Your trusted source for fact-based information about renewable energy.
It's natural to have questions about the benefits and safety of renewable energy developments. Here is a good place to get the facts.
Are wind and solar energy reliable?
Yes, grid operators already reliably integrate large amounts of renewable energy into our electricity grid. These Regional Transmission Operators (RTO) deploy energy resources in least-cost order until the demand is met. Wind and solar are chosen first because they are zero-fuel-cost resources.
A diverse grid offers a safety net during extreme weather or other circumstances.
Wind changes tend to be gradual and predictable, making it easy to accommodate compared to sudden outages that can occur with other resources.
Solar panels can still function in the absence of direct sunlight. Solar panels can absorb both direct and indirect sunlight to produce electricity. When there is less sunlight available, there is less for the PV cells to absorb, and therefore less electricity can be produced. Although solar panels do not produce electricity at night, solutions such as battery storage and net metering allow users to access electricity previously produced or electricity from other sources on the grid to meet their energy needs.
Solar panels are tested for durability to ensure they can withstand hurricanes and severe hail. Before installation, solar panels are required to withstand tests that simulate severe storms. Manufacturers are held accountable by organizations such as the International PV Quality Assurance Taskforce, which develops standardized tests to assure that solar panels can survive the following and more:
- Mechanical stressors (hail, being walked on, etc.)
- Excessive cold or heat
Generation + Transmission = Reliability
Electric grid operators make sure the demand for electricity is balanced with the most cost-effective supply resources at all times. The diversity of generation resources in the MISO footprint, combined with adequate transmission to deliver those resources and match consumer demand, help prevent rolling black-outs and outages due to extreme events like polar vortices. MISO’s strength is in its diversity - of both generation, and consumer demand across its broad regional footprint.
Several organizations are responsible for ensuring the delivery of electricity to consumers every minute of every day. Specifically, the Regional Transmission Organization (MISO), state utility commissions, utilities, and at the national level, the North American Electric Reliability Commission (NERC). Each organization has a specific role, yet they work together to ensure there is sufficient generation and transmission to deliver electricity to meet demand in the region.
Read more about reliability on our Blog:
- The recipe for success in maintaining grid reliability
- Transmission lines essential for reliable, low-cost energy
- Winterization and the Grid: Reliability 365
View our state-by-state reliability factsheets here.
Are wind and solar energy affordable?
The high demand of low-cost wind and solar energy helps drive costs down.
The price consumers pay for wind power has fallen 70% in the last 10 years with improved technology and U.S.-based manufacturing, making it the cheapest resource on the market. Wind is uniquely able to offer fixed-priced contracts because renewable energy has no fuel cost and therefore no fuel price risk. Utilities and consumers like wind because it acts as a hedge against future volatility of natural gas prices, much like a fixed-rate mortgage protects homeowners against interest fluctuations.
Solar energy prices have dropped 90% since 2009.
What is energy storage and what are the benefits of it?
Energy storage is a "stretch" resource that allows excess energy to be stored until it is needed. It helps bridge the gaps inherent in the output from variable resources like wind and solar, and it can also stretch the number of hours that are powered by clean, affordable renewable energy.
There are many forms of energy storage such as: pumped hydroelectric, thermal energy, compressed air, and flywheel storage. The most common form of energy storage being pursued today, and the one we are most familiar with, is battery storage -- most commonly, lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are used at large scale battery storage plants to save large amounts of energy that otherwise would have gone unused.
Top 5 Benefits of Energy Storage:
- Increases Reliability and Resilience of the Grid
- Saves Consumers Money
- Integrates More Renewables
- Reduces the Amount of Wasted Energy
- Reduces Negative Environmental Impacts
Learn more about energy storage in our blogs:
- Energy Storage is a "Stretch" Resource that is Pivotal to Modernize the Electric Grid
- Storage and Renewables: Reliant, Efficient, Responsive
- Hybrid Power Plants are Here to Stay
What is transmission and what are the benefits of it?
What is transmission?
