Wind Energy and the Environment

Wind is clean, renewable, and free.

Did you know that in 2017 wind energy accounted for more of the U.S. electricity supply than solar? I discovered this during Energy Awareness Month this October because I decided to learn about wind power.

After stumbling across Energy Awareness Month a few years ago, I resolved that each October I would tackle an energy project or learn more about an energy-related topic and share what I learned with readers. Some of the topics I have covered include Energy Action Month history, the Clean Air Act, energy savings tips, rooftop solar tax incentives, and a review of the book Reinventing Fire.

This year wind energy is on my mind because the federal government and at least two wind companies are eying the ocean waters off San Luis Obispo County where I live on the California Central Coast.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced it is ramping up efforts to bring more offshore wind farms to federal waters off the United States’ coastlines. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal agency that manages the development of U.S. outer continental shelf energy and mineral resources, published some of their plans in the Federal Register.

Reading these announcements and news articles made me realize that I did not know much about wind energy so I set out to educate myself and share what I learned. You may not think that wind energy is pertinent to your community, but it is when you expand your vision to a society powered by clean renewable energy like the wind.

The intent of this post is to provide you with an overview of wind energy including its environmental advantages and disadvantages and to offer you some ideas for actions you can take to support wind energy if you choose to do so.

Wind Energy Basics

Even if you have never seen a modern wind turbine in action, you have probably seen wind filling the sail of a sailboat or turning the blades of a windmill.

All three are harnessing the motion (kinetic energy) of the wind. The wind turbine uses the wind to produce electricity, the sailboat uses it to propel the boat forward and the windmill uses it to pump water.

If you only have 60 seconds, I think the video below gives a good overview of how an offshore wind turbine works. There are more video links in the resources section at the end of the post.

Like solar, wind can supply electricity for homes, businesses, farms, communities, and power plants.

Solar panels on a home rooftop or wind turbines on a family farm are referred to as distributed energy meaning the electricity is consumed close to where it is produced. If distributed sources send their electricity to the electric grid, an entire community can share the power.

Large groups of wind turbines constitute a wind farm and can supply electricity for an industrial complex or to a utility-scale power plant, which then distributes it to their customers via the electric grid.

Most of the wind turbines producing electricity in the U.S. are land-based. A few have been around since the 1980s like the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm you see as you drive down Interstate 10 on the way to Palm Springs, CA.

Offshore Wind Farm in Ocean Waters off Block Island, Rhode Island
Offshore Wind Farm in Ocean Waters off Block Island, Rhode Island – Photo AWEA

An offshore wind farm is one that has wind turbines in the ocean or a large lake. The first U.S. offshore wind farm did not come online until just two years ago. Rhode Island made history when the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Block Island began sending electricity to the grid in December 2016.

Wind Industry 2017 Highlights

In 2017, wind accounted for 6% of utility-scale electricity produced by renewable energy sources, hydropower was 7%, biomass 2%, solar 1%, and geothermal less than 1%. 1

Wind blowing across the U.S. in 2017 provided more than 10% of the total electricity generation for 14 states, and more than 30% in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Texas had the highest wind electricity generation capacity of any state. 2

2017 Wind Share of Electricity by State Map - Source AWEA
Source AWEA

Unlike coal, natural gas, or petroleum, the wind is a domestic energy source that cannot be exported. The wind industry provides jobs, lease payments for landowners, and property, local, and state tax revenue.

The U.S. wind industry employed 105,500 people in 2017. 2

Workers in a Wind Turbine Manufacturing Plant
Workers in a Wind Turbine Manufacturing Plant – Photo AWEA

Most of the components of wind turbines installed in the United States are made in the U.S. by 500 wind-related manufacturing facilities across 41 states. In 2017, U.S. based General Electric was ranked second in U.S. market share for wind turbine manufacturers. 2, 3

During 2017, over $11 billion was invested in new U.S. wind projects. 2

Next, we will explore some of the environmental advantages and disadvantages associated with producing electricity from wind.

Environmental Advantages of Wind Energy

Burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas to generate electricity emits a whopping 34% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. 4 We could bring that figure to zero by transitioning to clean renewable energy, like the wind.

Wind energy is clean (does not produce emissions) and renewable (replenishes itself).

Wind blowing across Earth’s land and waters is free for everyone. Of course, capturing wind and converting it into electricity is not free but once a wind turbine or wind farm is installed, it operates on free energy for 20 to 25 years.

Wind turbines do not spew greenhouse gases and pollution into the air, which is good for your health and the environment.

Another major benefit of wind energy is that wind turbines do not deplete or pollute groundwater basins, rivers, or lakes that tens of millions of people rely on for drinking water and they do not pollute the ocean.

