possible.”

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  1. John R Moffett

    What seems obvious is that all wind farms will be a net benefit for marine life as they will act like reefs and are able to support a much larger biosphere. The reduced fishing in the area will facilitate greater productivity that will spill over into adjacent waters. So in the long run it will create havens where marine wildlife can flourish and reproduce. This happens wherever humans put shallow water reef structures. As long as the noise issues can be dealt with, this should be a net positive for marine life as it will create sanctuaries.

    1. Ignacio

      In my case i think that on the contrary, the most important effects on marine Life might come from alterations on currents, flow of nutrients and phytoplancton. The article correctly states that It would be very difficult to predict these effects. On the positive the reliability of energy production (apart from the total amount) with many more hours of production annually. I also wonder about risks of extreme weather events.

  2. chris

    The article does not discuss a big issue with wind turbines and wind farms, which is fire. These things have issues fairly regularly, which is one reason why situating them over water is a good idea compared to, say, western Maui…

    I’d also say that all of this discussion ignores the first mover benefit that coal and other energy technologies have enjoyed. Did anyone think about literally blacking out the sky with coal emissions in the 1800s and into the 1950s? No. Did anyone care about particulate emissions until very recently? No. But we’re going to hang up wind energy because it might make changes to small areas of marine ecosystems? Because some fishermen will have to change their methods? Sure. Why not…

    This is the doom loop that all of these new technologies experience which leads to a worsening status quo. Yes, adopting wind energy at greater scales may create unforeseen issues. Given the alternatives, do you still want to do it or not? If yes, accept that you’ll be making different things worse than if you built a modern coal plant. And then move on. Solve the problems as you discover them. And you will discover them…

    Because offshore wind is unreliable. You need to do a lot of modeling and scenario planning to work it into the grid, and expected useful life for most of these is 20 years or less.

    I’ll reiterate something I’ve said on NC comments a few times now. We need a plan. We need goals. We need to be honest with what is possible with new tech. We need to be honest about what the status quo means and what happens if we continue with this piecemeal approach. We need to pick winners and losers. We need to accept that the losers need to be compensated. We need to tell people that most of the new generation options will require a reduction in standard of living for many for some period of time. I know none of that is easy. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      “We need a plan. We need goals.”

      You may or may not like this plan, but here is a guy who has one. This is a 13-minute address to the Beyond Growth 2023 Conference initiated by EU Greens (I know, I know. It’s not about foreign policy.) Hickel lays out what tech will and won’t do. He explains that there is no time left to waste on waiting for tech to save us. He talks about winners and losers. He includes policies like an environmentally oriented Job Guarantee so that people displaced by the radical reorientation of industries will not be left short.

      This is a plan, unlike the Ecomodernists whose primary message is “trust us experts. We’ll figure it out,” when they don’t have a clue about how to decouple economic growth from worse ecological destruction. It is focused on justice not only within nations but between nations, and for that reason, some Americans may bristle at what he’s saying. But it’s the truth. This country is responsible for putting more carbon in the air than any other, and what we’ve put up there since 1776 is still up there for the most part. And all the world is now paying for our Happy Motoring.

      I hope you’ll check it out.

      1. chris

        Thanks for sharing that. It was interesting. I kind of feel like people like Hickel will be eaten by his opponents but that is one example of someone talking about the right order of change that’s needed. I’m more of tech type person so I’m not coming at this problem from the social side. But I agree that we need to ask and answer the kinds of questions he discusses in the talk you linked to.

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          When I watched for the first time, my thought was that Hickel was going to get droned or hit with a “rape” charge.

    2. tegnost

      We need to pick winners and losers. We need to accept that the losers need to be compensated. We need to tell people that most of the new generation options will require a reduction in standard of living for many for some period of time

      What do you think we’ve been doing? And telling people they need to lower their standard of living I’m assuming you don’t mean the “smart” people.
      Because markets wall st will naturally manage the global infrastructure to maximize the profits and if pesky people get in the way they can go die.

