New studies estimate that wind turbines will produce 43 million tonnes of waste by 2050. Scientists say that wind energy is an unsustainable environmental disaster that fills landfills and harms wildlife. However, the United States Department of Energy boasts that wind energy is the number one source of renewable energy capacity in the U.S with enough capacity to power over 20 million homes.
“The Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office says that it “leads the nation’s efforts to research and develop innovative technologies, lower the costs, and enable and accelerate the deployment of wind energy throughout the nation. The office has a comprehensive portfolio and invests through cooperative agreements with a variety of businesses, universities, laboratories, and other organizations.” The Department’s Wind Vision Study Scenario seeks to increase the nation’s wind energy supply 35% by year 2050, and it uses incentives like government grants and tax credits to achieve this goal.
The government claims that wind power is sustainable, but The Journal of Waste Management’s 2017 publication titled “Wind Turbine Blade Waste in 2050” states that wind turbine blades are filling landfills. In addition to the blades, the study states that there is up to 45% additional waste from manufacturing, testing, and the in-service stages of wind turbine usage. The scientists estimate that there will be 43 million tonnes of worldwide blade waste by 2050. The estimated numbers were based on current data from sales and production, and did not account for the government’s plan to dramatically increase turbine use by 2050.
A study from October 2016 titled “Unsustainable Wind Turbine Blade Disposal Practices in the United States” calls for policy interventions to encourage industry to improve wind turbine blade production and disposal. They state that although trashing the blades in landfills is the most cost-effective method of disposal, it has environmental costs that need to be accounted for.
Studies also show that wind turbines can be a threat to wild life. The government admits that spinning turbine blades pose a threat to bats, but the most recent study that they show on the topic is from 2013 and has stats which differ from more recent studies. The Wind Energy Technologies Office (A division of the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy) claims that bat fatality rates have been reported at levels between 1-30 bats/MW per year.
A 2017 study states that wind turbines threaten hoary bat populations to the level of extinction. Scientists estimate that 90% of the the hoary bat population could be lost to turbines in the next 50 years. The scientists state that policy decisions need to include conservation measures that need to be initiated immediately.
When compared to oil, coal or nuclear power, wind seems like a good idea for energy. However, wind turbines are made from non-recyclable parts that are creating tonnes of waste. The American government needs to stop giving incentives with tax dollars for wind technology, but instead, support development of truly clean, alternative energy and freedom in the energy industry.