Wind Turbines on a Sheep Farm in Rio Vista, CA
Wind Turbines on a Sheep Farm in Rio Vista, CA – Photo AWEA

Land use for wind turbines and wind farms has pros and cons.

On the plus side, a wind turbine only occupies a small piece of land so other activities like agriculture, ranching, and recreation can go around them.

On the downside, the best place for wind turbines is in wide-open spaces and on ridge tops, which can be in remote places that do not have roads or transmission lines. Building infrastructure disrupts ecosystems and causes pollution and erosion. In the ocean, installing platforms (on the seabed or floating) and undersea cables can cause similar environmental issues.

Environmental Disadvantages of Wind Energy

A drawback of wind energy is that it fluctuates so it may not produce a continuous supply of electricity all the time.

Americans expect electricity to be instantly available 24/7/365 so wind power needs to be backed up with storage or an additional electricity supply source. Battery storage systems add to the environmental footprint of wind systems. If backup electricity is provided by a power plant that burns fossil fuels, it reduces the environmental benefit of wind.

Mining for rare earth metals and making steel and concrete to build wind turbines and platforms has a negative environmental impact including greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and high energy use. The thing is that this can be said about anything that uses these materials so it is not unique to wind energy.

Wind turbines can present a hazard to birds, bats, and marine animals.  Careful placement of wind turbines can alleviate this issue.

Noise might be a problem if you live or work very close to a wind turbine or wind farm.  Noise may also affect nearby wildlife both on land and in the ocean.

Some people have an aesthetic concern about seeing a wind turbine or wind farm in their viewshed, a term I first saw while reading an article about our potential local offshore wind farms.

Yes, wind does have some drawbacks, but they are insignificant when you consider the widespread danger and damage associated with every aspect of the fossil fuel industry.

Wind energy capacity has skyrocketed since 2001 and continues to grow.

U.S. Annual and Cumulative Wind Capacity Growth Since 2001 Bar Chart - Source AWEA
U.S. Annual and Cumulative Wind Capacity Growth Since 2001 – Source AWEA

What Can You Do to Support Wind Energy?

You may not have a wind farm project going on where you live, but you can still support wind energy. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

  • Install a residential-scale wind turbine in your yard.
  • Learn more about wind energy and talk about it with your family, neighbors, and coworkers.
  • If you do have a wind project pending in or near your community, get involved by attending town hall meetings and other events that give you an opportunity to learn about the project and to voice your concerns and/or support.
  • Tell your local and state elected representatives that you are in favor of wind energy and ask them what they are doing to support it.
  • Request that your U.S. senator and congressperson author and/or support a bill extending renewable energy tax incentives.

What am I doing? I am going to find out what I can about the two potential projects off our coastline and get involved in some way.

Featured Image at Top: Wind Turbines with a Rainbow in the Background – Photo AWEA

Related Posts

References

  1. Electricity Explained: Electricity in the United States – U.S. Energy Information Administration
  2. 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report – U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
  3. AWEA U.S. Wind Industry 2017 Annual Market Report – American Wind Energy Association
  4. How much of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are associated with electricity generation? – U.S. Energy Information Administration

Resources

Breast Cancer Awareness – Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon

Finding out if you have breast cancer is the first step in surviving it.

Wearing a pink ribbon is a non-confrontational way of putting a face on breast cancer and inviting the people you encounter to engage you in conversation.

Although anytime is a good time help people learn about breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings it to the attention of the general public potentially giving you a wider audience for sharing information, support, or assistance. The way you interact with people will affect how willing they are to receive what you have to offer.

For instance, how would you feel if you were walking down the street on your way to run an errand during your lunch break and I stopped you and asked you if you had mammogram recently? What if I turned to you in the grocery market checkout line and began reciting breast cancer statistics? What would you do if we were sitting next to each other waiting for a meeting to begin and I introduced myself as a breast cancer survivor and began describing my chemotherapy treatment?

Chances are you would feel offended, threatened, annoyed or some other emotion and would try to get away from me as soon as possible.

Now, imagine you see me adorned with a pink ribbon minding my own business as I walk down the street, stand in the checkout line, or sit waiting for a meeting. Of course, you might not notice my pink ribbon or you could just ignore it and me. But then again, maybe you will see the pink ribbon and it will spark a thought.

Perhaps it jogs your memory and you scrounge around your purse looking for the mammogram slip you doctor gave several months ago. After pulling out the crumpled form along with your cell phone, you call to make a mammogram appointment. Possibly, you are curious and open a dialogue with me by asking me if I am a breast cancer survivor or why I am wearing a pink ribbon (this has happened to me, although not in the grocery market). Maybe a friend who is undergoing breast cancer treatment comes to mind so you sneak out of the meeting and call her volunteering to drop off dinner tomorrow.