      1. chris

        Oh, I think we’ve been doing a scattered attempt at trying to maintain what we have. I think we’ve been avoiding real maintenance and planning. I think we’re headed for a pretty big crash. I would really like us to make decisions that benefit more people. But I don’t think that will happen. What I know is currently true is that people who think more batteries and small changes in the status quo will work to fix things are wrong.

        With respect to standard of living, I’m just being honest about what all renewables means. It means if you get up to pee at 3 AM, and flip the switch, the lights might not come on. It means all the stuff we’ve taken for granted because of cheap energy goes away. It means more people facing the decision between heating their house and eating. Or using a medical device or heating their house. That is a very real reduction in standard of living. It’s coming for a lot more people. Especially if we walk away from the grid with the current ideas for local generation and consumption.

        By winners and losers, I don’t mean people so much as industries. Which will of course affect people too. But to be blunt about it, if we decide we don’t need furnaces for things like glass making or steel then our power needs are drastically reduced. Maybe we tell people in certain places you can’t watch TV off battery after 9 PM? Maybe we make individual ownership of cars prohibitive expensive? It’s already close! But if we do decide we still want all those things, we need power to make them work. So which is it? We need to make decisions and follow through, while accepting the consequences. We can’t do everything we want and not change now. That time is past. The future will be determined by what we now at the level of countries.

  3. heresy101

    One thing that none of the studies mentioned is the difference between wind towers built on the ocean floor in the Baltic Sea and off the US east coast and floating wind towers off the US west coast and other areas of the world. It would be interesting to see the impact of each on the ocean currents, fishing, and sea life.

    1. JohnA

      The Baltic, like the Mediterranean, is not very tidal compared to the Atlantic, which will create differences.

  4. cousinAdam

    One of the more promising sites for offshore wind in California is 30 miles offshore from Humboldt Bay. These would be massive FLOATING turbines, tethered to the sea floor with power cables summed and sent to shore. How massive? Each propeller blade is the length of a container ship, requiring the rest of the mill – tower, float, and turbine/ generator to be fabricated and assembled on site. Humboldt Bay had quite the ship building industry in its day, and the entry channel can and does accommodate BIG boats (they’re currently trying to entice cruise ships- big redwoods and epic cannabis AND the best local food – meat and veg – for starters) and 30 miles is beyond the horizon line so the NIMBY types can’t moan about noise or viewscape. The cheerleaders are talking about GIGAwatts of power- sounds like cheap juice for the locals and leverage for the complete remediation of a neighborhood nuclear plant-including spent fuel. Hard to finger ecological downsides…..

    1. cousinAdam

      I was completely remiss in neglecting to mention the seafood- first rate oysters from the Bay and an active commercial and sport fishing fleet- Dungeness crab and salmon (in season), tuna and other deep sea delights. Improving airline service, some epic surfing, reasonable (if a bit “rugged”) real estate too! Bring yer bucks and come on by!

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        I’ve traveled through the Lost Coast and Mattole Valley a couple of times, and that is so,e magical country.

  5. playon

    I can’t speak to offshore turbines but we lived for many years near on-shore wind farms. We lived in a very windy region in central WA and there was no reduction in wind speed nor did there seem to be much of an impact on birds. There is a lot of NIMBY opposition to these but they seem to be fairly neutral as far as effects to the environment. The ones where we lived were about 300 feet tall. I personally don’t mind the look of them.

  6. Jeremy Grimm

    As storms grow stronger, winds blow harder, waves crash more wildly, and seas rise — building high tech wind turbines on the coastal shelf or floating them on giant platforms seems a risky venture for other than the short-term.

  7. NoFreeWill

    Compare any of these impacts to fossil fuel impacts (or the hideous fossil infrastructure) and you can see why this seems peanuts. We don’t really even need new studies on how mine tailings or coal plants or fracking infrastructure absolutely destroys local environment, because we know the impacts are devastating and we should leave it in the ground. As for NIMBY types, expropriate their houses, that way they won’t have a view to get spoiled.

