Windmills vs Oil: health issues, bird kill, rare earth elements, lithium batteries & cradle-to-grave cost/benefit

There is a valid question on windmills affecting health. So far, nothing definitive has been found. The interesting question is how does wind stack up against oil for health issues?

“It’s not that we don’t believe that people aren’t feeling well or aren’t sleeping well,” […] “What we don’t know is how that is related to presence or absence of a wind turbine.”

My wife, for example, totally hates the sight of wind turbines! I think they look cool in the distance, but are imposing up close.

https://www.pbs.org/…/can-wind-turbines-make-you-sick/

“[A negative placebo] effect may be driving people’s reported problems is backed up by a 2014 study that pointed out that health complaints are more common in areas with the most negative publicity about the alleged harmful effects of turbines. A large-scale population survey in the Netherlands found that reports of stress and sleep disturbance were more common in areas where the turbines were visible.”

““We were not against the turbines before they went in [but after] we were dizzy, had vertigo like you wouldn’t believe,” […] One theory from residents as to why these effects don’t show up in the studies is that the Vermont mountains funnel the sound in a way that the flatlands of the Midwest do not. Others say some people may just be more susceptible than others to the inaudible noise, like sea sickness.”

” the closer the respondents lived to wind turbines the lower they ranked the quality of life of their environment. The original study found no link between sound levels and these quality of life ratings. Though because there is no baseline data for the sample, […]it’s difficult to distinguish whether respondents were dissatisfied before the wind turbines were installed.

“But it does suggest that there’s something other than sound itself that influences those perceptions,”

Fossil fuels: 52,000 premature deaths per year, costing nearly $5 billion

Workers are 4x more likely to get hurt than the average US worker. Coal particulates: linked to the 4 major forms of cancer in the US, and countless respiratory problems. “Circulatory, respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and urogenital issues, as well as birth defects are elevated in coal-mining regions.”

[fracking] can introduce unsafe levels of naturally occurring toxins, radioactive materials, and toxic heavy metals into drinking water. Fracking also increases toxic smog composed of volatile organic compounds (VOCs, or hazardous air pollutants). A study published in the journal Science Advances of over 1.1 million births in Pennsylvania over nearly a decade found that women who lived within two miles of a fracking site were more likely to give birth to low-weight babies.

“Chemicals used in the natural gas extraction process and stored in open-air waste pits are hazardous to the lungs, liver, kidneys, blood, and brain.

Exposure to toxic chemicals like benzene and n-hexane from crude oil spills can cause chronic mental, physical, and physiological health effects in local residents and cleanup workers.”

” 12.6 million Americans are exposed daily to toxic air pollution from active oil and gas wells and from transport and processing facilities. These include benzene (linked to childhood leukemia and blood disorders) and formaldehyde (a cancer-causing chemical). A booming fracking industry will bring that pollution to more backyards, despite mounting evidence of the practice’s serious health impacts. Mining operations are no better, especially for the miners themselves, generating toxic airborne particulate matter. “

Sulfur, mercury, car smog on a hot day, I could go on, but to not use wind in our energy mix because some, not all, people are getting headaches and can’t sleep is fixable: we don’t locate them too near people. The far, far bigger health problems of fossil fuels is a much bigger problem that has no solution. If we fold in the health effects of global warming, yikes, do fossil fuels look just terrible.

 

https://www.pbs.org/…/can-wind-turbines-make-you-sick/

https://climatenexus.org/…/the-localized-health…/

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/fossil-fuels-dirty-facts

 

Windmills vs oil: birds & resource footprint

Rare earth elements: used 20x more in the oil industry than wind! And much of the extraction industry, including oil, also concentrates radioactive waste 🙂

“Rare earths were in a list of 35 minerals deemed critical to U.S. security and economic prosperity”

  • Protected by the Trump administration, and thus exempted from the trade war
  • Used in oil production, medical equipment, military gear and consumer electronics

Global REE consumption by energy application per year:

  • Fluid Cracking Catalysts: 35,000 (used in the oil industry)
  • Wind Turbine Magnets: 2,000 (the one they are whining about)
  • Transportation: Diesel Additives 200 (oil)
  • Transportation: Hybrid Vehicles 9300 (oil/electric)
  • Transportation: Catalytic Converters 5100 (oil)

Bird Kill: oil kills 6x more each year from waste pits, spills and collisions (even more if you count air pollution deaths), and one research paper ranked turbine kill “biologically insignificant” at a major wind farm on a major migration route.

