A new report suggesting wind-turbines can emit more carbon dioxide than the most efficient gas turbines has put the pro-wind community on the defensive over the benefits of the supposed "clean" energy alternative. The findings, out of social policy think tank Civitas, point to research by Dutch physicist Dr. Kees le Pair, which found wind-turbines on "normal windy days" lead to increased gas consumption, when intermittency and construction costs are taken into account. The Guardian's Leo Hickman notes the report's author is a vocal anti-renewables critic. And the renewable community isn't about to let the finding dominate the conversation.

The Case Against Wind Energy 

  • Building turbines produces carbon dioxide. It takes between about 18 months for wind turbines to make up for the energy costs of construction, estimates the Le Pair paper. And each turbine has to be replaced every 12-30 years. For his calculations Le Pair used 15 years and added another line for "wind fans" that used replacement turbines every 30 years. 
  • Grid adaptation. To connect the turbines to the rest of the electricity grid also produces carbon dioxide in the process of constructing power lines.  
  • The intermittency problem. Since wind is an unreliable source, turbines rely on various forms of storage and transmission methods that rely on traditional fossil fuels. 
  • Turbines use electricity to run. Not completely sustainable, these turbines rely on electricity to start and warm their parts
  • The energy cost of repair.

Taking all of this into account, Le Pair found:

A 300 MW nameplate wind project near Schiphol on August 28, 2011, a normal windy day, during 21,5 h would have increased the amount of natural gas needed for the electricity production of 500 MW with 47150 m3 gas. This would have caused an extra emission of 117,9 ton CO2 into the atmosphere.

The Pro-Wind Argument

  • Le Pair's intermittency calculation's are off, from the WWF. Pointing to a report by Bloomberg, the WWF argues  the best windfarms in the world already produce power as economically as coal, gas and nuclear generators; the average wind farm will be fully competitive by 2016."
  • His findings overlook the benefits of interconnection. The more turbines integrate into the grid, the less reliant the grid is on gas -- it's a domino effect -- found European Climate Foundation Roadmap 2050 report
  • Most wind turbines use fewer fossil-fuel sucking solutions to manage intermittency problems than Le Pair estimates. And his calculation is off because he just looks at one turbine, rather than an entire fleet, argues the RenewableUK.
  • It produces more carbon dioxide to build and maintain non-renewable energy sources, adds The Energy Research Center
  • Hickman also notes that Le Pair's research was published on his personal website and has not been peer reviewed.