Three Big Wind Turbine Myths | Direct Energy Blog

Top Three Wind Turbine Myths

Welcome to the Energy Efficiency Myths series from Direct Energy! As many myths arise from incomplete knowledge, they can create seemingly possible answers that many people accept as fact. Each month, we will examine common misunderstandings about energy efficiency — whether it’s in your home or about the energy industry — and deliver real facts behind the myth (and how they they might be costing you money).

Wind Turbine Myths

Whether you’re in favor of them or not, when the subject of wind turbines comes up, there are always three myths that get mentioned. The thing about these myths is that they either may have been true at one point in time or they are over simplifications. Either way, they assume that both the technology and the status quo are unchanging —which, like the wind, they are not.

Myth #1: When it comes to wind power, America is way behind the rest of the world, especially Europe.

Sure, but only if you focus on the percentage produced of the entire source mix. For example, in 2015 Denmark produced 42% of its electricity from wind while the US produced a measly 4.7%. But when you look at actual capacity, that 4.7% blasts all the other nations (but China) to the four winds — it’s actually 74.471 GW! Even though Denmark got the bigger headline, it only produced a puny 4.8 GW, which is probably not even enough to power up Houston on a nice spring day.

However, one thing that is very true about this statement is that the US currently has only ONE off shore wind farm, the 30 MW Block Island Project . Denmark has 13, with capacities up to 400MW.

Three Big Wind Turbine Myths | Direct Energy Blog

Myth #2: Wind energy is unpredictable, intermittent, and must be “backed up” by conventional generation. When the winds don’t blow, turbines don’t spin.

That may have been true-ish a decade ago but much less now. To begin with, depending on location, the bulk of wind turbines produce electricity about 80% of the time, though the amount is determined by the speed of the wind. However, because newer wind turbines are mounted more than 200 feet above the ground where air currents are far more active, they spin more often at a faster rate and produce more electricity. Since 2013, some turbines have been operating at 97.6% availability and reaching capacity factors over 50%.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel-burning plants (also called “thermal plants”) undergo both planned and unplanned or “forced” outages several times during the year. Thermal power plants can shut down for a month every 2 to 5 years to undergo substantial repairs, such as a boiler refit or turbine overhaul. Such instances usually involves the entire plant or one of the generators in a multi-unit power plant. That still drastically cuts output by several hundred megawatts. Most coal generating power stations were intended to operate at 80% of their annual capacity factors but competition in the electric industry coupled with cycling practices has increased their forced outage rates, lowering their availability to around 75%.

Wind farms are modular and have low maintenance requirements. On a 100 MW wind farm, when one 2 MW turbine needs servicing it can be shut down without affecting the other 49 turbines. Those 49 keep cranking out electricity.

If anything, wind power is beginning to back up fossil fuel generators during peak demand.

Three Big Wind Turbine Myths | Direct Energy Blog

Myth #3: Wind power and other renewables get more federal subsidies than fossil fuels.

True but only at first glance. The Congressional Budget Office estimated allocation of “tax preferences” shows that renewable energy subsidies account for 59% while fossil fuel receives only 25% of the total. But when you look at the details behind these Congressional Budget Office numbers, you discover this situation changes drastically in less than three years.

Currently, coal, oil, and natural gas subsidies cover losses due to resource or mineral depletion or exploration for new resources. In 2015, these cost the Federal government $4.7 billion. Because fossil fuel companies live and die by acquiring and selling fossil fuels, these subsidies are being maintained to help reduce the cost of those fuels.

Wind, solar, and other renewables don’t have fuel costs but must face higher technological costs at the time of construction. Consequently, the federal renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) is an inflation-adjusted per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources. Though the exact amount of the credit depends on when the individual project was started (either before the end of 2016 or after 2017), the duration of the tax credit only lasts for 10 years. Plus, the tax credit amount is reduced 20% each year afterwards. Meanwhile, the Business Energy Investment Tax Credit declines to just 18% on January 1, 2018. According to current legislation, both the PTC and Business Energy Investment Tax Credit phase out in 2020 to zero.

By then, it’s likely that Power Purchase Agreements will help finance initial investment made by wind developers. And once a wind farm is up and running, there’s no fuel costs because the wind is free.

Conversely, the tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry will likely be necessary…indefinitely.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.