    Should we have a plan, for sure. Should we study this, for sure. Should it affect whether we build, hell no. Maybe where we build at most.

    1. chris

      It’s easy to say that, hard to implement. That’s why we really do need a plan. And the cost of eliminating nuclear and coal could be we have unreliable power for critical facilities. Which we may be able to deal with, but that is then a significant cost to compare against current options.

      By the way, when I say, we need a plan, I don’t mean, let’s consider an additional 10% renewable generation by 2030. I mean, do we keep North Dakota? Do we limit industry in the US to the regions where solar is reliable? Do we de-populate Detroit so we can take advantage of the existing infrastructure and limit damage to people, while minimizing requirements for things like water supply? Do we move the Capitol to Nebraska, to protect against climate issues and jump start a wave of construction to rebuild our country? Do we annex northern Mexico and make it our industrial center? Cruel or kind, careful or not, fossil or renewable, everything is on the table if we want to build to survive and thrive for the next several hundred years. What we’re currently doing is pretending some variations around the status quo will be OK. They won’t unless a whole lot of our fellow citizens die.

      We have very big questions to ask and answer. It’s time we get around to discussing those because what we started in the 1800s is past its useful life. What we built out in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, no longer makes sense and is falling apart. So what are we going to do to make a USA work from now until 2250? That’s what China is groping towards. That’s what we need to figure out too.

      1. Bart Hansen

        Do we keep North Dakota?

        That reminds me of my plan to take away one Senator for any State with less than, say, about a million souls. The number would float with any population increase or decrease.

        It would be fun with States like Vermont and Wyoming bidding for incomers.

      2. Joe Well

        How on earth could anyone even jokingly mention annexing a single meter of Mexican territory? Have you actually read anyone suggesting such a thing? It seems like a red flag for profound unseriousness.

        And the northern border region is already an important industrial heartland for the US.

        1. chris

          I wasn’t joking. It’s a cross roads currently. Gives us the control over the border that so many seem to crave. Depending on how the conflict with the cartels goes, and the pushback from the Mexican government over GMO corn, you may find a number of people think that northern Mexico needs some freedom. Because, let’s not forget, annexing northern Mexico is basically how we got Arizona and other territories.

          The northern United States WAS the essential industrial heartland for the US. Have you heard many people talk about Cleveland or Erie or Buffalo being essential lately? How about the journalist who golfed his way through Detroit because it was so barren? Been to Youngstown lately? No doubt you’ve visited the picturesque downtown of Gary, Indiana… I’ve been to all of those places recently. The accumulated rust has formed into a knife that is maiming all the poor souls who are still there. These are a forgotten people being sliced to bloody ribbons. When you hear Case and Deaton mention deaths of despair, understand a large chunk of those deaths occur in the northern rust belt.

          So, this begs the question, do we rebuild? Do we finish the process of devastating the region? Detroit and Erie and other cities are actively trying to shrink to reduce the burden of their infrastructure. How is depopulation by official state edict any different than the malign neglect the state currently enforces as de facto policy? And regardless of all that, my point remains. Just because the north has been the industrial center for the country, does it need to remain that way? Will that be a good decision 100 years from now? And how do we arrange infrastructure to support and power that vision?

          These are questions we need to be asking.

          1. Joe Well

            The kind of fever dream I would expect to see in the comments of a YouTube video, not NC. Among other things it betrays such profound ignorance of Mexico in 2023, that words fail me. Every Mexican schoolchild (and quite a few Americans) can tell you chapter and verse of how the US got Texas and the Alta California territory and they have all been inculcated to fight to the death anything resembling a repeat.

            And I said the northern border region of MEXICO is an important industrial heartland for the US (when has anyone ever called Michigan a border region?), no annexation of territory required. Speaking of which, the US has not waged a foreign war to annex territory since the Mexican American War, not just because of the extreme unpopularity of stealing territory but because it is not necessary to enjoy the resources of a region.

