What Is The Main Problem With Wind Power?


What is the main problem with wind power?

One of the main challenges with wind power is its intermittent nature. Wind speeds fluctuate constantly, leading to inconsistent power generation over time (Scientific American, 2015). This makes it difficult for grid operators to match electricity supply with demand, since output from wind farms can ramp up or down quickly as wind speeds change.

To deal with the intermittency issue, backup power sources like natural gas or energy storage are needed to provide a steady flow of electricity when the wind is not blowing (Energy Education, n.d.). The intermittent generation profile requires grid operators to have enough dispatchable power available to meet demand when wind production drops off unexpectedly. This increases complexity in managing the electrical grid.

High Upfront Costs

Building utility-scale wind farms and turbines is an expensive endeavor. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average U.S. construction cost for onshore wind generators fell from $1,895 per kilowatt (kW) in 2013 to $1,391/kW in 2019 (source). The most powerful 12 MW wind turbine can cost up to $400 million to manufacture and install (source). Overall, costs for utility-scale wind turbines range from about $1.3 million to $2.2 million per MW of nameplate capacity installed (source).

The high upfront costs associated with wind power can mean a long payback period for investors. Building a wind farm requires major capital outlays before the farm even begins generating electricity. Factors like permitting, grid connections, and road construction can also drive up pre-construction expenses. Once built, it may take years or even decades to fully recover the initial investment and start turning a profit on a wind farm. This long payback period makes financing challenging and can deter potential investors.

Land Use

Wind farms require a significant amount of land area to generate electricity at scale. According to a report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the total land area required for a utility-scale wind power plant is about 50 acres per megawatt of installed capacity.[1] This includes access roads, substations, and other infrastructure in addition to the turbines themselves. For a 100 MW wind farm, that equates to around 5,000 acres or 7.8 square miles.

While wind turbines take up a small fraction of this total area, many find utility-scale wind farms unsightly or worry they will disrupt natural landscapes. Wind projects are sometimes opposed on aesthetic grounds, as some view rows of large turbines as visually unappealing additions to the countryside.[2] Proper siting can help minimize visual impacts.

[1] Denholm, P., Hand, M., Jackson, M., & Ong, S. (2009). Land-Use Requirements of Modern Wind Power Plants in the United States. National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), Golden, CO. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy09osti/45834.pdf

[2] Clemmer, S. (2022). How Much Land Would it Require to Get Most of Our Electricity from Wind and Solar? Union of Concerned Scientists. https://blog.ucsusa.org/steve-clemmer/how-much-land-would-it-require-to-get-most-of-our-electricity-from-wind-and-solar

Noise Pollution

Wind turbines do generate noise pollution that can be annoying for people living nearby. The noise comes primarily from the mechanical components in the nacelle and blades as they turn on top of the tower. According to research by WindExchange, on average land-based wind turbines generate noise levels of 35-45 decibels when measured from 300 meters away. This is comparable to the background noise in a typical suburban environment.

The specific sound level depends on factors like wind speed, turbine design, and distance from the turbine. In some cases, the “swishing” or “whooshing” sound from the blades can be audible several hundred meters away. There is ongoing research into how to minimize noise from wind turbines, such as optimized blade shapes and sound insulation. The noise impacts also depend on topography, presence of vegetation, and weather conditions. Proper siting can help mitigate noise. Overall the nuisance factor of wind turbine noise seems lower than other energy infrastructure like highways.

Threat to Wildlife

One major concern with wind power is the risk it can pose to wildlife, especially birds and bats. Wind turbines can directly threaten birds and bats that collide with the rotating blades. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “Studies have documented that wind energy facilities kill birds and bats. Mortality rates vary among facilities and across regions.” (https://www.fws.gov/node/266177)

Birds and bats can get struck directly by turbine blades or suffer internal damage from the air pressure changes near the turbines. Migratory species are especially at risk as their flight paths can take them near wind farms. The USGS notes that while technology upgrades have helped, turbines still pose a collision risk: “New USGS Analysis of Wind Turbine Upgrades Shows No Impact on Wildlife Mortality.” (https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/can-wind-turbines-harm-wildlife)

Beyond direct strikes, wind farms can disrupt habitats, ecosystems, and migratory patterns. The Department of Energy reports that “wind energy projects can negatively impact the surrounding environment and the animals who live there.” Siting wind farms requires clearing land and constructing access roads which fragments habitats. The turbines themselves, with moving blades and noise, can also disturb natural behaviors. More research is still needed to fully assess and mitigate these ecosystem impacts.