Transmission is the delivery of energy from its place of generation to its place of use. This is done through the use of "transmission lines," more commonly known as "power lines." These lines carry power from generating power plants to substations that alter the voltage and eventually send electricity into our homes and businesses. As we transition toward a more electrified economy, particularly one powered by renewable energy, transmission is becoming increasingly important.
Clean Grid Alliance is deeply engaged in the stakeholder processes at MISO and has spearheaded and participated in many efforts to expand and upgrade transmission in the Midwest to help enable the delivery of clean, affordable, reliable energy. These efforts include the MISO Multi-Value Project Portfolio of 17 transmission lines approved in 2011, the CapX2020 lines, and MISO's Long Range Transmission Planning of 18 transmission lines (Tranche 1), which was approved in July of 2022. CGA also works to make sure the rules for accessing and using transmission lines in MISO are "technology neutral" so that new clean generators have equal access.
What are the top 5 benefits of transmission?
- Transmission helps add renewable energy to the grid
- Transmission reduces bottlenecks on the grid
- Transmission improves the reliability and resiliency of the grid.
- Transmission creates good-paying jobs for Americans
- Transmission boosts the United States' Economy
How do wind and solar projects benefit farmers and rural communities?
Wind and solar energy preserve the wide open spaces of rural America, affords long-term protection to farmland and agriculture, and boosts the economy in small towns and rural communities.
Once a turbine or solar panel gets the green light, this creates hundreds of new jobs across a multitude of industries to build it from the ground up. In the Midwest, one in five clean energy jobs (158,000) are located in rural areas. At the end of 2020, the clean power sector had a workforce of 415,000 Americans. When projects are complete, wind and solar projects become a new town employer, creating full-time jobs for technicians, site managers and office staff.
The Rocky Mountain Institute reports about 54 GW of wind and solar projects that are slated to come online in 2030 will employ 40,000 workers during the construction phase, and deliver $2.3 billion in annual wages, and $3.7 billion in annual wages for 38,000 workers in operations and maintenance (O&M) positions that support new and existing wind and solar capacity.
Since 2005, $334 billion in project investments have been made according to the American Clean Power Association 2020 Annual Market Report. ACPA reports that in 2020, clean power projects brought in $39 billion in new investment, an estimated $1.7 billion in state and local taxes, and and nearly $800 million in land lease payments were made to landowners across the nation.
Midwestern counties use wind and solar production tax revenue for improvements to infrastructure, schools, and funding for projects that benefit the surrounding community – including lowering the county tax levy.
LAND LEASE PAYMENTS
Farmers and other rural landowners hosting clean power projects on their land receive an extra source of income through annual land lease payments. In 2020, landowners received $1.3 billion in lease payments, and these numbers are increasing as more development is in the works.
LOCAL ECONOMIC BOOST
Renewable energy developments also attract both temporary and permanent members of the community, which is great news for the local economy. Local businesses, such as hotels, gas stations and restaurants see extra cash flowing into their businesses from construction workers looking for accommodations and frequenting their establishments during the building phase. Building and construction supply companies also benefit from this development. When the project is complete, full-time employees move into the community, eat at local restaurants, purchase real estate, shop at the grocery store and enroll their children in the public schools. And, the projects often establish ongoing relationships with local businesses, like service stations and hardware stores, to service equipment and purchase supplies.
Visit our Blog for several articles on how renewable energy benefits rural America.
What is "the grid?"
The combination of transmission lines, power plants, and substations is often referred to as the electric grid of the United States or "the grid." The Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) manages the electric grid in the middle of the country, covering 17 states.
The U.S. electric grid has millions of miles of transmission and distribution lines that are strategically placed all over the nation to bring power to where it is needed. Transmission lines are like the highways that allow power to flow from large generators to cities and towns. Distribution lines are like city roads distributing the power throughout our cities and towns to individual homes and businesses. However, with 70% of these lines being over 25 years old, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave America's power grid a rating of D+. This proves that the U.S. needs to make significant transmission infrastructure upgrades to keep up with the changing demand for electricity and different forms of energy.
What are hybrid power plants and why are they important?
What are they?
