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Carolyn Stoughton

Wind Energy

Wind Energy in the Context of the Green New Deal

Abstract

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has recently proposed the Green New

Deal in an attempt to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase benefits to communities

within the United States. Due to fossil fuels’ damaging effects on the environment and various

communities, there has been a search for an alternative energy source that will be cost-effective,

will mitigate impacts upon local communities, and will limit the negative effects on the

environment. Research shows that wind energy will not contribute to the current pollution and

climate change that the world is facing; however, the companies associated with wind energy are

counteracting this benefit by harming communities during its implementation. While wind

energy has a promising future as a clean energy source, it will not benefit disadvantaged

communities or meet all the goals of the Green New Deal, unless changes are made to current

systems and policies in place for energy companies and government agencies.

Introduction

Due to the increasing concern over how climate change affects both the health of the

Earth and future generations, people are desperately searching for a cost-effective, clean, and

long-lasting energy source to rely on. People are specifically looking at renewable energy

sources as a viable option to replace the current fossil-fuel power plants that dominate the

electricity market. Throughout the debate, solar, wind, and hydropower energies are analyzed

and critiqued to see if they are promising possibilities for the energy future. During the analysis,

it is important to look at how these renewable energy resources not only benefit the environment,

but people as well. Most renewable energy sources are clean and do not contribute to the CO2
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build-up in the atmosphere. However, some of these renewable sources can have farther reaching

negative impacts on communities and people in the United States. This paper specifically

examines the benefits and consequences of wind energy, as well as how wind energy has

advanced to become a practical contender for future energy use.

This paper will first look at a historical account of wind energy and how it has developed

over the centuries and decades to become the advanced technology it is now. It will then provide

an analysis of the current issues concerning the use of wind energy through the context of the

Green New Deal in the United States. Within these issues, it will analyze how indigenous people

are affected if this renewable energy resource becomes popular around the country. It will also

look at how wind energy not only benefits, but also threatens, the U.S. economy and job market.

Wind energy should be considered an effective and practical option for replacing other fossil-

fuel powered energy sources, but people must also look at all aspects of its practices, and how

groups of people are influenced, so that these practices can be corrected and adjusted to let wind

energy benefit all groups involved.

Literature Review

For centuries, people have been using wind energy for various purposes in the world. The

first account of wind energy being used dates to 5,000 BC when people moved boats along the

Nile River, resulting in faster transportation of goods and food (U.S. Energy Information

Administration, 2018). The use of wind energy for sailing expanded again during the period of

colonization as Europeans travelled to the New World. Europeans learned how to combine

square and triangular sails in the late Middle Ages in order to use wind energy more effectively

and transport consumer goods and their colonial power around the world (Smil, 2006). Wind was
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first used for sailing but has expanded to more sophisticated uses since its energy was first

harnessed.

Windmills became the next innovative technology related to wind energy. Windmills

were invented in the 1600s by the Dutch, who based the design off the waterwheels (Smil, 2006).

After the windmill was introduced to Europe, it was then brought to the Americas to more

effectively “grind grain,...pump water, and...cut wood at sawmills,” (U.S. Energy Information

Administration, 2018, para. 3). In the 1920s, smaller wind turbines were used for electricity in

rural areas, but after power lines and grid-connected electricity became popular in the rural areas,

windmill use dramatically declined, only being used by a few farmers for food production and to

pump water (Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d.).

In today’s society, wind turbines are the primary machines used for wind energy. In the

1970s, when oil shortages threatened the energy environment of the world, people began to look

for alternative resources to generate electricity, a viable option being wind energy (U.S. Energy

Information Administration, 2018). The United States started funding projects and research on

wind energy and wind turbines in order to increase its development and growth in the electricity

industry (Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d.). Due to federal and state tax incentives and

policies, wind energy became popular in various parts of the United States (U.S. Energy

Information Administration, 2018). Wind energy’s implementation started in California,

resulting in the installation of 15,000 medium –sized turbines to provide “enough power for

every resident of San Francisco” (Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d., para. 7). Since the late

1980s, wind energy has slowly grown in popularity in the energy industry.
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Although the wind sector has expanded, its growth has caused displacement for various

rural and indigenous communities. Many indigenous communities who do not own their land or

have not been confronted about planned uses for the land (wind farms) are displaced or forced to

cater to the new living environment (Shah & Bloomer, 2018). Additionally, many people in rural

areas will benefit from renting out their land to large companies (Office of Energy Efficiency &

Renewable Energy, n.d.), but may also be displaced due to companies using all their land, as

well as needing to move because of the headaches, sleep disturbances, and decreased quality of

life that can result from living by wind turbines (Jeffery, Krogh, & Horner, 2013).

The United States in particular has been expanding their use of wind energy to create a

cleaner environment. While China is the leading country in wind energy production, the United

States is catching up (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2018). According to the U.S.

