WIND energy is set to power every UK home by 2030 and plays a key role in the Government’s ambitious net-zero targets. But this renewable energy source has been met with its fair share of criticism.
In fact, there is some doubt as to whether wind energy, or rather wind farms, are sustainable at all.
Sustainable and renewable energy are terms that are often, but inaccurately, used interchangeably. While all sustainable energy is renewable, not all renewable energy is sustainable.
To be considered sustainable, energy sources must meet the needs of the current population without negative effects for future generations. They can’t harm the planet or use resources that are in short supply.
Nuclear energy, which leads to toxic waste, and some forms of biogas, made with crops that require extensive irrigation, are often classed in the unsustainable category, despite being renewable.
So, why would wind energy be deemed unsustainable?
First, wind turbines contain a strong magnet made with neodymium, one of 17 “rare earth” metals. Some people argue that wind farms will deplete the Earth’s supply.
But “rare earth” is widely considered a misnomer: some of these metals are rare, but some, like neodymium, are about as abundant as copper. Nevertheless, there is certainly a case to make for a more circular design approach to preserve supplies.
Criticisms of wind turbines aren’t limited to their components: wind farms are often met with accusations that their construction harms the environment.
Wind farm construction does indeed release CO2 emissions. However, the emissions produced during the installation of a typical wind farm are saved after three to nine months. And that’s before you consider the much higher level of emissions created by non-renewable energy sources like coal and natural gas.
Lastly, onshore wind farms are often met with resistance by local residents, who argue that energy companies overlook their community’s needs. Wind turbines impact views of the natural landscape and cause widespread disruption.
This is a criticism that the wind power industry should take very seriously. Communities near onshore wind farms are being asked to make a sacrifice, and that needs to be recognised.
Wind energy companies must involve communities in the planning process, offering transparent and detailed communication. They should also give back to communities by creating grants for local facilities and programmes, as many companies have already done.
It’s not about paying communities off, but rather, ensuring that the needs of wind energy companies are not placed above the needs of local people.
So, are wind farms sustainable? The answer is yes, with caveats: we must preserve our neodymium supplies and provide communities near onshore developments with support.
Although wind farms have a net positive effect on the planet, it’s easy to see how misinformation and misunderstanding can quickly lead to negative public opinion.
Public outreach programmes, awareness campaigns and dedicated information services should all form a part of every wind energy company’s communication plan. The value of public support should never be underestimated.

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