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Home > Issues > Beyond Fossil Fuels to Clean Energy > Clean Energy Solutions > Wind Energy

Wind Energy is Good for Wisconsin's Health, Economy, and Environment!

The worst forms of energy are fossil fuels.  Coal is the largest contributor to climate-change-causing carbon dioxide and is toxic to public health as it is the leading contributor to asthma and mercury.  Natural gas fracking is the cause of the decimation of a large portion of our state with frac-sand mining.  Nuclear leaves hazardous waste resting on the shores of our most important water bodies, including the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

 

Wind energy is one of the most prominent with thehighest potential.  It's good for Wisconsin's health, economy, and environment.

Good For Wisconsin's Health:

Burning coal is toxic to our health.   Soot pollution from coal-fired power plants has been linked to over 550,000 asthma attacks, 38,000 heart attacks, and 22,000 avoidable deaths annually in the United States. In Wisconsin, over 123,000 children and over 400,000 adults struggle with asthma.  Asthma alone costs Wisconsin over $1 billion each year. Burning coal is the only cause of toxic coal ash, which is contaminating drinking water all over our state.  In Caledonia where some residents are being supplied bottled water by We Energies due to excessive levels of molybdenum in their drinking water, which could be the result of coal ash contamination.

Wind farms have been accused of causing a number of health effects—everything from headaches to depression to nose-bleeds to seizures and even heart problems.   ‘Wind turbine syndrome’ has gotten a lot publicity lately; however,there are still no peer-reviewed studies validating wind-turbine syndrome or any health effects from wind farms.  Also, the World Health Organization, or any other health institution for that matter, does not recognize wind turbine syndrome as a disease.

Many have speculated 'wind turbine syndrome' is occurring as a result of the ‘nocebo’ effect.  This is what it is called when people experience health effects from negative information—the mind makes the body sick. One study theorized it could be the result of the power of suggestion. The study showed a group video of people describing their symptoms from a nearby wind farm.  They then exposed half of the participants to infrasound similar to the inaudible, low-frequency sound one hears from a wind farm and the other half to silence claiming to be to be the sound.  The study found those with anxiety felt the symptoms, regardless of which sound they were exposed to.  The scary thing about the nocebo effect is that it is a never-ending cycle.  The more people who hear about a problem, the more people believe they have it.  As more people ‘catch’ the disease, more hear about it and it begins to spin out-of-control.  This could be why we see many people with ‘wind turbine syndrome’ in specific areas of Wisconsin while it rarely occurs in Iowa with almost 10 times the amount of wind energy we have.

Good for Wisconsin's Economy:

Wisconsin already employs 2-3,000 in the windindustry.  Investing in clean energy would stimulate economic development, provide revenue for rural communities, and create much-need jobs in a variety of areas, from manufacturing to research to installation and maintenance positions.  Clean-energy investments create 16.7 jobs for every $1 million in spending. Spending on fossil fuels, by contrast, generates 5.3 jobs per $1million in spending.

Currently, Iowa gets over 20% of its energy from wind and wind energy is growing backbone for theireconomy.  In May, MidAmerican Energy announced it plans to invest $1.9 billion in wind energy projects; this represents the biggest single economic investment to take place in Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.  Republican Governor, Terry Branstad said, “As wind energy goes, so does Iowa’s economy” in response to the announcement.

Opponents argue the biggest concern about clean energy is that it is much more expensive than ‘conventional’ (fossil fuel) energy.  This is not necessarily the case—there are a number of examples of wind being as cheap as or cheaper than coal.  MidAmerican’s project is expected to help stabilize electric rates by 2017.  This cost parity will only continue as more and more wind comes on-line and more Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules continue to reflect the true cost of coal by requiring polluters to pay for their air pollutant emissions.

 

Good for Wisconsin's Environment:

Wind energy is emission-free, so there is nothing to pollute the air or water, unlike fossil fuel generation, which causes climate change, poisons our lakes, rivers, and streams with mercury, and fills our air with toxic soot and smog, wind energy provides an excellent alternative to these problems. 

There is serious concern about the effect of wind on birds and bats. Turbines kill birds at a rate of about 40,000 birds a year (about one bird for every thirty turbines).  Putting that number into perspective, it may not be so bad. Birds running into windows kill about 97 million birds per year, and feral cats are the leading bird-killer with a rate of about 110 million deaths a year. 

With the devastating environment effects birds and bats face from habitat destruction, industrialization, mercury, and other pollution, we need to limit our impact on avian and bat species to as little as possible, and preferably not a single death.  This is the reason Sierra Club’s official wind policy states “there should be appropriate sites for wind power in most general regions of the United States. However, specific sites may prove to have unacceptably high risks for wildlife. In these cases, the Sierra Club should oppose any siting of turbines.”

Climate change will destroy, damage, or permanently change every single ecosystem.  Climate change will lead to (and in some cases already has) birds laying eggs earlier in the year than usual and migrating earlier than usual, plants blooming at different times, mammals coming out of hibernation sooner, changes in the location of certain species.  Climate-change related bird deaths dwarf even the number of bird deaths from feral cats, but certainly from wind turbines.  According to the National Wildlife Federation, climate change is expected to contribute to a 19-39 percent reduction in ducks in the ‘Mississippi Flyway’ zone, which spans from Minnesota to Michigan and Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Climate change could reduce the habitat range for bats.  A new study shows that the Indiana bat, which lives in almost half of the United States, will not be able to live in states like Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio as the temperatures rise.  The study also explains that although a number of animal species are moving location as the climate changes, bats are more susceptible to the changes as their reproductive, hibernation, and migration are much more dependent on temperatures than other animals.

 

Wisconsin is Falling Behind our Neighboring States:

As a result of the legislature suspending Wisconsin’s uniform wind-siting rules, 3 wind turbine projects were canceled, causing the loss of hundreds of megawatts of clean energy and 1,100 potential jobs.  Wisconsin is ranked 18th for its wind resource potential, with about 450 MW of installed projects as of 2010.  Yet, we have less than one fourth of the wind development of Illinois, which has over 1,800 MW in installed projects despite having similar wind potential. Almost 25% of the electricity generated in Iowa comes from wind.  While Wisconsin has actively shut out clean energy, other states have been investing in wind and are gaining the clean energy jobs Wisconsin could have.

 

Total Wind Energy

(MW)

State

Job Creation Rank

Wind
Added
in 2012

5,137 MW Iowa 30 214 MW
3,568 MW Illinois 27 314 MW
2,986 MW Minnesota 39 253 MW
1,543 MW Indiana 11 3 MW
988 MW Michigan 13 138 MW
649 MW Wisconsin 44 5 MW

 

The Sierra Club strongly supports uniform wind siting rules to overcome the patchwork of local regulations that has threatened clean energy jobs in Wisconsin.    PSC 128 offers wind energy businesses with regulatory certainty that is sorely needed in order to compete with neighboring states for wind energy jobs. 

Click here to learn about the Highland Wind Farm in the Town of Forest.

Learn more:

  1. Wisconsin Needs Now! Brochure
  2. 21st Century Jobs White Paper
  3. Clean Energy Myth vs. Fact Handout