Long-Term Study Sheds New Light on Climate Change Impact Of Wind Farms
April 29, 2012

Study Sheds New Light On Climate Change Impact Of Wind Farms

Large wind farms located in certain regions of the United States can cause a slight increase in local temperatures, potentially impacting local climate and farming while also raising doubts about the long-term sustainability of wind power, various media outlets reported on Sunday.

According to Robert Lee Hotz of the Wall Street Journal, researchers from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany and the University of Illinois spent nine years analyzing satellite readings of the areas surrounding four of the largest wind farms, all of which are based in Texas.

They discovered that, while these facilities do produce clean and renewable energy, the temperatures near the ground increase because the rotor blades on their turbines pull down warmer air.

Discovery News writer Eric Niiler, who said that the "phenomena that could put a damper on efforts to expand wind energy as a green energy solution," noted that the researchers used satellite data obtained between 2003 and 2011 in order to check out the surface temperatures across the western part of the state, where all four of those wind farms are located.

Niiler said that they discovered "a direct correlation" between the location of those facilities and a nighttime temperature increase of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.72 degrees Celsius).

"This could have long term effects on wildlife living in the immediate areas of larger wind farms," Telegraph Environment Correspondent Louise Gray wrote on Sunday. "It could also affect regional weather patterns as warmer areas affect the formation of cloud and even wind speeds."

"This study indicates that land surface temperatures have warmed in the vicinity of large wind farms in west-central Texas, especially at night," added Anjuli Bamzai, program director in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research, in a statement. "The observations and analyses are for a relatively short period, but raise important issues that deserve attention as we move toward an era of rapid growth in wind farms in our quest for alternate energy sources."

The increasing proliferation of wind power facilities comes as part of a larger initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions believed to be responsible for global climate change, said Reuters' Nina Chestney. She notes that the wind farms located throughout the world can produce 238 gigawatts of electricity at any given time -- a 21% increase in production capacity since 2010, citing information obtained from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

West Texas in particular has been home to much of that expansion, with the Guardian's Damian Carrington noting that the number of turbines had increased from 111 in 2003 to 2,358 last year. He adds that lead author Liming Zhou, an atmospheric scientist at SUNY Albany, compared the average temperatures at those facilities with other areas and noticed a "clear" increase during at night.

"Wind power is going to be a part of the solution to the climate change, air pollution and energy security problem," Zhou told Carrington on Sunday. "But understanding the impacts of wind farms is critical for developing management strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of wind power."

"We need to better understand the system with observations, and better describe and model the complex processes involved, to predict how wind farms may affect future weather and climate," Zhou added, in separate comments made as part of the NSF statement. "The estimated warming trends only apply to the study region and to the study period, and thus should not be interpolated into other regions, globally or over longer periods“¦ For a given wind farm, once there are no new wind turbines added, the warming effect may reach a stable level."