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Mark Buchanan

Revealing the Dark Side of Wind Power

Surprising new research suggests harvesting cleaner energy may have serious consequences for the environment.

It’s not always sunny.

It’s not always sunny.

Photographer: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Any solution to global warming will almost certainly rely on an expansion of renewable energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions with clean solar or wind energy and related technologies. It’s still far from clear, however, which technologies might deliver copious amounts of energy when we need it while avoiding negative environmental consequences.

Research published today may help clarify the situation — and it’s not encouraging for wind-power enthusiasts. It suggests that the power available from wind is much more limited than many experts thought, and that deployment on a larger scale could significantly raise temperatures over the Earth’s surface, as turbines alter atmospheric flows. The research highlights a painful but not altogether surprising reality: Even the cleanest renewable technologies come with environmental costs.