Research: More Wind Power Will Add to Warming

By Borenstein, Seth | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), October 5, 2018 | Go to article overview

Research: More Wind Power Will Add to Warming


Borenstein, Seth, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


WASHINGTON - Ramping up wind power in America would also dial up the nation's temperatures, a new study out of Harvard found.

While wind energy is widely celebrated as environmentally friendly, the researchers concluded that a dramatic, all-out expansion in the number of turbines could warm the country even more than climate change from burning coal and other fossil fuels, because of the way the spinning blades disturb the layers of warm and cold air in the atmosphere.

Some parts of the central United States are already seeing nights that are up to 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer because of nearby wind farms, said study lead author Lee Miller, an environmental scientist at Harvard.

"Any big energy system has an environmental impact," said Harvard engineering and physics professor David Keith, a study co-author. "There is no free lunch. You do wind on a scale big enough ... it'll change things."

The researchers and other scientists stressed that climate change from greenhouse gas emissions is clearly a far bigger threat globally and over the long term than turbine-caused warming, which is temporary and stops when the blades aren't turning.

Despite the potential drawbacks, wind energy still makes more sense for the environment than fossil fuels, Keith said. It's just that advocates of wind power have been ignoring growing evidence of a downside, he said.

Overall, the Harvard study, published Thursday in the journal Joule, found that in the unlikely event that the U.S. switched massively to wind to supply nearly all of its electricity, there would be so many turbines that on average the nation's temperature would go up about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Some central areas would see localized warming of around 2.5 degrees, though there would also be some cooling in places, such as the East Coast.

Right now, wind provides 6.3 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

The study, which looked at just the United States, said that the turbines would cause more warming in the short term this century than the carbon dioxide America spews into the atmosphere would.

The reason for this effect: Normally the air is more still at night, with cold air staying near the surface and warmer air resting a little higher. …

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