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.