“TENORM is NORM in which the concentration or availability of radionuclides has been enhanced by anthropogenic activities such as mining or utilization. Examples include the scale buildup in piping used in oil production that contains elevated concentrations of radium and its decay products, or fly ash from burning coal.” [and REE]

https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/renewable/wind/big-winds-dirty-little-secret-rare-earth-minerals/?fbclid=IwAR3kXeaAr5c5FryvaYUv7lfWYeEqyISaCjt6pceI-el0_SAPc_9gohQE6aQ

https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/8/3/2066/pdf

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-rareearths/u-s-leaves-rare-earths-critical-minerals-off-china-tariff-list-idUSKCN1SK1R5

https://factcheck.afp.com/bird-deaths-misleading-numbers-conceal-biggest-culprits

I get why Trump exempted REEs from the trade war: they are used in a lot of important things, not just wind, like laptops, military gear and medical equipment. But that’s why I’d rather he subsidize the US producer; long-term, the world needs a 2nd source of this critical resource, which in turn pressures China to clean up.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-rareearths/u-s-leaves-rare-earths-critical-minerals-off-china-tariff-list-idUSKCN1SK1R5

This is an interesting paper on the topic: it covers the China and US REE mines, radiation from mining in general and China REE radiation specifically, and uses of REEs overall.

“TENORM is NORM in which the concentration or availability of radionuclides

has been enhanced by anthropogenic activities such as mining or utilization. Examples include the scale buildup in piping used in oil production that contains elevated concentrations of radium and its decay products, or fly ash from burning coal.” And of course REEs.

“Of Bayan Obo’s thorium content, 96%–98% ends up in solid waste, 0.1%–0.5% leaves in exhaustgas, and 0.6%–2.0% goes to liquid effluents”

So it really shouldn’t be a problem corralling the solid waste, but because nobody cares about the environment in China, they have a waste water problem. This is what lets them undercut the US REE mine; the US requires cleaning up.

https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/8/3/2066/pdf

 

Another attempt by the oil industry to smear green energy. The rebuttal:

  • Ninety percent of a turbine’s parts can be recycled or sold
  • US company has fielded a process to recycle such blades and is ramping up capacity
  • In other countries that have used wind turbines for decades, recycling blades is required
  • A typical wind project repays its production carbon footprint in six months or less, providing 20 years of zero-emission energy.
  • Compare and contrast recyclable blades to the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to cleanup abandoned wells in Alberta alone. Add in TERM radioactive waste from oil production, the “largest form of avoidable radiation in America.” Flavor with the $65B to clean up the Gulf oil spill.
  • And if somebody brings up bird kill: yup, it happens. Summary: fewer birds die from wind than from oil!
  • Considered “biologically insignificant”, one paper cites 6,800 deaths out of a migration population of 69,000,000 at one major US wind farm.
  • Canada:
  • Wind: 3,060 bird deaths
  • Oil production: 18,661 bird deaths
  • Wind    (US): killed between 140,438 and 234,012 birds
  • Oil pits (US): killed between 500,000 and 750,000 birds
  • Oil spills: 500,000
  • Power lines: electrocute over 900,000
  • Cats: 1,400,000
  • American skyscrapers: 600,000,000
  • Oil-based air pollution: uncounted but estimated in the millions (birds are unusually susceptible to carbon monoxide, sulfur and particulates).

So, yup, it sucks to be a bird. But they are actually better off with wind than oil…

Windmill and e-car cradle to grave costs

You’re right on some points, but put them in context of building gas powered cars vs e-cars, and the cradle to grave costs, which are about half that of gas cars.

1) Yes, e-cars require production, just like gas cars and everything else in the world. They are only slightly heavier to produce (and dropping) versus gas powered cars, and the resources used to make e-cars are used in everything else too.

Note also that the car industry is betting heavily on e-cars, as by 2025, they expect them to be cheaper to build than a gas-powered car (which also means a lower production footprint). They are already cheaper to operate, so the projected consumer demand is high (‘look honey! It costs less, and we don’t have to buy gas anymore!’). They’re ramping up big time; about 1/4 of the lineup for some major makers will be electric or hybrid. In ten years, 50% of the lineup.

2) The whole point is *not* to burn coal anymore. Yes, e-cars consume power, but if renewables are used, it is a big net win in resource consumption, not to mention carbon production. And given solar and wind now beat out coal for new production plants, and sometimes even gas plants, one can expect much of the grid moving this way. Given they don’t require fuel, oil/coal just can’t compete as the raw technology continues to improve and production scale of economy kicks in. You just need an automated factory and you can churn out as many solar panels as you’d like. India just cancelled two new, huge coal plants because the solar bid came in cheaper!

3) Yes, the recycling costs are too high still. But they are coming down with such strong demand for lithium batteries. They’re the same ones used in your cell phone and everything else, so they are in big demand. Interestingly, lithium batteries are less toxic than most other batteries, but recycling is tough because it is such a reactive metal.

4) The cradle to grave numbers are quite good; 1/2 that of gas cars, including production of batteries, and the coal/oil heavy power used today, so it will continue to get better as the tech improves and more of the grid converts to the cheaper-anyways renewable plants.

5) Wind turbines: they typically pay back their carbon production debt in 6 months, then provide 20+ years of emissions-free service.

https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/cleaner-cars-cradle-grave

https://greencitizen.com/recycling-lithium-ion-batteries/

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