Do you see what I mean?

Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon in October

Wearing a pink ribbon during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is personal for me. I am a breast cancer survivor. It is part of who I am, now.

Each morning during October, I attach a pink ribbon to whatever I am wearing for several reasons.

One is that I want to remind the people who see me that breast cancer affects real people devastating our lives and too often killing us. It could be you or someone you love. Breast cancer mostly affects women, but a small number of men get breast cancer, too.

Another reason is that by wearing a pink ribbon, I am inviting you to engage in a conversation with me at a level that feels comfortable to you, but only if you choose to talk with me. It is your choice.

Woman Wearing a Pink T-Shirt and Ribbon Shouting into a Megaphone
Photo Credit – iStock/RyanKing999

As odd as this may sound, wearing a pink ribbon also acts as a sort of safety mechanism for me. It cautions me that even though I might feel like ranting and raving about toxins in the environment, complacency about cancer in our society, or government agencies failing to protect our health, I realize that throwing a fit is not going to encourage you or anyone else to talk with me about breast cancer.

A Mammogram Saved My Life

Saying “A mammogram saved my life.” is an overly dramatic and not completely correct statement but it does grab your attention.

My breast cancer tumor was buried against my chest wall and was not detectable to the touch. A mammogram first alerted my doctor and then me that I might have breast cancer. The ultrasound that followed the mammogram indicated that I likely had invasive breast cancer and the biopsy confirmed it.

I have shared parts of my breast cancer journey in other posts like Life after Cancer – Volunteering, New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 – Hit the Reset Button, and Life after Cancer – Gardening so I will not repeat myself here. I am grateful to be alive every single day.

Tragically, not everyone who has a mammogram and later receives the dreaded diagnosis “You have breast cancer.” will make it through treatment and live. My heart is full of grief for these women and men and the people who love them.

Having a mammogram could help you or someone you love to survive breast cancer so I urge you to get regular mammograms.

Pink Merchandise Exploitation

Pink everything is everywhere during October.

Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness
Photo Credit – Dreamstime/Msc1974

Companies and even nonprofit organizations cash in on pink and beribboned merchandise. Some of the products you will see for sale include wristbands, t-shirts, key chains, lingerie, coffee mugs, jewelry, tote bags, Christmas tree ornaments, sunglasses, hats, shoes, pens, candy, stickers, bottled water, party decorations, posters, tools, and cosmetics.

Although some companies contribute a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research or support services for women and men undergoing treatment, many do not.

I know that the plethora of pink ribbons and other pink items are upsetting for some women and men for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the sheer volume of stuff available ensures that you will run across items that may offend you. For instance, I cannot decide which is worse the t-shirt with the statement “Save Second Base” or the button that says, “I have chemo brain. What’s your excuse?”

However, I admit that I have purchased pink Breast Cancer Awareness gear over the years.

In 2012 before my breast cancer diagnosis, on a whim, I bought an Oakland Raiders baseball cap during the NFL’s annual “Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign.

As a newly minted breast cancer survivor in 2016 needing tennis shoes, I selected a black pair with pink accents and a tiny pink ribbon on the heel.

Before October rolled around in 2017, I carefully selected two pink ribbon brooches that I could see myself alternately wearing for 31 days a year for years to come. I also bought a sheet of pink ribbon stickers so I could attach one to the letter I was writing to Scott Pruitt, who was the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time.

Last October, I attended a Raiders game in Oakland with my sister and my niece. I was wearing a pink ribbon pin and my pink Raiders baseball hat. The Raiders team colors are black and silver so when you are walking around among thousands of people wearing a pink hat you really stand out. Maybe no one noticed, but maybe someone did.

If even one woman or one man seeing a pink ribbon worn by anyone or on anything survive breast cancer because she or he first got a mammogram and then treatment, I am willing to wear a pink ribbon every October forever.

Featured Image at Top: Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon and Pink Speech Bubbles – Photo Credit Shutterstock/hidesy

Related Posts

Resources

  • Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 – American Cancer Society (From this webpage you can download a report containing data about all cancers including breast cancer.)
  • MammographySavesLives – The American College of Radiology (This website provides a broad range of information including survivor stories and a tool for finding mammogram facilities in your area.)
  • Mammography – Susan G. Komen (This webpage has good information but the video is antiquated.)
  • My First Mammogram Dispelled Every Myth About the Procedure – Borgess Medical Center (This is a video of Heather McGregor getting her first mammogram. Of course, there is variation in equipment and facilities, but this video will give you a good idea of what a mammogram is like. In my experience, the technician does not share images during the exam.)
  • National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (This webpage provides information about free and low-cost screenings in the United States.)