Do wind farms really cause global warming?

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If you get your news from Fox or a handful of other news outlets that are not, to be charitable, best known for their fact checking, you will be relieved to learn that wind farms do not add to climate change.

Yesterday, Fox News completely misreported a new scientific study dealing with the earth's surface temperature and the effects of wind farms on it. According to Fox, the windmills, which actually reduce global warming, contribute to it! While most attribute the error, later picked up by other news sites, to shoddy reporting and the increasingly short news cycle, Fox is known to be a booster of big oil.

While Fox News concluded that "wind ain't working," Liming Zhou, the study's lead researcher, characterized Fox's coverage as misleading.

"We need to realize that the build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere due to the burning fossil fuel will have global impacts," Zhou wrote in a question-and-answer piece, "while the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small. Generating wind power creates no emissions, uses no water, and is likely green. Wind power is going to be a part of the solution to the climate change, air pollution and energy security problem."

The actual study, published April 29 on the website of the science journal Nature, studied the effects of wind farms on the temperature of the earth's surface in areas directly near the wind farms.

The researchers studied west Texas, where four of the world's largest wind farms are located. They analyzed satellite data collected from 2003-2011, and concluded that the wind farms there may cause a "significant warming trend of up to .72 [degrees Celsius] per decade." The likely reason for the warming is that windmills act as fans, pulling warmer air from above down to the surface, especially during nighttime hours.

The scientists concluded that the windmills were responsible because the area that showed the highest surface warming correlated closely with the actual geographic area of the wind farms themselves.

Zhou, who took umbrage with the media's portrayal of his team's research, emphasized that wind farms do not contribute to global warming.

While Zhou is clear that there is no connection between global warming and wind farms, he does argue that more research needs to be done so as to best ensure that wind farms do not disrupt local micro-environments.

"Understanding the impacts of wind farms is critical for developing efficient adaptation and management strategies to ensure long-term sustainability of wind power," he wrote.

Photo: Wind farm in Texas. Talon Kasmai // CC 2.0

Editor's note: Due to an error in the editing process, a decimal point was inadvertently deleted from this article. Heat from the wind farms could warm surface temperatures locally by .72 degrees per decade, not 72 degrees. We apologize for the error and thank our readers for pointing it out.

 

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  • How could the researchers report a warming trend per decade on nine years data? Mr. Zhou is complicit in the terrible reporting and bad headlines world-wide.

    His original summary neglected to mention that the turbines sufficient to cause regional changes would have displaced all fossil fuel generation for a thousand miles in all directions, creating a very positive net effect.
    http://www.quora.com/Wind-Power/How-significant-is-the-recent-study-showing-ground-warming-at-night-under-wind-turbines/answer/Mike-Barnard

    There are 165,000 wind turbines generating clean, safe, CO2-free electricity world-wide. Wind energy is on track to exceed nuclear generating capacity by 2016. This is a great story about a clean, reliable energy source displacing fossil fuels world-wide. Why there is a need to sensationalize trivia like this escapes me.

    Posted by Mike Barnard, 05/27/2012 8:30pm (2 years ago)

  • "Our results show a significant warming trend of up to 0.72 °C per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to nearby non-wind-farm regions. We attribute this warming primarily to wind farms as its spatial pattern and magnitude couples very well with the geographic distribution of wind turbines."

    Wow, that's a lot of global warming for a unreliable source of energy. Windmills also do a number on wildlife by ruining their lungs from the low pressure. They don't hit the birds and bats, but still kill them just the same.

    Posted by Elliott Reed, 05/05/2012 10:51pm (2 years ago)

  • The Power Companies Engineers have a better handle on Energy than the Washington Politicians and their misrepresentations.

    Posted by River Rat, 05/04/2012 8:16pm (2 years ago)

  • The Solyndra loan was also completely misreported and the Obama Administration were stupid enough to buy into it as well as the Secret Sevice getting outwitted by Columbian Prostitutes. So I agree with you Mr. Margolis, there are lots of gullible people out there.

    Posted by gina , 05/03/2012 6:53pm (2 years ago)

  • "significant warming trend of up to 72 [degrees Celsius per decade." That would bring ground temps to close to the boiling point of water. Looks like there was a confusion here between Celsius and Fahrenheit, perhaps due to poor choice of where to cut off the quote?

    Posted by keith, 05/02/2012 8:11pm (2 years ago)

  • Thanks for your post!

    Posted by Nicholas, 05/02/2012 7:24pm (2 years ago)

  • The blades spin as the air passes by them, they do not turn of their own accord like a house fan which forces air to move faster, so the air moving through a wind turbine should only be the current wind speed in that area.

    Posted by Scott, 05/02/2012 6:22pm (2 years ago)

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