Hybrid power plants are power generation systems that combine a form of electricity generation with battery storage at the same location. Hybrid power plants generally consist of renewable energy technologies such as solar panels or wind turbines paired with energy storage facilities. The solar panels and wind turbines generate electricity while the sun is shining and the wind is blowing and any excess is stored in the battery. Then, when there is no sunlight or at times when there is little wind in the area, energy reserves held in the battery storage are released, providing electricity to consumers as needed.
Why are they important?
Hybrid power plants are important because they greatly enhance the reliability of the power grid by producing energy in a predictable and controllable manner while delivering inexpensive electricity to customers. Hybrid projects make up for the variability in renewable energy generation by storing excess power and releasing it when power generation is low. This makes the grid more reliable by ensuring that there is a constant stream of clean power available, even when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.
In addition to improving the overall reliability of the grid, hybrid power plants are also uniquely beneficial to remote areas and rural locations where there is a lack of infrastructure and limited access to the electric grid. In these locations, the hybrid power plants can be stand-alone power systems that are able to act as "mini-grids" to generate, store and provide clean energy to residents who wouldn't otherwise have access.
For more information, check out our blog post, Hybird Power Plants are Here to Stay!
What happens at the end of a wind turbine's life cycle?
A wind turbine's lifespan is 20 - 30 years. Currently, between 85-90% of a turbine’s parts can be recycled or sold, including the foundation, tower, gear box, and generator.
At the end of their useful life, most turbine blades that have been removed from service go to landfills. Wind turbine blades are made of non-toxic fiberglass, which is completely safe for landfills. Although turbine blades are large, all turbine blade waste through 2050 represents approximately 0.05% of all the municipal solid waste going to landfills every year.
The wind industry does recognize the need for environmentally responsible turbine recycling and disposal.
In Europe, some blades are repurposed as sound barriers, thermal insulation, or even bridges.
In the United States, the need for recycling processes is creating a business opportunity. Startups like Global Fiberglass Solutions are developing processes to break down wind turbines blades and transform them into other useful materials, such as railroad ties and panels.
We can process 99.9% of a blade and handle about 6,000 to 7,000 blades a year per plant,
Don Lilly, Chief Executive Officer
Global Fiberglass Solutions.
Right now, there are two ways wind turbine blades can be recycled.
Mechanical Recycling entails cutting and dismantling blades on-site. The parts are shredded into raw fiberglass material that produces fine and course particulates that can be mixed with rock, plastic or other fillers. The mixture is then turned into thermoplastic fiberglass pellets or panels for use in various products. These pellets can also be used in injection molding and extrusion manufacturing processes, decking boards, warehouse pallets, parking bollards, manhole covers, building walkways and weather-resistant siding.
Thermal Recycling is essentially crushing and burning blades. The composition portion is combustible when burned and can be used for electricity generation or industrial processes, such as cement production. In fact, thermal recycling saves concrete production 16 percent of its overall carbon dioxide emissions. The leftover glass and carbon fibers go through what is referred to as “co-processing.” This is where fibers are mixed with fillers and reused in concrete, paint and glue.
For more information, check out our blog and fact sheet on this topic.
What happens to solar systems at the end of their life?
There are several ways to retire a solar farm, including extension, refurbishment, repowering, or decommissioning.
Landowners may extend the life of a solar farm at the end of its 20–30-year lifespan, maintaining the existing structures to continue electricity production. The solar plant may be refurbished or repowered, whereby the panels are replaced with newer/updated technology that is also likely more efficient.
Solar panels can be completely dismantled. This is called decommissioning. When this happens, the land can be reverted to its original purpose or altered for other infrastructure or development. Solar installations are a great way to preserve the land for future farming. It gives the soil time to rest and regenerate.
Solar panels that are removed from use can be disassembled and recycled for use in other products or refurbished and resold.
Silicon PV modules are primarily made of glass, aluminum, and plastic, which can all be easily recycled. The glass content of panels is increasing over time in efforts to maximize efficiency in energy absorption, a process that allows for even more simple recycling processes.