Energy Information Administration (2018), the United States generated less than one percent of

their electricity from wind in 1990, but in 2017, has expanded their electricity generation from

wind to six percent. In 2016, over 50 percent of wind-generated electricity originated from wind

turbines in Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, and Kansas, locations with favorable wind

conditions (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2017). By 2030, the United States has a

goal of increasing their electricity generation from wind to 20 percent, which will help their

efforts to be a more sustainable nation (American Wind Energy Association, 2016).

While there has been an increase in wind energy use, there has been a decrease in its cost.

The costs of electricity generated from the wind has dramatically decreased. In 1981, electricity

from the wind cost about 25 cents per kilowatt hour, but in 2008, the cost was between 3.3 and

5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour (Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d.) This dramatic decrease has

helped wind energy increase its cost competitiveness with other power plants and energy
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sources. Today, wind energy costs between 2 and 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which makes it one

of the cheapest energy sources available (Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy,

n.d.).

Discussion

As previously stated, wind energy has both benefits and consequences related to its use. It

is important not to just consider the positive outcomes on the environment; it is also essential to

look at how it affects the different communities involved with its construction and production.

This section will look at wind energy in the context of the Green New Deal in the United

States. This is a resolution that requires a shift to renewable energy resources in order to save the

environment from further destruction, as well as demands related social change for communities

that will be involved in the shift (H. Res. 109, 2019). While the resolution does not list a specific

renewable energy resource to rely on, wind energy is a potential contender, and therefore should

be critiqued for how well it currently fits the resolution’s goals.

One of the primary goals of the Green New Deal is to increase renewable energy

resources. As the resolution states, they want to have 100% clean energy sources “by

dramatically expanding and upgrading renewable power sources” (H. Res. 109, 2019, p. 7).

While it is a hefty goal, starting with renewable power sources is a plausible first step. Wind

energy specifically is a clean fuel, meaning that it does not produce pollution during its

production. As discussed by Wind Energy Development Programmatic EIS (n.d.), “Wind

turbines do not use combustion to generate electricity, and hence don’t produce air emissions”

(para. 7). The use of wind energy signifies that the United States would be decreasing the amount

of CO2 it is producing, and therefore lessening its contribution to climate change and meeting the
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resolution’s goal. Additionally, the lack of emissions will not further health problems like those

associated with the burning of coal: respiratory illnesses, lung disease, and neurological and

developmental damage (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2019). The halt in health

problems caused by emissions will also help the Green New Deal’s plan to manage the health

problems associated with pollution and climate change (H. Res. 109, 2019).

Even though wind energy is a clean fuel, there have been concerns related to its

availability. As President Donald Trump said, “It only blows sometimes,” insinuating that wind

is not a reliable energy source (NowThis, 2019, 0:39). This concern seems to be a false claim not

backed up by scientific evidence. Many studies have reported that while variability does exist

with wind energy (depends on how fast and often the wind blows), this variability can be solved

by storing the generated electricity from wind turbines in grid operators and transporting the

electricity through transmission lines (Union of Concerned Scientists, n.d.).

The environmental impacts seem to be neutral, but the social consequences of using wind

energy are less clear. One aspect of the Green New Deal is to protect the rights of and correct the

injustices towards indigenous communities (H. Res. 109, 2019). It is impossible to look at this

though without considering the past and current practices that are in place for companies

involved with wind energy.

Throughout the history of the United States, indigenous peoples have been removed from

their lands and pushed onto lands that the government deemed unnecessary for their uses.

However, the infertile lands that they were relocated to are now good for wind turbines and other

renewable energies, and therefore can currently meet the needs of the United States government

(Shah & Bloomer, 2018). This means that indigenous peoples are again at risk of displacement
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and relocation from the lands they have built their homes on. Many of these indigenous peoples

whose livelihoods are threatened do not have much say in this relocation since many of their

lands are not owned by them, but the government. As said by Shah and Bloomer (2018), because

these indigenous communities do not hold official land titles, the government can grant “titles to

renewable energy companies without consultation, consent, or compensation” (para. 3). In order

to meet the goal of the Green New Deal—“to promote justice and equity by stopping current,

preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples”—the current status of

land titles needs to transfer ownership to the indigenous peoples that live on those lands, or

acknowledge their right to live on those lands since many indigenous communities do not believe

land should be owned by anyone (H. Res. 109, 2019, p. 5). Without doing this, repairing history

will not be a possibility.

Not only are land titles an issue associated with wind energy construction, but so are the

companies that would be overseeing the construction. The Green New Deal requires that energy

companies and government agencies obtain “the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous

peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples,” but this is currently not happening

100% of the time (H. Res. 109, 2019, p. 13). Many companies make a public statement

committing to honoring the rights of indigenous communities and working with them to establish

a collaborative working environment. However, the research says that these commitments are not

upheld. According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (2016), “Only 5 out of 50

[wind and hydropower companies] refer to respecting indigenous peoples’ internationally

recognized right to free, prior & informed consent (FPIC)” after filling out a questionnaire.

