U.S. Energy Information Administration logo
Skip to sub-navigation

Wind explained Wind energy and the environment

Wind is an emissions-free source of energy

Wind is a renewable energy source. Overall, using wind to produce energy has fewer effects on the environment than many other energy sources. Wind turbines do not release emissions that can pollute the air or water (with rare exceptions), and they do not require water for cooling. Wind turbines may also reduce the amount of electricity generation from fossil fuels, which results in lower total air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions.

An individual wind turbine has a relatively small physical footprint. Groups of wind turbines, sometimes called wind farms, are located on open land, on mountain ridges, or offshore in lakes or the ocean.

Wind Farm at The Cerro Gordo Project, West of Mason City, Iowa

Wind turbines at the Cerro Gordo Project, west of Mason City, Iowa

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (public domain)

Wind turbines have some negative effects on the environment

Modern wind turbines can be very large machines, and they may visually affect the landscape. A small number of wind turbines have also caught fire, and some have leaked lubricating fluids, but these occurrences are rare. Some people do not like the sound that wind turbine blades make as they turn in the wind. Some types of wind turbines and wind projects cause bird and bat deaths. These deaths may contribute to declines in the population of species also affected by other human-related impacts. The wind energy industry and the U.S. government are researching ways to reduce the effect of wind turbines on birds and bats.

Most wind power projects on land require service roads that add to the physical effects on the environment. Producing the metals and other materials used to make wind turbine components has impacts on the environment, and fossil fuels may have been used to produce the materials. Although most of the materials used to make wind turbines can be reused or recycled, turbine blades, as most are currently constructed, cannot be recycled. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) established an approach to manufacturing wind turbine blades, employing a thermoplastic resin system. These thermoplastic resins enable a manufacturing process that allows wind turbine blades to be recycled at their end of life and also reduces the energy required to manufacture blades.

Last updated: December 17, 2021