Wind power generation may lead to higher CO2 emissions

Much was written here this past weekend about solar power.  So, I thought it only fair to give “equal time” to wind power.  It seems that recent studies are showing that any reduction in carbon emissions from the use of wind power to generate electricity is, nominal at best.

Before you dismiss this statement as “right wing” propaganda, please read on.  It will soon make perfect sense. 

Two laws of nature are at play here which cannot be altered by either good intentions, or government edict.  First, wind does not blow 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.  And second, to produce power efficiently, traditional coal or gas powered generators are designed to run continuously.  As to the second, think of it this way.

An automobile that operates at a constant speed—say 55 miles per hour–will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Because we expect that the lights will actually go on when we turn on the light switch, electricity generators must make sure that power is always available.  This leaves the electricity generator who relies on wind power to supplement its power supply with two options.  It can either “power down” it’s, let’s say coal fired plant, when it is receiving a great deal of wind powered electricity, and then “power up” the plant when the wind stops.  Or, it can leave the coal powered plant running continuously.

The former option (rush hour traffic) results in more CO2 emissions than running the generators continuously, but the latter option doesn’t reduce CO2 emissions from those levels that existed before the wind “supplement”.

Perhaps it comes down to what Kevin Forbes, the director of the Center for the Study of Energy and Environmental Stewardship at Catholic University, [said] ‘Wind energy gives people a nice warm fuzzy feeling, that we’re taking action on climate change…the reality is that it’s not doing much of anything.’

No one disagrees with the concept of clean energy.  It is something we should foster.  But, as my engineer friend said today, the issue is dependability and predictability.  In other words, we expect the lights to go on when we push the “on” switch.

And, government can’t legislate dependability and predictability, or, suspend the laws of nature for that matter, no matter how hard it tries.

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The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. winnie888 on August 24, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Warm fuzzies and good intentions do not produce reliable power…if so, heating season would sure be a lot cheaper than it is and I wouldn't have shelled out over $200/mo. this summer to CL&P for my a/c usage!

    I don't know why, but this post hit me as very funny…probably because you went to great pains to point out the obvious.  Thank you for the (post root canal) giggle!  🙂


  2. sammy22 on August 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    You chose not to make the same argument when writing about solar. The issues are not quite as simple as the car analogy, partly because electricity has to be used when it's produced, no matter what the source (unless you stash away in batteries). To handle the peak load issue plants power up and down whether they are coal, gas, solar or wind powered. Pass it by your engineer friend.

    • Dimsdale on August 24, 2010 at 3:22 pm

      Coal and gas can "power up" when needed.  Solar and wind are completely dependent on whether there is enough sun or wind, not demand.  And as you say, you can't effectively store the amount of energy this country needs.  Nukes are, of course, the exception, but many will argue about its cleanliness.  Hydroelectric is the cleanest and most reliable, as the energy is stored as water behind a dam, and the output can be varied.

  3. sammy22 on August 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Add nuclear and hydro to the list also.

    • NH-Jim on August 25, 2010 at 11:25 am

      And, how about warm and fuzzy squirrels on their tread wheels?

  4. TomL on August 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    I love nuclear plants because during the winter I can fish at the warm water discharge and catch stripers.

  5. Dimsdale on August 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm

    If they could harness all the hot air coming out of high profile liberals that continually try to sell the virtues of wind power, but just not in their backyards or in their ocean views, we could easily power several cities.  In the middle of a summer heat wave.

    • gillie28 on August 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

      dims, best energy-savings idea yet!  Make those windbags useful for a change.

  6. Mike74 on August 25, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Hi, thanks for this great article. I have found some free books for Wind Power on this website: Hope you will like it. Cheers!

  7. sammy22 on August 25, 2010 at 5:21 am

    SOS is trying to make the argument that higher CO2 emissions might occur with wind generated electricity. I think her argument is bogus.

  8. gillie28 on August 25, 2010 at 10:45 am

    This was intersting because Portugal has tried to set itself up as the "wind power" and alternative energy leader of Europe over the past few years.  Travelling around the country, I've seen hundreds of wind turbines…they actually revolve surprisingly slowly, no matter the wind velocity.

    On the plus side, together with an updated and computerized the electricity system has vastly improved.  When I lived here 20 odd years ago, there were constant black-outs.  Haven't had one in the past year.  On the negative side, they are eyesores (look like an invasion of an alien life-force) and, it is said that they decimate the song-bird population.  Not a huge issue here, but would be in the States  Apparently, birds are attracted to them and fly round and round them until they expire.  Not sure how based in fact this is, but a little scary.

    • gillie28 on August 25, 2010 at 10:49 am

      edit: "an updated and computerized GRID"  Hot fingers

  9. scottm on August 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I suppose we should just give up on alternative forms of energy and keep pouring money into Saudi Arabia.

    • Dimsdale on August 26, 2010 at 12:46 am

      Or perhaps pour a little money into developing domestic supplies of conventional fuels.? Someone will buy from the Saudis regardless.? I worry more about money going to Hugo Chavez.
      Don’t give up on alternative energy sources, just make sure they are mature replacements before tossing out what currently works.

  10. MichaelGoggin on August 27, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I hate to rain on your parade, but your false claims are completely contradicted by government data for Colorado and Texas showing that emissions and fossil fuel use have drastically decreased in lock-step as wind has been added to the grid there. Similar studies by independent grid operators from other regions show the same result. Besides, to be true, your claim would require a significant re-writing of the laws of physics.

    For more, see:

    Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association

  11. Erik Blazynski on August 27, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Well logically you would store the energy for later use, additionally it would be easy to build in controls to attenuate the power. I do not buy the argument for a second. I don't get why people poo poo alternative energy. I think that the free market can bring these to market if the government stays out of it. The issue is that the government is already deep in the oil industry.

  12. TomL on August 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    MikeG  you are part of the AWEA and your views are skewered with your affiliation with them. I would have a problem with a study done by the oil companies.


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