What Are The Pros And Cons Of A Wind Turbine?

Wind turbines, also known as wind generators, harness the kinetic energy of flowing air and convert it into electrical energy through a generator. Over the last few decades, wind power has emerged as one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources worldwide. Many countries are rapidly increasing their wind power capacity to combat climate change and boost energy independence. While wind turbines provide clean and cost-competitive electricity, there are also some drawbacks to consider.

This article provides an overview of the key pros and cons of wind turbines, to provide a balanced perspective on this increasingly prevalent technology.

Pro: Renewable Energy Source

Wind turbines provide renewable energy from wind. This does not produce greenhouse gases. Wind is a naturally replenished resource that will never run out, unlike fossil fuels like oil and coal that take millions of years to form naturally. Wind power generation does not lead to air or water pollution of any kind. This makes wind energy one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable energy sources available today. Harnessing wind power helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which reduces carbon emissions and mitigates climate change. In addition, wind turbines can often be paired with solar photovoltaics to provide clean energy even when the wind is not blowing.

Pro: Cost Competitive Energy

The cost to generate wind energy has declined drastically in recent years. Many factors play into this, including technological advancements, better siting optimization, improved logistics, and economies of scale as the industry expands. In some areas with ample wind resources, wind power is now one of the cheapest sources of new electricity production – competitive with even the lowest cost fossil fuel options like coal and natural gas.

The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) represents the lifetime costs of building and operating a generator divided by its total energy output. According to Lazard’s analysis, the unsubsidized LCOE for wind ranges from $26-54 per megawatt-hour. This overlaps with the range for natural gas combined cycle plants ($44-68) and is lower than coal ($60-143).

With the production tax credit, the LCOE of wind can be as low as $14-35 per MWh. Even without subsidies, wind is cost competitive in many parts of the country that have good wind resources. And some long term projections show the LCOE continuing to decline into the future as technology improves.

Pro: Energy Independence

Wind turbines provide domestic energy production and reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels. The generation of electricity from wind turbines utilizes a renewable, locally available resource, rather than imported non-renewable fossil fuels. This allows a nation to become more energy independent and avoid the price volatility of fossil fuels that are traded on global markets and subject to geopolitical tensions. With wind-generated electricity added to its energy mix, a country can retain more energy spending within its own economy rather than sending those dollars abroad. Wind turbine projects also create local jobs and economic activity during construction and operation, further boosting energy independence through supporting domestic industries.

Pro: Rural Economic Development

wind turbines provide domestic renewable energy.

Wind energy projects can provide significant economic benefits to rural communities. Installing large wind turbines requires leasing or purchasing land from farmers and rural landowners. Wind energy companies provide lease payments to landowners, which gives them a new source of income from previously unused land. According to the American Wind Energy Association, landowners typically receive $3,000-7,000 per turbine in lease payments each year. In more rural states, wind lease payments can make up a sizable contribution to farmers’ incomes.

Building and maintaining wind farms also creates jobs in rural areas. Wind turbine technicians are one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., and many of these jobs are based near wind farms, especially during the construction phase. But even after the wind farm is built, local technicians are needed for maintenance and repairs. Rural communities also benefit from increased tax revenue and demand for local goods and services like restaurants and hotels from visiting wind farm workers. Overall, wind energy projects create economic opportunities for rural towns that may be lacking other industries and job growth.

Con: Intermittent Power

One of the main drawbacks of wind power is that its output depends heavily on wind speeds, which are variable and intermittent in nature. The wind doesn’t blow at a constant speed all the time, which means wind turbines generate fluctuating amounts of power throughout the day and year. There are times when wind speeds are too low for turbines to operate or generate much electricity. Wind power is considered an “intermittent” energy source for this reason.