Transmission Issues

One of the main problems with wind power is that many of the best sites for wind turbines tend to be located in remote areas far from cities where the electricity is needed. It can be incredibly expensive to build the transmission lines needed to carry the electricity from wind farms to urban load centers hundreds of miles away. Estimates suggest that building new transmission lines costs around $2 million per mile.

Sprawling wind farms also require major upgrades to the grid infrastructure to handle all of the electricity they generate. The variable and intermittent nature of wind power can put major strains on the grid. This requires robust connectivity across broad geographic regions and significant investment in things like energy storage to smooth out the delivery of electricity.

While long distance transmission is technically feasible, the high costs often make wind farms economically unviable in remote locations. Building sufficient transmission capacity will be a major challenge as we continue to scale up wind power.

Aesthetic Concerns

Some find wind turbines visually unappealing and worry about their impact on landscapes. The modern wind turbine is a large structure that can reach over 400 feet tall and have blades spanning over 250 feet long. When grouped together in wind farms, they occupy a substantial footprint.

Though wind power creates no air or water pollution, some see the turbines as an eyesore on the landscape. The height and motion of the turbines make them visible for miles in open terrain. This has led some to complain that wind farms disrupt scenic vistas, detracting from natural landscapes or community aesthetics.

Surveys show a range of public opinion on the appearance of wind turbines. While some find them elegant or majestic, others see them as unsightly industrial structures that clash with the environment. This can stir local opposition in communities where wind projects are proposed.

Overall, aesthetic concerns remain one of the challenges for expanding wind power. Though perceptions vary greatly, visual impacts should be considered when siting and designing wind projects. Mitigation strategies like minimizing turbine heights or using landscaping can help reduce aesthetic objections in some instances.

Local Opposition

One of the main challenges facing wind power is local opposition from community members who don’t want wind turbines near their homes and properties. This “not in my backyard” or NIMBY opposition can significantly delay or halt wind farm projects through lawsuits and permitting challenges.

A 2023 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that proposed wind projects in the United States faced local opposition 35% of the time on average [1]. The study identified several factors that predicted higher rates of opposition, including sites closer to residential areas and sites in regions with less experience with wind power.

Lawsuits brought by local community groups have challenged wind farm permits over concerns about noise, views, property values and impacts on wildlife. While not always successful in court, these lawsuits can delay projects by months or years. In some cases, wind energy developers have chosen to abandon projects rather than face extended legal battles.

Streamlining the permitting process and engaging earlier with local stakeholders are some strategies that can help reduce local opposition to proposed wind farms. However, NIMBYism remains a significant barrier, especially in regions new to wind power development.


While wind power offers a clean energy source, other renewable alternatives like solar may be preferable in some situations. According to Green Mountain Energy, solar power can provide electricity without the noise or intermittent power output issues of wind. Solar panels can be installed on rooftops and south-facing areas to maximize exposure to sunlight. Though solar may have higher upfront costs than wind, technological improvements and tax incentives are making solar increasingly cost-competitive.

Beyond renewables, other low-carbon energy sources like nuclear and natural gas may also serve as alternatives to wind power. Nuclear provides consistent baseload power without greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas emits 50-60% less carbon dioxide than coal when used for electricity generation, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. While not emission-free, natural gas offers a lower-carbon alternative that pairs well with intermittent renewables like wind and solar.


Although wind power offers many benefits, like low emissions and decreasing costs, it still faces substantial challenges that limit its adoption. The main problems with wind power include its intermittent and unreliable nature, high upfront investment costs, large land requirements, noise and visual impacts, threats to local wildlife, and complications with transmitting the electricity from remote areas to cities.

However, solutions and mitigations exist to address many of these concerns. Energy storage through batteries and other means can smooth the variability of wind. Turbine placement in remote locations, away from homes and sensitive species habitats, can reduce disturbances. Continued technology advances and economies of scale will bring down costs over time. Grid improvements can ease transmission constraints from wind-rich regions. Most importantly, diversifying the energy mix with an array of generation sources creates a more reliable and resilient overall system.

While problems persist with wind power expansion, they are not insurmountable. With smart policies and careful siting, wind can play an increasingly vital role in a clean and affordable energy future, while mitigating its challenges and complementing other renewable sources. However, solutions will require continued research, open dialogue among stakeholders, patience, and recognizing the importance of a diverse and balanced energy portfolio.

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