How “green” are Industrial Wind Turbines?

By W. Dean Trentowsky, Goderich Signal Star

Just how “green” and eco friendly are industrial wind turbines?  Consider the reinforced concrete foundation base used to anchor a turbine into the soil. A typical base can contain 250 to 650 cubic meters of concrete. The size of the base depends on the turbine height, the mass of the blades and gearing systems, and the foundation engineering requirements of the turbine.

A typical ready mixed concrete truck holds 8 to 9 cubic meters each so that is a LOT of truck loads to fill just one single base (30 loads minimum, 70 loads maximum). Each cubic meter of concrete typically has an average mass of 2400 kg. Of that 2400 kg, one can expect 355 kg will be cementing materials and the remainder will be water (130 to 150 kg), chemical admixtures (mass is negligible) and aggregates (1915 kg to 1935 kg of stone & sand).

If we suppose that the Province were to follow through with their plans for 7000 turbines in Ontario, that would require the following amounts of materials: CEMENT 621,250 tonnes to 1.615 million tonnes, WATER (at 150 kg per cubic meter): 262.5 million liters to 682.5 million liters, STONE & SAND (at 1935 kg per cubic meter) 1.636 million tonnes to 4.25 million tonnes. That is a staggering amount of resources.

All of this material is extracted, mined, processed and transported using machinery that is either powered by diesel fuel, coal or electricity. Cement kilns are monster consumers of coal and natural gas. The bulldozers, crushers, screeners, trucks, railway cars and ships used to create and move this stuff all gobble countless thousands of liters of fuel.

The quarries needed to produce the cement and aggregates are stripped of their vegetation, and then they are rehabilitated (more fuel and energy consumed in that process).

Not to mention the construction roads and construction activity to “access” and develop all 7,000 IWT sites; and the energy and efforts required to create a new electrical grid that is necessary to connect all 7,000 IWT sites into the existing power supply grid.

Ontario has a finite amount of what are considered to be “prime” aggregate sources. Will there be any left for our existing roads, bridges, public buildings, homes, factories and farms? If so, how much will be left and at what premium will we have to pay to use it? The 7,000 turbines will be “competing” for these same “prime” aggregate sources.

So, how “green” is all of this going to be after all?

Replacing Ontario’s coal plants with Industrial Wind Turbines substitutes one set of air pollutants for another set of air / sound and ground pollutants. Is this protecting Ontario in the way that Minister Wilkinson would have us believe it is?

W. Dean Trentowsky

Mitchell, ON.

21 thoughts on “How “green” are Industrial Wind Turbines?

  1. Related but an aside… I know from reading the comments here there are some very bright and thorough researchers. This comment below was recently made by a rep for one of the wind developers. I am trying to verify the truth or untruth of this statement , but I am having trouble finding stats. Any advice, help etc? Thanks.

    “To eliminate one person’s carbon footprint of 10 tons each year (for Germany), it only takes a modern windmill 1 day by producing approx. 20,000 kilowatt hours of zero emission energy.”

    • Wouldn’t all this cement also be part of the needed Canadian content requirement for IWT installation? And also create local jobs?

  2. I, too, would be interested in hearing what the researchers say. The way the sentence is worded it is likely true: it would ONLY TAKE 1 day of 20,000 kilowatt hours of zero emission energy. But – and it is a big but – does one turbine produce 20,000 kilowatt hours in one day, is it zero emission energy, and does it displace carbon?
    I found a couple of websites that confirmed the average person’s footprint in Germany was about 10 tons annually.
    The UK Carbon Footprint Discussion Group on Wind Farm Carbon Footprint site ( says this:
    “A 2MW wind turbine operating at 30% capacity factor will generate 5.2GWh per year. In the UK this will displace around 2,770 tonnes of CO2” Assuming THAT statement is true, 2770 divided by 365 equals 7.6 tonnes or 8.4 tons per day so that comes close to one turbine in one day displacing an average person’s 9.8 ton footprint.
    However, the unknowns are: Will a 2MW turbine do that in Ontario? What was the carbon footprint of making, transporting, erecting the turbine, etc? Was this included? Did they include the footprint of the backup generation? More importantly, it implies that the turbine-generated power is displacing carbon. In Ontario, because of our nuclear and hydro, I don’t think you can say that the turbines displace carbon-emitting sources. Our energy production is pretty clean as it is.

    This sounds to me like one of those statements that may be true as far as it goes but it is not the whole truth because it leaves a lot out. One of those statements that, by selective use of statistics, illustrates the idea that you can prove anything with statistics. Another statement by a rep that is designed to sound authoritative but really says nothing relevant.

    Now, I would be really interested in what the real researchers have to say about this.

  3. Here are some of the numbers….

    Assuming a 1.5MW turbine (Typical). and …There are 24 hours in a day so (24 * 1,500KW) = 36,000KWH

    Further assuming an “average day” (NOT Typical) then you get about 26% so…
    26% of 36,000 = 9,360 KWH

    So what would this allow per month? 9360KWH / 12 months == 780 KWH / month
    Which is pretty light… Closer to 1000 mean you are not living in energy poverty.

