The Massachusetts Cape Wind Project has been in the news this week, and listening to the debate has got me thinking that there is a part of the picture that seems to have been left out of the discussion.
Wind power sounds like a great deal. It is renewable. It doesn’t rely on exploiting oil, coal or other physical reserves. The on-going costs are mostly hardware maintenance.
At the same time, the engineering part of my head keeps whispering “Hey! Energy doesn’t appear from nowhere!”
Wind holds energy. The atmosphere circulates this energy in weather systems. Wind farms generate electricity by pulling energy out of the air, which removes energy from the atmosphere.
This leaves me with a question that I have not heard discussed. What will large withdrawals from the atmosphere’s energy reserves will do to the atmosphere, our weather and our climate? Maybe the effects are invisible while we still have very few wind farms. What will happen if the numbers of wind farms grow dramatically?
I am not suggesting that wind power is a bad idea. The tradeoffs may be far better than those involved with oil, coal and other non-renewable sources. At the same time, I think we should try to have an understanding of what the side effects are pulling our energy “out of the air” will be, since it doesn’t actually come from nowhere!
What do you think? Do you know anyone who has solid background in this area, or have you seen any research on the topic?