The variability and unpredictability of wind patterns can make wind power more challenging to integrate into the electrical grid compared to more stable power sources like fossil fuels or nuclear. Additional infrastructure and backup power supplies may be needed to account for fluctuations in wind generation. When wind speeds are low, other power plants need to increase output to compensate. Areas with wide seasonal variations in wind also see much higher electricity generation in winter versus summer.

However, technological advances are helping to overcome the intermittency issues with wind power. Improvements in weather forecasting enable grid operators to better plan for variability in wind farm output. New storage technologies like large-scale batteries can store excess power generated when winds are high and dispatch it when needed. Interconnecting wind farms over large geographical regions also helps smooth out some of the variability.

Con: Upfront Costs

While competitive over time, wind turbines have significant upfront capital costs. Constructing a wind farm requires substantial investment in turbines, site infrastructure, transmission connections, and other costs. This can be a barrier to adoption, as financing large capital projects requires long-term planning and funding. The levelized cost of wind energy is attractive over a project lifetime of 20-30 years. However, banks and investors may hesitate to provide large amounts of upfront capital without proven long-term profits.

Individual wind turbines cost anywhere from $1-4 million installed. Multiplied over an entire wind farm of dozens or hundreds of turbines, the total costs add up. Turbines account for around 75% of the upfront expense. The remaining balance goes toward roads, electrical infrastructure, permitting, engineering, and construction. These high initial investments mean wind power requires favorable government policies and financing options to become viable. Once built, wind farms have relatively low maintenance and operational costs over decades of operation. But locking in financing and absorbing the initial capital costs is a major barrier for many potential wind projects.

Con: Land Use

Wind turbines take up a significant amount of land. A wind farm usually requires around 60 acres per megawatt of installed capacity. The land area required for wind turbines adds up quickly for utility-scale projects. Some wind farms can cover hundreds or thousands of acres of land.

While the wind turbine towers themselves have a small footprint, spacing between turbines is needed to reduce “wake losses” from upwind turbines impacting those downwind. Access roads also need to be built. The amount of land required can make siting difficult, especially in densely populated areas.

Viewshed impacts and habitat fragmentation can occur from large wind power projects spanning remote landscapes. Careful site selection and environmental reviews are needed to minimize land use conflicts. Overall, wind power’s land requirements are higher than fossil fuel plants but lower than some other renewables like solar PV per unit of electricity generated.

Con: Wildlife Impact

Wind turbines can negatively impact birds and bats. As the turbine blades spin, they can strike flying birds and bats, causing injury or death. Areas with large concentrations of migratory birds or bat populations are especially concerning.

Birds are most at risk of collision with wind turbines during migration seasons. The spinning blades can be difficult for birds to avoid. Certain species like raptors and vultures seem to be more susceptible. Bats are also vulnerable as they feed on insects that are attracted to the areas around wind turbines.

The number of bird and bat deaths per turbine varies greatly by location. But scientists estimate wind turbines may kill hundreds of thousands of birds and hundreds of thousands to over a million bats per year in the United States. Numerous wind energy companies have been fined for violating wildlife protection laws.

Researchers are studying methods to reduce the impacts. Changing the color of wind turbines, deterring bats with ultrasound, and shutting down turbines at key migration times have shown some promise. But wildlife impacts remain one of the key drawbacks of wind power.


In reviewing the main pros and cons of wind turbines, it’s clear there are several benefits but also some significant downsides. On the plus side, wind turbines provide renewable, cost-effective energy while also promoting energy independence and economic growth in rural areas. However, wind power can be intermittent, requires high upfront costs, and raises concerns about land use and wildlife impacts.

Looking ahead, wind energy will likely play an important but partial role in the ongoing transition to renewable energy. Wind power capacity is projected to grow as the technology improves and costs decline. However, intermittency issues mean wind cannot provide base load power like fossil fuels or nuclear can. Wind turbines also face continued scrutiny regarding their impacts on landscapes, local communities, and wildlife. Overall, wind energy will remain a key part of the renewable energy mix, but will require integration with storage and transmission innovations to overcome its limitations.

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