Companies that do not have due diligence practices do not consider the impact projects can have

on indigenous communities. Honoring FPIC is a goal of the Green New Deal, but in order for
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Wind Energy

this goal to become a reality, then more pressure, investigation, and monitoring of companies

will need to be consistent.

In addition to the impacts on indigenous communities, the effects of wind energy on the

economy need to be considered. The job market for the wind sector aligns well with the Green

New Deal’s goal of "high-quality job creation” for the people of the United States (H. Res. 109,

2019, p. 11). A wind turbine service technician is the second fastest growing occupation in the

United States, so by increasing the availability of jobs in the wind energy market, more

technicians will be trained and employed, creating more jobs for United States citizens (Bureau

of Labor Statistics, 2018). In 2016, more than 100,000 workers were hired in the wind sector,

and there is an estimate that 600,000 jobs will be supported “in manufacturing, installation,

maintenance, and supporting services by 2050” (Office of Energy efficiency & Renewable

Energy, n.d., para. 3). This has a promising outlook for people who want and can be employed in

the wind energy industry.

While there is a promising future for employment in the wind sector, other aspects related

to working with wind energy could counteract this possibility. Most of the employment created

by the wind energy industry is temporary, usually only lasting nine to eighteen months (Friede,

2016). There are plenty of jobs available, but maintaining those jobs is the bigger issue. Friede

(2016) reports, “Wind farms require few highly skilled full-time employees for the 30 years that

the projects are in operation,” which could decrease the opportunity available to workers who do

not hold the education needed for those jobs (p. 6). Ultimately, the United States needs to look at

more sustainable employment for their future workers in the wind sector in order to uphold the

promise to create high-quality jobs.


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Conclusions

Wind energy has a positive impact on the environment, but the benefits associated with

society are questionable. The Green New Deal strives for a cleaner environment while also

respecting the rights, health, and necessities of all communities. The Green New Deal is taking

the right step towards a more sustainable energy source by using wind energy, but some societal

changes need to occur in order to meet all the goals of the resolution.

Wind energy is beneficial in decreasing the United States’ negative impact on the

environment. It does not use combustion, and therefore will not produce emissions or CO2 that

contribute to global climate change and health problems. The variability that is sometimes

questioned when discussing the viability of wind energy is not an issue since the electricity

generated from wind can be stored in power grids. On the flipside though, the social impacts do

not provide as strong of an argument for its implementation. Many jobs are created, but they may

only be temporary. Additionally, many companies infringe on the rights of indigenous

communities, not making the switch an equitable process.

Wind energy still has a promising future in the United States and meets the main goal of

the Green New Deal by reducing emissions. Nevertheless, further research needs to be done

about how to guarantee a secure, democratic, and respecting future for the communities involved

in the shift to renewable energy resources, like wind. This study is limited as it only references

secondary sources and does not look at primary sources recounting the anecdotes of communities

affected by the switch to wind energy. More research should be done to further examine the

effects of wind energy implementation on disadvantaged communities.

References
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American Wind Energy Association. (2016). U.S. number one in the world in wind energy

production. Retrieved from https://www.awea.org/resources/news/2016/u-s-number-one-

in-the-world-in-wind-energy-product

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Fastest growing occupations. Retrieved from

https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. (2016). Press release: 50 renewable energy

companies’ human rights policies & records examined. Retrieved from

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/report-services-coordinator-at-gri/press-

release-50-renewable-energy-companies%E2%80%99-human-rights-policies-records-

examined

Friede, S. (2016). Enticed by the wind: A case study in the social and historical context of wind

energy development in southern Mexico. Retrieved from

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/mi_151220_enticed_by_wind_v4.pdf

Green New Deal, H. Res. 109, 116th Cong. (2019).

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turbines. Canadian Family Physician, 59(5), 473–475.

NowThis. (2019, April 1). Trump says wind power won’t work because it ‘only blows

sometimes’ [Video file]. Retrieved from https://nowthisnews.com/videos/politics/trump-

says-wind-power-wont-work-because-it-only-blows-sometimes
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Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. (n.d.). Advantages and challenges of wind

energy. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-

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Shah, R. & Bloomer, P. (2018). Respecting the rights of indigenous peoples as renewable energy

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https://ssir.org/articles/entry/respecting_the_rights_of_indigenous_peoples_as_renewable

_energy_grows#

Smil, V. (2006). Energy: A beginner’s guide. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.

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https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/how-wind-energy-works

U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2017). Wind turbines provide 8% of U.S. generating

capacity, more than any other renewable source. Retrieved from

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concerns. Retrieved from windeis.anl.gov/guide/concern/index.cfm