  8. GradStudentGreg

    I see quite a few comments here that seem to reduce opposition to offshore wind as simple NIMBYism, which to me is off-base. The two groups that I’ve seen the most opposition from (at least on the West Coast, where I’ve been focused) have been the tribes and fishing community. I attended a tribal clean energy summit earlier this summer and heard significant opposition to offshore wind because of BOEM’s failure to conduct meaningful tribal consultation; BOEM has generally lumped tribes into the catch-all term “stakeholders” and has failed to adequately engage many tribes in government-to-government consultation that is required for this scale of federal project. Obviously it varies depending on which lease tracts you’re talking about, but various tribes face threats to important cultural resources, archaeological sites, and treaty-granted fishing rights that are threatened by development. In one episode in New England that was relayed to me, the tribes identified a dozen or so submerged archaeological sites in the siting process, but ultimately were ignored and transmission lines routed straight through the sites.

    On the fishing side, I’ve heard a lot of concern from West Coast fishermen about what impacts to the California upwelling will do to fish populations, with many comparisons to the damming of the Columbia River (over opposition from fishing community) and how it decimated salmon populations. I got the chance to meet Dr. Raghukumar and hear him present about the research, and he said that there is a follow-up study in the works that is trying to put an estimate on what impacts to the upwelling process translates to in terms of marine life. That will be of significant interest – but also remember that these are still simulated data, not complete observations of reality.

    I understand it is critical to decarbonize as fast as possible, but it would also be disastrous to give climate change a helping hand in destroying marine ecosystems. A slower, deliberate approach to siting where we get real data on marine impacts as more and more turbines get installed is how we can use science – and not scientism – to make development decisions. Cheerleading to streamline permitting processes and steamroll opposition is just doing PR for private energy developers (many of whom are subsidiaries or joint ventures of Total, Shell, BP, etc.).

  9. MicaT

    I did some digging into the wind turbine fire gear and it’s about 1 in 15,000.
    Most fires are very minor and no one ever knows. Only the catastrophic ones make the news.
    With the newer turbines say last 10’yrs, lightning has become a larger problem due to blade material. Internal failures of equipment is very rare. Many of the newer blade composites can create larger lightning issues which can start fires.

    They are working on better lightning path wiring in the blades and tower. But turns out the largest blades create a large enough low pressure area that it’s actually influencing where lightning strikes or not. IE not just at the tips and at the highest point. And since the machines are so large they can’t test it in a controlled environment. So it’s real world testing.
    I watched an interview/article with a lightning engineer dealing with large wind specifically, really interesting.

    Another part which is odd is the fear that tower bases will be bad for fish. Except that it’s been know for 100 yrs that sinking old ships for example creates artificial reefs which fish love.
    Or around oil platforms etc, wind turbines towers would be the same, providing new habitat for sea life.

    1. chris

      Here’s a relatively recent presentation that the NFPA hosted on wind energy and concerns.

      Not sure where you got your data from but recent industry surveys say fire is more common than that and it’s an expensive problem for wind towers. Here’s recent article discussing it. Their estimates of risk start at 1 in 2000.

      The replacement cycle for wind power is a challenge. You have a lot of wearing parts and other things that can go wrong. Best life estimate is 20 years. Reasonable life estimate is 10 years. We’d need to develop domestic supply chain to support this kind of power generation more efficiently. We have some local capacity but most of this is built in Europe or Asia.

      1. MicaT

        Yes the numbers I’ve read go from 1-2000 up to 1/15000.
        The article you link to ranges from 1/2000 to 1/7000 and the first sentence does say fires are relatively rare.
        The other article isn’t from NFPA. Still interesting, however from 2016 which is a long time ago in terms of wind machine evolution: size, features, fire suppression etc.
        Any fire isn’t good and like all technologies there is constant improvement as fires are expensive and investors don’t like expensive.

