Environmental Impact
 
Contrary to claims made by wind advocates, wind energy is not environmentally benign. Many people support ridge top wind development without any regard for, or perhaps an understanding of, the degree of environmental damage these projects produce. Commercial wind turbines can be 450 feet tall and 10-15 feet in diameter at their base, and may have blades over 150 feet long. These large structures dominate the typically rural or wild landscape. The extreme height of turbines, the spinning rotor blades, noise, vibration, and shadow flicker ensure intrusiveness far out of proportion to their minimal energy benefits. Wide roads must be built for the large equipment necessary to transport these large structures. Each turbine requires a cleared and level space of from 3-5 acres, and a concrete pad to support the turbine. A commercial wind project will require a large portion of a ridgeline to be clear-cut, blasted and leveled. There will be transmission lines and towers constructed to transmit the power from the turbines. Large wind projects require one or more substations covering 2 acres. Does this sound green?
Noise, shadow flicker,and vibration from large wind turbines have caused health problems in many rural homeowners - forcing some to abandon their
homes.
 

Many people are unaware of the destructive mining practices that are used for “rare earth” elements used in wind turbines. These elements come almost entirely from China from some of the most environmentally damaging mines in the country. The industry is dominated by criminal gangs and the workers have little or no protection. Rare earth mining in China is a messy, dangerous, polluting business that uses toxic chemicals, acids, sulfates, and ammonia. The environmental problems include air emissions with harmful elements such as fluorine and sulfur, and wastewater that contains acid and radioactive materials. A single wind turbine may contain 2 tons of rare earth elements. It is curious that in the name of environmental consciousness the same people that condemn mountaintop coal mining are in favor of commercial wind development on the Appalachian Mountains.

 

Commercial wind projects on forested mountain ridges causes forest fragmentation and extensive loss of forest interior habitat. Interior forest is defined as habitat that is more than 100 meters from a clearing. For decades, professional foresters have been preaching the ills of forest fragmentation. It destroys deep woods habitat and interferes with wildlife corridors. Unfragmented Appalachian forests are essential for maintaining viable populations of many bird and animal species. Clear cutting ridgelines exposes forest humus to decomposition from increased sunlight. The soil on top of mountain ridges is thin and has a high percentage of organic matter. This organic matter acts like a sponge that holds water and slowly releases it into rock fissures. These fissures are conduits for water to reach underground aquifers that feed our wells, springs, and rivers. Removing the organic matter from our ridge tops diminishes water supply to underground aquifers because of increased surface run-off.
A wind turbine requires a large concrete pad for
support - a commercial wind project causes extensive damage to once pristine natural forested ridgelines.
 
Scientists are particularly concerned about the effects of wind projects on birds and bats. Wind projects on forested Appalachian ridges have the highest bird and bat fatalities documented world wide. Raptors are particularly at risk. Research shows that raptors have problems with “motion smear” – they have fantastic eyesight, but cannot see fast moving turbine blade tips and are vulnerable to strikes. (Blade tips can travel up to 125 mph). Songbirds are also at risk. Since they often migrate at night, songbirds use the mountain ridges and valleys as navigational cues. The most alarming result of wind energy has been the extraordinarily high mortality rate for Appalachian bats. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended that wind developers avoid areas of bird and bat concentration. A recent ongoing study by the National Park Service indicates that moderate noise can have major impacts on animals. The intrusive noise generated by commercial wind projects is well documented.
Wind projects in the Appalachian Mountains have the highest bird and bat fatalities documented worldwide.
 
Below are before and after aerial photos of a mountain top wind project in West Virginia. Commentary by Dan Boone follows. Mr. Boone is a professional ecologist and natural resource policy analyst. He has been actively engaged with issues and concerns regarding commercial wind development for 7 years.
 
Mountaineer Wind Power Site, Tucker County, WV
 
USGS Orthophoto maps annotated by Dan Boone
 
 
Site of a portion of the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center in 1997, five years before the start of construction. This is a digital color infrared photograph, which explains the odd coloration. The red areas are the conifer tree species (spruce, pine and hemlock) which are highly reflective of infrared light. The photo was taken during the winter so the brown areas depict the bare deciduous forest, mostly northern hardwoods — maple, birch, cherry, and northern red oak. The green bar at lower left is a 100m [328 foot] scale. This study area was chosen to compare before and after conditions, illustrating the impact of this type of development.
 
 
This is a post-construction photo in natural color covering the same area as shown above. The yellow circles are in the same locations as above to allow accurate comparisons. It is somewhat difficult to pick out the actual wind turbines but their prominent shadows are easily discernable. They are black lines pointing roughly NE except the two in the SW corner, which poin WNW in this composite photo. The 44 turbines of the Mountaineer project were manufactured by NEG Micon and imported from Denmark. They are 345 feet tall and each turbine can generate up to 1.5 MW when the wind is blowing optimally. However, because the winds blowing over Appalachian ridges are intermittent and only occasionally ‘optimal’, a realistic estimate of the annual average generating potential for a 1.5-MW turbine in this region would be less than 0.5 MW, a 30% capacity factor.
 
 
This is a wider view from the same photograph. The study area is shown by the rectanglular outline.
 
All of these photos have been reduced by 50% from Dan’s originals in order to make them reasonable for web display. If anyone would like the full-res versions for more detailed analysis please contact Dan Boone and ask him to send them.

Following is Dan’s commentary on these maps.

The first two images show the extensive forest-interior habitat that existed before the windplant was constructed and the resulting impacts following construction in late 2002. The third image shows the southern half of the windplant (about 22 turbines) and identifies the boundaries of the study area for the pre- vs. post-construction analysis. It also shows that the study area I chose was fairly representative of the existing habitat conditions at this windplant and gives a better view of the magnitude of the development’s impacts on forest and especially forest-interior habitat. [Forest interior is the type of habitat that exists at more than 100 meters from a clearing. Forest interior is required for the survival of certain species and is the type of habitat most easily destroyed by any form of development.]

On the portion of the site that I analyzed, the construction of this wind factory cleared over 42 acres of forest for the string of eight turbines (out of 44) that I analyzed. The extensive fragmentation of habitat resulting from the 50-ft-wide service road and the 5+ acres (average) that were bulldozed to erect each turbine caused the loss of over 150 acres of forest-interior conditions within this once-contiguous
forest tract.

My estimate is that a complete analysis of the entire project area, including 5.5 miles of ridgetop and 44 turbines, would find a total of nearly 200 acres of forest were cleared and over 750 acres of forest-interior habitat was lost following construction of the Mountaineer wind energy facility.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

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