    So now you need to compare that to your “usual” power source…

    So if you use:
    Nuclear — close to zero ongoing emissions
    Hydro Power — close to Zero Ongoing emissions.
    Gas Stations — installed only because of Greenies — make Lots of CO2 and NOx
    McGuinty Closed all the Coal stations — so leave them out…

    BUT CO2 is not a pollutant — it’s plant food so it does not count. Leaving NOx — so if they put in a single Cycle Fast start (wind Following) gas burning turbine — then it generates about 30% more pollution than a dual stage (combined cycle) gas turbine.

    So it’s one of those “things” where you wonder wtf the point is…

    So what is the point? You would need to choose specific wind turbines — pick a day (and only 17% produce average or better), choose a specific power source using a specific fuel and decide on what basis to calculate — running emissions or total life cycle emissions.

    At the end you would have a CO2 figure — but it does not matter any way.

    I hope that makes the point. I could give you a precise figure — but why would I bother since this is all a hypothetical discussion of a mythical “pollutant”? — which is not a pollutant at all!

  4. we have to get money together for a media campaign!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Clue:
    “Scott Smith, vice-president of policy for the Canadian Wind Energy Association, said an offer from the Ontario Power Authority for a contract gives wind energy developers the green light to begin the process of obtaining the necessary permits and approvals.”

    1. Proponent has already secured land deals, and gag order(s) in place.
    2. OPA “contract offer” gives green light to begin process

    We already know what “Green Light” means:

    1. A willing landowner.
    2. Municipality shut out (see step 4)
    3.Two (2) public information sessions (includes “sheet of concerns”)
    4. Most importantly:
    Municipality’s willingness/acceptance to participate “in the process”, –
    by filling out a “sheet of concerns” concludes the entire process;
    pushes proponent forward.
    This demonstrates the proponents willingness to work with the municipality
    and most importantly, the municipality’s willingness to work with the proponent.
    5. All of the “concerns” are dealt with
    6. which now forms a “complete application”
    7. Ministry of the Environment (MOE) receives “Complete Application” –
    Note: “sheets of concerns” have been addressed and resolved;
    submitted with application – as proof.
    8. MOE Rubber Stamps – Approval
    9. MOE to citizens – If you disagree with the approval – you can sue

    A New Low!
    I. Evidence of “threats”
    2. OPA can ‘change rules’ to make it work!
    3. Previously, proponent had to pay – to hook up projects to the grid
    4. OPA changes rules: now taxpayers pay to hook up proponent to the grid

    1. Why are the municipalities participating in this “sham process”?
    2. Do the municipalities have competent legal advise?
    3. Are some municipal lawyers – in a possible – “conflict of interest”?
    Please Note:
    My questions do not mean to insult anyone – they need to be asked.

    In the traditional true spirit – the way municipal councils
    should, and could be representing citizens –
    especially when dealing with –
    ‘public safety’ and ‘human well being’ issues, in general –
    has been lost – ‘in the process’.
    I believe the ‘public perception’, now is – many – municipal councils
    are not representing their citizens in a competent manner – and –
    should be called into question.
    Put very simply, is the tail (staff) wagging
    the dog (council) -?
    Something is very wrong?

    Clear by now:
    Many town Councils across Ontario ignore the ‘will of the citizens’,
    and submit to the ‘will of private corporations’.
    This is a complete display of incompetence, cowardliness,
    and an abuse of trust.

    Elected councillors simply forgot they owe their loyalty
    to citizens first. Yes, that must be the problem. Forgetfulness.
    You’ve ‘gotta a lotta’ nerve! Shame on you!

    WHO is going to ‘step up’ and help the ordinary citizen(s) –
    that now, have to – through no fault of their own –
    abandon their homes? Myself included!

    some, municipal councils –
    still – “Stuck on Stupid”.

    Without assistance at the ‘local level’ – Mr. McGuinty Liberals would be
    forced to – Rule by Regulation. And that, would bring down the Liberal Party.

    If, I have made an error, in my summation – it must be because I am confused.
    please jump in………….

  6. That should be us..which is why need a legal defence fund.
    This banter back and forth is not enough………….we have to back it up with legal power. and that takes dollars. If you don’t have some , fine then have someone donate it or we could begin a fundraiser raising awareness of those impacted which is why we need MORE people speaking out that are affected.
    The point is it is not enough to just speak out and show your knowledge on here.
    How do we get that vast knowledge in condensed form out to the public in a way they can understand and and have personal meaning.
    If papers don’t run it, we buy space and print it..something , ANYTHING..we are getting close to election time…it can’t work if you don’t do it and try.
    Come on folks….

  7. Thanks Mattie & David for the terrific info. Mattie – your research led to “2MW wind turbine operating at 30% capacity factor will generate 5.2GWh per year. In the UK this will displace around 2,770 tonnes of CO2”. But like you, I wonder – is that a true statement? How was this carbon footprint formula created?
    Great point David.. since IWTs do not release CO2 emissions, the CO2 footprint reduction comparison is moot…. but the manufacture, transport and proliferation of these beasts does create a huge carbon footprint.

