In A Nutshell
As our fossil fuels run out rapidly and changing conditions damage our planet, we turn to renewable resources for solutions to the ever-looming energy crisis. Wind power has always been lauded as one of the best alternatives, but some studies suggest that wind turbines on a massive scale could significantly raise global temperatures.
The Whole Bushel
A few years back, a representative from Texas named Joe Barton got in the news because he said that “wind energy is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down, which would cause the temperature to go up.” It’s a pretty boneheaded thing to say.
The only problem is that Barton never actually uttered those specific words. Not only was Barton misquoted, but he was taken out of context.
He was actually quoting an academic paper written by Jay Apt, who is the head of Carnegie Mellon’s Electricity Industry Center. In other words, Barton was not just being ignorant about science, he was actually letting real scientists do the talking for him.
In the paper he quoted, Professor Apt actually states the following: “Wind energy is a finite resource. At large scale, slowing down the wind by using its energy to turn turbines has environmental consequences.” As you can imagine, this is quite a bit different from the meme that ran around the Internet a few years back.
Researchers from Princeton discovered that wind turbines often cause the soil near the turbines to be greatly affected—it dries out very quickly and the soil can mix differently. Then, a team from Carnegie Mellon estimated that if wind power was used for as much as even 10 percent of the world’s energy, it could cause certain parts of the world to change temperature by 1 degree Celsius.
Barton was simply suggesting as the paper he was quoting did: that on a very massive scale, wind power may actually cause some temperatures to rise.
(He later pointed out the irony of the possibility that a large-scale switch to wind power could possibly increase temperatures, providing the latter half of the conflated quote above.)
While this particular study was hypothetical as it is predicting a future that has not yet come to pass, there have been tests on localized areas with wind farms to investigate possible changes in atmosphere and temperature.
While more study is definitely needed, results do suggest that wind turbines were associated with the surrounding area becoming slightly warmer. A decade-long study of multiple major wind farms in Texas found that the temperature rose roughly 0.72 degrees Celsius in the areas were wind farms were present.
Scientists also believe that the temperature change caused by the wind turbines is felt most strongly at night. The Sun usually goes down and cools everything off, but the wind turbines keep constantly turning and generating heat all the same. While it’s hard to say if massive amounts of wind turbines could seriously affect global temperatures, it is something that will require more research in the years ahead as it becomes increasingly important to find alternative forms of energy.