        More current estimates of wind machine life is closer to 30-35 years including blades. This is from a number of companies that I’ve looked at. Of course they could be padding their numbers.
        I guess we’ll know in 10-30 years?
        Thanks for the links

    2. Bart Hansen

      When I was young a lot of buildings, including homes, had lightning rods. I suppose they would make the towers even higher.

  10. c_heale

    Scallop fishing using dredges destroys the seabed and in my opinion it should be banned.

    I have another viewpoint too. I think the emphasis on massive windfarms with giant windmills is a problem. Smaller windmills but more of them supplying energy to smaller areas would have the advantage of easier maintenance and more redundancy in the system. Maybe having less efficient windmills that don’t use plastic composites would solve both the fire issues and the recycling problem associated with the turbine blades.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      You are correct about scallop fishing – it is one of the most destructive activities imaginable, its only permitted because nobody can see the damage. Its like collecting wild berries in a forest with a Caterpiller plough. I’m pretty sure that just one scallop dredger over a season will do more marine damage than any number of off-shore turbines. If off-shore turbines significantly curtail this dredging, then this is in my opinion a potentially very good thing.

      The problem with small wind turbines is twofold. The first is that the square cube law applies to turbine size. In short, big turbines are far more efficient than small ones, both because of the square cube law, but also height matters in gaining access to the more consistent higher altitude winds. The biggest turbines can achieve close 50% of their maximum efficiency in a windy environment where the standard sizes of 10 years ago would be struggling to get to 25%. If you are serious about maximising wind as a power source, then the turbines have to be as big as you can make them, there is no way around this.

      The second is marine birds – the majority of marine birds fly low – less than 100 metres, mostly because they can use the ground effect in efficient flying. So very big, high turbines are literally above their flightpaths. Smaller turbines which are closer to the ground are potentially far more hazardous to a wide range of bird species, not just off-shore.

  11. Revenant

    Historic rates of failure over the installed wind turbine fleet do not tell the whole story. Siemens has an emerging big problem (€1.6bn in c. 2,100 deployed turbines) with turbine gearbox failure. These are onshore turbines: it would be more expensive to fix in off-shore.

    Now I know why they bought a predictive maintenance machine learning company off me last year! :-)

  12. Billy

    A couple of points –

    Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) are cost plus operations. That is the local state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) determines cost of generation and then adds a plus margin – often times about 5%.

    This means that the greater the cost of generation the more money the IOU makes.

    So a generating plant with free fuel or low cost fuel e.g. hydro, wind, land fill gas, wood waste, or PV is a net loss for the IOU.

    And of course the IOUs are often a very large player in the local legislative scene. Look to Santee-Cooper, Ohio’s First Energy, Florida Power and Light as examples.
    Not only do IOUs commonly shape the local legislative scene, they often engage in public relations campaigns to shape public opinion.

    Be very careful of stories of fire plagued wind turbines , bird strikes, intermittent wind, hydro, and PV resources.

  13. Mirko

    I had written an article about this in the sister forum (dasgelbeforum) and yes, the wind turbines have an impact on the humidity and its consequences for the forest behind. But the Greens said it was climate change, while they (Greens) themselves are causing the climate change.

  14. p fitzsimon

    I’m a long time resident of Massachusetts. There are no off-shore wind turbines yet in-service or erected. The first off-shore farm was proposed over 20 years ago called cape wind. The plan was to locate the farm in Nantucket sound just off the south coast of cape cod. Our two senators, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy who owned homes on the sound aligned with Charles Koch, the Mellon family and the Firestone family managed to defer it for 15 years. It was resurrected as Vineyard Wind which will be located on leases south of Nantucket and closer to Long Island NY than to Boston. It will require an enormous transmission buildout to bring the power to load centers in Massachusetts. Also the turbine will be in a one mile spaced grid to satisfy fishermen objections. Meanwhile, there are federal leases in the Gulf of Maine which runs from Canada to Cape Cod and which would be perfect for Boston, Portsmouth and other coastal load centers. However, all the leases are in deep water and will require floating wind turbine structures. No takers yet. I’m not holding my breath.

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