    • No , first you have to understand how they got the 2,770 tons of CO2…which is also pulled out of the hat.
      You’d have to start at the beginning ..where and how they reached this figure
      In order to do that you need this calculation ; multiply made up facts by 50:3 , subtract the media spin and then divide the assertions by the number of half truths..
      Then mulitiply it by zero ….if the amount in box D is greater than zero , enter zero.

  8. Is this why there is such a push for the mega quarry?

    • Interesting point. Who stands to benefit financially from this quarry?

      • A private ‘unregulated’ hedge fund –
        an exciting place to be – if you’re invited, and have money.

  9. Millbrook Jane – there’s three aspects to the quote. The salesman has 2 of them correct.

    The first is the carbon footprint of a person. I’ll buy David’s numbers and say that 10T is a correct number.

    The second is can one turbine produce 20MWH (or the more impressive-looking 20,000KWM) of electricity in one day? The answer is yes. A 2.3MW turbine, like those on Wolfe Island, can theoretically produce 2.3 times 24 = 55.2MWH. So 20 would be a 36% capacity factor, which Wolfe has averaged for an entire month, but not for an entire year.

    The third is how much carbon is saved per MWH? Here’s where it gets tricky, like David mentioned above. Let’s assume their “tons” are metric, or 1000KG. The salesman is assuming a rate of 10T/20MWH, or 0.5T/MWH. Where does this very important number come from? You’d like to think somebody measured it somewhere, but you’d be wrong. What wind companies do is ASSUME that every MWH they produce offsets a MWH from other generation, plus offsets the emissions from that generation. BWEA initially claimed that a typical 0.9T/MWH of coal would be offset, until their advertising standards board spanked them for doing so. Most proponents take the emissions of that grids average generation and use that number. According to Retscreen, Germany’s average emissions rate is 0.493T/MWH. Obviously that’s exactly what this salesman did.

    AWEA claims it is a “law of physics” that this offset must occur. This is nonsense. There’s some underlying assumptions that AWEA doesn’t mention (or more likely, even know about) – like the operation of the wind turbines has zero effect on the emissions of the existing fossil plants – that are incorrect. So what’s the real rate? Nobody knows. In Ontario, whose average rate is 0.2, it could well be negative, given the way fast-reacting gas plant generation is displacing co2-free nuclear generation.

    • Wayne:

      In other words I think we agree — again it is another attack of the dreaded “Model Monster”.

      You are actually “Modeling” what it would be under a wide ranging set of assumptions. Since Ontario has a a very low CO2 footprint already for its power generation it is a bit of a pointless exercise of extreme complexity — at least if you want a real answer.

      Most scare stories of the climatological bent are based on models you know.

  10. I’ll put in my 2 cents worth, but for those who want to really dive in I’d suggest the thread at – which includes many posts related to a study that shows as wind increases it’s share on a grid, the displacement of CO2 rapidly decreases.

    In terms of the specific measurements of emissions replaced, I think that would require actual measurements on smokestacks. Introducing intermittent sources changes gas and coal plants efficiency. Nobody seems particularly interested in measuring that impact.
    Alternatively, we can just measure the macro picture on existing figures – which I’ve done a couple of times in different ways and generally get the figure 0 for indicated emissions reductions. That’s not to say emissions haven’t decreased in jurisdictions where wind has increased, but in the US states I looked at emissions haven’t decreased as quickly in states that have added wind as they have where they didn’t.
    In terms of Ontario … we know wind can’t replace much carbon here, because the vast majority of power to be replaced isn’t high in carbon emissions anyway. The argument could be our bloated exports replace coal generation in Michigan, New York, etc. And that might be true. New York certainly is emitting less now that they are a big importer, and Michigan just keeps producing with coal regardless. We could really reduce emissions by building lots of nuclear, regardless of price, to give Michigan free supply.
    Which likely wouldn’t go over too well with Ontarians, but isn’t really different than the situation with wind production being added.

    • Let me get this straight , the US is in a recession , industry is being decimated and CO2 emissions are dropping because of IWTs…can you see the spin here?
      Of course there is less pollution..people aren’t working and factories are moving out of the country.
      The best thing that happened for the ECO business is the world depression..they can show results for wind and solar…and take the credit ..when the real reason is manufacturing has slowed
      Look at Ontario..we are decimated…we are polluting less because industry has slowed or shut down

  11. It looks like David, Scott and I all agree on the basic facts here. What the salesman said could, in a perfect world, be true. But consider, in a world that perfect, we wouldn’t need to keep putting gas in our cars.

  12. Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph has said that Industrial Wind Turbines are one of the most expensive and least effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions (if that is your goal). Wind proponents will say anything to promote IWT’s. You can bat away every one of their statements in a similar fashion. The link (below) is to a document that dispels 7 of the most often cited “benefits” of wind turbines:

  13. What is happening with the Chatham Kent appeal? Today is July 18 and wasn’t the decision to be brought down by today? Does anyone know what is happening?

  14. Thanks, MA. A couple of the reports on the appeal (eg: “Government lawyer blasts opposition to wind farms” Posted on 05/26/2011) stated that the decision was to be made by July 18. Perhaps that was only an approximate date. We will keep waiting even if not patiently.

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