Some solar panels contain metals such as cadmium, gallium arsenide, or chromium, which must be treated as hazardous waste and handled accordingly.
Decommissioned solar panels can be repurposed and resold, which is more cost effective and sustainable than recycling.
Will clean energy create jobs?
Yes! Clean energy now employs 3.5 times more Americans than fossil fuels with 3.2 million Americans working in the clean energy industry in 2021. In the Midwest, 714,323 Americans work clean energy jobs and 561,408 work clean energy jobs in the 9 state CGA footprint.
2021 was a year of growth for the clean energy industry with jobs growing more than 5 percent, following significant job losses in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 and related economic contraction. Now, more than 75 percent of clean energy jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic have been regained and South Dakota has already gained more clean energy jobs than it lost!
Do wind or solar farms hurt property values?
No. Long-term, comprehensive studies have shown that wind and solar power does not affect property values. Rather, it is a driver for economic development in the host communities and supports local municipal services that benefit all property owners.
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory collected data from more than 50,000 home sales from 27 counties in nine states. "Across all model specifications, we find no statistical evidence that home prices near wind turbines were affected in either the post-construction or post announcement/preconstruction periods." LBNL, A Spatial Hedonic Analysis of the Effects of Wind Energy Facilities on Surrounding Property Values in the United States.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article (Oct. 2016) reported that investments in wind power have actually helped increase assessed land values in some of the poorest areas of rural America.
In addition, the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit has benefitted many communities by keeping property taxes lower and offering another source of income for counties and townships.
Large solar projects often have no negative impact on property values. In some cases, they may even have tangible positive effects. Proximity to solar farms does not negatively impact the sales of agricultural or residential land or deter its purchase. On residential properties, installation of rooftop solar panels can drive the value of a home up to 4.1% higher than it would have been without the project.
Do renewables require Prime Farmland?
Prime farmland is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “land that has the best combination of physical and chemical characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and is available for these uses.”
The USDA National Resources Inventory takes stock of existing prime farmland, revealing that there are ample acres of usable farmland in the Midwest for both the food and energy sectors.
While solar and wind do require many of the same land qualities as crops, they do not specifically require prime farmland for success. However, limiting use of prime farmland can infringe upon private property rights and hinder development of projects that are vital to the success of our energy goals and beneficial to our communities. Developers should consider all possible sites to best serve the community, the environment and our clean energy needs.
Are wind and solar farms safe for my health?
Yes. Independent peer-reviewed studies conducted around the world, including the U.S., have consistently found no evidence that wind farms cause any negative physical health effects.
An important notation about peer reviews, and why they’re important. The peer review process is a form of scientific quality control.
- Scientists subject their research to the scrutiny of other experts in the field (peers)
- Two or more independent experts in the same or similar field consider the scientific method, results and conclusions.
- Reviewers are usually anonymous, are not paid for their review, and must not have any conflicts of interest in relation to the research.
"There is no authoritative evidence that sound from wind turbines represents a risk to human health among neighboring residents." - Wind Turbines and Health, Iowa Policy Project, 2019, including Peter S. Thorne (Professor and Head, Dept. of Occupational and Environmental Health Director, Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, University of Iowa College of Public Health) and David Osterberg (Lead Researcher at the Iowa Policy Project and Professor Emeritus, Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, University of Iowa).
"There is no direct evidence that wind turbines affect physical or mental health." - National Health and Medicine Research Council
"Components of wind turbine sound, including infrasound and low-frequency sound, have not been shown to present unique health risks to people living near wind turbines." - Wind Turbines and Health: A Critical Review of the Scientific Literature, Journal of Environmental and Occupational Medicine.
"To date, no peer reviewed articles demonstrate a direct causal link between people living in proximity to modern wind turbines, the noise they emit and resulting physiological health effects." - Health Effects and Wind Turbines: A Review of the Literature
“It’s natural to look for causes, and something that seems to be new in the environment is a natural conclusion to draw. But so far the evidence doesn’t support a causal association.” - Sandra Sulsky, study co-author and an epidemiologist at Ramboll, an international engineering consultancy company. -- PBS.org Nova Next article, "Can wind turbines make you sick?"
