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The Big Dirty Secret Behind Wind Power

Unrecyclable wind turbine blades at a landfill in Casper, Wyoming. Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen for Bloomberg

Bloomberg, February 7, 2020

By Josh Petri (Bloomberg) – One of the major news stories of the week was the acquittal of U.S. President Donald Trump. As part of his effort to get Ukraine to probe a political rival, Trump withheld almost $400 million in aid appropriated by Congress for Ukraine’s defense. Now Democrats say Trump is doing something similar on clean energy, withholding $823 million Congress allocated for a program aimed at countering the global climate crisis.

Despite Trump’s unwavering opposition to climate-friendly policies, the switch to renewable energy continues. Texas and Iowa, already leaders in the field, installed more wind turbines than ever last year. The country as a whole installed 9.1 gigawatts of wind power in 2019, the most since the expiration of federal tax credits triggered a building boom almost a decade ago.

READ: EXTREME – Shipping the world’s longest wind turbine blade

That wind power is generated via massive fiberglass blades, each of which can be longer than a Boeing 747 wing. Built to withstand hurricane-force winds, the blades can’t easily be crushed—or recycled or repurposed for that matter. It’s a curious conundrum: Tens of thousands of blades must be replaced each year and most have nowhere to go but landfills like the one below. But the industry is working on a green solution to wind power’s dirty downside. 

Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming.
Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming.
Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen for Bloomberg Green

Legendary investor Jeremy Grantham last year announced he was devoting almost his entire fortune, more than $1 billion, to fighting climate change. In a new interview, he warned that the impacts are “accelerating.”

READ: Looking for a side-hustle? Why not start an offshore wind farm? $1tn opportunity

For some species, things are already quite bad. A new study published Thursday in the journal Science found spikes of extreme heat are a critical factor in the widespread die-off of wild bumblebees. 

As for Grantham’s anecdotal observations, computer climate models agree with his observation. These sophisticated programs—which have successfully projected global warming for half a century—are now running are now running red hot, and scientists don’t know why.

The question is, it seems, how bad will climate change get, and how soon?

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