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Energy and Global Climate Change in New England

Wind Energy

Searsburg, VT Wind Turbines
Searsburg, VT Wind Turbines

Winds are caused by the interaction of the uneven heating of the atmosphere with the uneven surface of the earth, and the earth’s rotation. Winds can generate both electricity and mechanical power. In the case of electricity, the wind pushes the blades of a wind turbine, and the kinetic energy generated from that activity is converted to mechanical power. That mechanical power is then used to drive a generator that produces electricity that can be used in homes and businesses, or sold back to an electricity provider for use on the grid.

Since 2001, energy costs in New England have increased substantially, due almost entirely to the higher cost of fuel (e.g., natural gas). Since the wind is free, wind power is not subject to swings in the price of fuel. In many instances, it has become cost competitive with fossil fuel sources. Thus, there are numerous proposals for wind power facilities all over New England.

Benefits: As concerns about climate change and air quality continue to mount in New England, wind energy can provide residents and businesses with the electricity they need without the harmful emissions associated with conventional electricity generation sources. Wind is also the fastest growing energy source in the world, which helps create jobs and spur economic growth.

Photo of Wind Turbines
IBEW turbine in Boston, MA
Department of Energy photo

Concerns: Wind power is not without controversy. The modern towers are tall, and can range anywhere from 200 to 400 feet to the tip of the rotor. Wind power is also intermittent and blows best in places that make the turbines more prominent such as on top of ridgelines and in the ocean. As a result, many wind facilities face significant local opposition based on aesthetics.

In addition, wind turbines can impact wildlife such as birds and bats. Some wind facilities such as the one in Searsburg, Vermont, have instituted pre and post construction monitoring programs to assess the impact on local wildlife, including birds and bears. However, due to the site specific nature of this information, it is not easily extrapolated to other sites. Thus, proposed new wind facilities are also subject to similar analysis.

Wind generation can be done at different scales, including wind farms, community scale installations, customer-sited projects, and household installations. For more information on this and for a map of the wind projects in New England that are operating, permitted or under construction, visit DOE's New England Wind Forum.

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