In fact, wind energy means healthier communities. Wind helps reduce our over-reliance on burning coal. Pollution from burning coal causes asthma and lung and heart disease.
Click here for a list of studies on health effects.
Solar energy does NOT produce harmful emissions, and has several health benefits when compared to fossil fuels.
Widespread solar adoption would significantly reduce emissions of harmful gases released by burning fossil fuels, including Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). Reducing these emissions deters a wide variety of human health issues and decreases the formation of smog and haze. Solar power also results in fewer cases of chronic bronchitis, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and lost workdays related to health issues.
Contrary to common solar myths about harmful chemicals, the materials used to make solar panels are sealed and contained so they do not negatively affect the surrounding area.
Solar panels contain a variety of materials, including silicon and different types of metals. All components are laminated and enclosed to prevent external factors damaging the functionality of the system; the materials within the panels cannot evaporate or mix with water to leak into the surrounding environment.
The only risk that could allow these materials out is through large fires at extremely high temperatures. With proper maintenance of solar arrays, this is largely preventable.
Do wind and solar disrupt wildlife?
Solar and wind can coexist with a variety of conservation efforts.
- Pair beehives with pollinator-friendly native plants and flowers in and around the project area.
- Manage vegetation using sheep and goats instead of mowing, leading to:
- Healthier soil
- Improved water storage and filtration
- Sequestration of carbon, erosion reduction
- Habitat preservation
- Lower local energy costs
USFWS: "Today, Americans can enjoy seeing more bald eagles than at any time in the past 50 years."*
It goes without saying that no human activity is completely devoid of potential impact on the environment. However, studies routinely show that wind energy has among the lowest impacts on wildlife and their habitats of any large-scale electricity generation activity. That’s why conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society support responsibly-sited wind farms.
Bird mortality has been shown to be very low compared to avian deaths caused by cats, cell phone towers, or high rise buildings -- which are magnitudes higher.
According to a 2007 National Academy of Sciences study, less than three in 100,000 of human-caused bird fatalities are attributed to wind energy.
The wind industry takes the issue of bird and bat mortality very seriously. Wind developers proactively work with regulators and environmental groups to strengthen conservation programs. The industry is actively engaged in groundbreaking research to reduce bird and bat collisions at wind farms. The Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative (BWEC) was formed in 2003 by Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Wind Energy Association, and the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory to research bat losses and investigating several promising techniques to reduce them, such as acoustic deterrents and potential mitigation through changes in operations.
The American Wind Wildlife Institute is a partnership of many of the nation's largest wind energy and utility companies and science-based conservation and environmental groups that focuses on strategies for responsible wind development while protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat.
What about the US Fish and Wildlife Service Eagle Permit Rule released in December 2016?
The USFWS says it expects to issue only a handful of permits every year as turbines at 90 percent of wind farms are never struck by any kind of eagle. Bald eagles in particular almost never strike a wind turbine.
- The USFWS eagle permit program encourages conservation of eagles, and addresses ALL human causes of eagle loss. To get a permit, the applicant "agrees to specific measures to first reduce take to the greatest extent possible." The rule also stipulates that, "the permittee also must agree to assume additional responsibility for monitoring eagle loss at its facilities, which is critical to developing a better understanding of ways impacts to eagles can be reduced in the future."
- This permit program was NOT designed exclusively for wind energy. In fact, industries also eligible for permits include: oil and gas development operations, farming and ranching, mining, utilities, transportation, and others.
- Since 2009, over 400 permits have been issued so far under this program. Three permits (less than one percent) have been issued to wind companies.
- Eagle populations have never been, and are not now, at risk from wind power.
The truth is, thousands of eagles die every year for a variety of reasons — most from natural cuases. The vast majority of human-caused deaths result from intentional poisoning and shooting — federal crimes that we aggressively investigate and prosecute. Most other eagle deaths are caused by collisions — with cars, buildings, power lines and other structures. Wind energy facilites represnt a fraction of these deaths, and the media's singular focus on wind turbines is a gross distortion of the truth.
