Dismantling myths surrounding wind energy

Pedro Fresco presents his book Energy Fakes and dismantles some common myths about wind energy.

The myths and mythologies that surround wind energy are not much different from those spread about photovoltaics. Renewable energies, in general, are the target of certain groups with political, economic, or personal interests who do not want a transition to renewables to take place or at least want it to happen as slowly as possible. Since they share the same goal, they are usually attacked as a whole, although there are also myths that are specific to wind energy.

I would say there are two types of myths and falsehoods. Some of them I wouldn’t even qualify as such, but rather as absurdities. This includes the recent case of rabbits turning carnivorous because they were near a wind farm or those striking health symptoms that some people claimed to have experienced since being near wind farms, such as an increase in dioptrics, sudden aging, lack of sexual desire, or a continuous need to use the bathroom. These “anecdotes” are even humorous and, beyond their circulation in some especially conspiratorial thought environments, do not pose a greater danger.

The ones that are dangerous, and which I address in my latest book Energy Fakes, are those that are plausible, popular, and quite widespread. The attacks on renewable energies, in general, come from two seemingly antagonistic groups, but who say the same things: collapsists and climate change procrastinators. Both claim that it is impossible for renewable energies to satisfy humanity’s energy consumption, that they are expensive and subsidized, that there are not enough materials to build them, that more energy is needed to manufacture and install them than the energy they can provide, or that they cannot be integrated into the electrical grid.

This collection of myths is nothing more than a set of arguments built on information and anecdotes collected from things that have been said for decades. Some of them were true in the past and, thanks to the technological development of recent times, are no longer true (such as those that said they were expensive or could not be integrated in large percentages into the electrical grid), but others are nothing more than irrational obsessions or manipulations for the sake of creating confusion, uncertainty, and thus attempting to prevent change from occurring.

Regarding more specific wind energy myths, I would like to highlight three. The first is one we encounter every summer during wildfires, and it’s the one that claims that forests are being burned to facilitate the installation of wind farms. This myth is debunked every time it appears, but months later it reappears and needs to be debunked again. Burning a piece of land does not facilitate the installation of a wind farm; in fact, I would say it makes it more difficult. However, no matter how many times it is debunked, it always resurfaces alongside that edited picture of a wind farm in Greece that plays with perspective to create the illusion.

Vía Maldita

Another widespread myth is that the installation of wind turbines damages the tourism of an area. I have analyzed a dozen scientific articles on this matter and I can say that I have not found any evidence to support this claim. I have only read one article that, in my opinion, forced its conclusions to say that there was a very small negative effect of wind turbines on tourism, something that, analyzing the numbers in the article itself, seemed more like an attempt to see things that aren’t there (there were contradictory effects depending on the year and whether the municipality was on the coast or inland).

This myth, by the way, has also been extended to solar energy, although there are not as many studies in this case because large solar farms are much more recent than wind farms. The only accredited relationship I have found between tourism and renewables is the tourist tours that are done in many parts of the world to visit offshore wind farms or even solar farms.

The third myth I wanted to highlight is the terrible effect of wind turbines on birds. Obviously, wind turbines kill birds, but they kill much less than other human infrastructures such as buildings, vehicles, poisoning, or collision with power lines. And the main cause: domestic cats, which are not an infrastructure, but their extension has been human responsibility. No, wind turbines are not an existential threat to birds. Another thing is that the parks are located in areas where they harm very sensitive species, but to analyze this there are environmental impact studies and the corresponding authorizations, and there are also more and more preventive, corrective, and compensatory measures to minimize the negative impacts of wind farms.

There are many more myths and I have not even been able to include them all in Energy Fakes because it would have been an infinite book. Rumors, moreover, are recycled, recombined, and adapted to survive and generate distrust, which is their fundamental objective. Fundamentally, they are like a virus, which mutates, spreads, and adapts when you fight it. Hence they are so difficult to eradicate.

But let’s be optimistic. Humans have only managed to eradicate smallpox, but we have reduced the incidence and severity of many viruses and diseases. With rumors, we can and should do the same. We will never eradicate them, they will always survive in dark internet reservoirs and mutate to try to confuse in another way, but we will reduce their harmful effect on our society.

Because there is no society that can progress if myths, rumors, and conspiratorial thinking end up dominating it. Fake news is a big problem of our time and in the energy sector we are not immune to this. Let’s get to work to combat them, because otherwise they will end up with us.

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