Shifting Perspectives of Wind Energy

Welcome back to the educational section of ClimateRoots! Today, we are continuing our conversation on wind energy by discussing the shifting perspectives on the industry. Like so many issues in America today, wind energy has become highly polarized. There are some people who think of wind farms as a step in the right direction for the future of our energy system, while others consider the turbines an eyesore. Some object to the turbines’ interference with wildlife, while others see beauty and simplicity in their design. In this issue of ClimateRoots, we will be exploring some of the divisive narrative surrounding wind energy in 2021.


Whatever the reason may be, these differing opinions are shaping the complicated and evolving attitudes on the use of wind energy in the United States. A June 2021 Pew Research Poll illustrates the stark partisan divide over wind energy. The report found that 91% of Democrats support expanding wind and solar, while 62% of Republicans support an expansion, a decrease from the 75% of Republican support as recently as 2020 (Kennedy and Spencer).


Additionally, there seems to be a general misunderstanding of the reliability, price and perceived effectiveness of wind energy among the American public. Forty four percent of Americans view wind generated electricity as less reliable than other energy sources, with only 18% seeing it as equally reliable (Kennedy and Spencer). Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to claim that wind is unreliable. There is also a clear division in the way the American public perceives the cost of wind energy, with the Pew study reporting that, “... 35% of adults say the cost from wind power is lower than that of most other energy sources, while 34% say it is about the same and 26% say it is higher”


One cause for wind energy's mixed reputation could be that the average American isn’t seeing the turbines in action in their daily life. As we discussed in our first ClimateRoots issue focusing on wind, horizontal axis turbines are the most common in the United States. These turbines are very large and often in expansive, isolated areas. Considering that about 82.6% of Americans live in cities or urban areas (“United States - Urbanization 2020”), access and familiarity to large-scale wind is lacking, especially when compared to other forms of renewables like solar, which are much more visible and adaptable to urban environments.


Renewable energy, but more specifically wind energy, has recently become a popular scapegoat for energy grid failings, likely contributing to what 44% of Americans perceive as its “unreliability” as an energy source. During February of 2021, Texas experienced an abnormal cold snap, causing power failures across the state. These failures were largely attributed to frozen wind turbines by Republican politicians throughout the state, despite the fact that “failures in natural gas, coal and nuclear energy systems were responsible for nearly twice as many outages as renewables” (“US Conservatives Falsely Blame Renewables for Texas Storm Outages”). This is not a new or unique narrative, as it has popped up frequently in the last decade or so in response to climate change, political opposition and energy industry competition.

This is a heated and complex debate of which we have only scratched the surface. However, we feel it's important to grasp the roots of the problem, which makes us all better equipped to face the larger changes and challenges to come in future decades. In the next issue of ClimateRoots we will begin our focus on our fourth type of renewable… geothermal!!



 

Bibliography



Kennedy, Brian, and Alison Spencer. “Most Americans Support Expanding Solar and Wind Energy, but Republican Support Has Dropped.” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/06/08/most-americans-support-expanding-solar-and-wind-energy-but-republican-support-has-dropped/. Accessed 31 Aug. 2021.


“United States - Urbanization 2020.” Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/269967/urbanization-in-the-united-states/. Accessed 1 Sept. 2021.


“US Conservatives Falsely Blame Renewables for Texas Storm Outages.” The Guardian, 17 Feb. 2021, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/feb/17/conservatives-falsely-blame-renewables-for-texas-storm-outages.


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