- Only a handful of bald eagles have ever struck a turbine in the 40-year history of the U.S. wind industry.
- Impacts on golden eagles (a very different species of bird) are also minimal as wind causes less than three percent of human-related golden eagle impacts.
- Upgrades to outdated equipment with modern turbines have already reduced golden eagle impacts by 80 percent.
- Threats to eagles from pesticides, lead poisoning, shooting, electrocution, cars, and buildings present a far greater risk.
- Wind energy has the lowest impacts on birds, wildlife and their habitats of any large-scale way to generate electricity.
What are some common wind energy myths?
Click here to visit American Clean Power Association for Facts about wind power.
A list of common wind energy myths can also be found here.
- NREL Wind Energy Myths
- Energy.Gov -- 10 things you didn't know about wind power
- Energy.gov -- Frequently asked questions about wind energy
How do I know if a resource is credible?
That's a great question. Lots of great information is available today, right at our fingertips. But it's important to make sure you're getting good, credible information and can discern what's good, and what isn't.
When searching on the Internet, look for sources that are reliable, accurate and trustworthy.
- The author should have a position of authority, experience or credentials in the field
- Credible research, reports, or studies should include citations to other resources
- Citations and other information should be drawn from such sources as well-known non-profit organizations, respected universities, or government agencies
Whenever possible, seek out studies or papers that are peer reviewed. The peer review process is a form of scientific quality control.
- Scientists subject their research to the scrutiny of other experts in the field (peers)
- Two or more independent experts in the same or similar field consider the scientific method, results and conclusions
- Reviewers are usually anonymous, are not paid for their review, and must not have any conflicts of interest in relation to the research.
Be wary of anonymous websites unless they are associated with known organizations, and be especially cautious of Facebook groups and unsourced information on social media.
Click here and here for more information on finding credible resources.
Can native vegetation and pollinator habitats grow under solar panels?
Yes! Native vegetation and pollinator habitats can not only grow, but thrive, under solar panels.
According to the Center for Pollinators in Energy, deep-rooted native flowers and grasses planted on solar sites can build topsoil, capture and filter storm water, and provide healthy food for bees and insects that provide services to food and agricultural crops. Pairing beehives or beekeeping operations with native plants and flowers can also enhance the productivity of the land.
While vegetation can help keep solar panels cool, panels can also help keep crops and vegetation cooler during the day by providing shade to areas that are normally exposed to intense sunlight. Inversely, solar panels can keep crops and vegetation warmer at night by retaining heat and sheltering them from the elements.
Additionally, developers will often see an increase in the performance of the solar panels when vegetation has been added beneath them. This is because vegetation can contribute to keeping the soil under solar panels cool, which improves their effectiveness.
Co-locating solar panels and crops or vegetation also has significant benefits for land-owners. Land-owners would be able to further diversify and enter new markets by installing high-value, shade resistant crops underneath the solar panels, such as leafy greens, herbs, beans, and root vegetables. This gives land-owners the ability to maintain crop production during solar generation and creates the potential to extend growing seasons for certain crops.
It's a fact. Solar and pollinators are great partners!
- Co-Locating Solar Farms with Crops and Pollinators is a Win-Win Blog
- The Center for Pollinators in Energy
- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
What are property rights?
Property rights are the legal rights that landowners have regarding their land. Property rights determine how land can be used, bought, and sold, and what others can and cannot do on or around that land. Property rights vary widely across the nation and are often determined and altered according to the needs of industries in the area.
Property rights are important to landowners because they help ensure that landowerns have the right to make decisions about how their land is used. Farmers and landowners that lease their land for solar or wind developments are making a personal choice based on the desire to help meet the carbon reduction goals of a local community, to fulfill the renewable energy demands of utilities, corporate purchasers and their customers, or simply to diversify their personal income stream.
Harvesting solar and wind is beneficial to our land, our economy, our values and our communities. To ensure we keep rural America rural, and yet open to economic prosperity for decades to come, property decisions must be left in the hands of landowners.
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