Fact Check-Meme claiming that wind turbines are inefficient misquotes expert

A meme wrongly saying that wind turbines will never generate as much energy as was used to construct them misquotes a passage from an essay written by scientist David Hughes.

The text on the meme reads: “A two-megawatt windmill is made up of 260 tons of steel that required 300 tons of iron ore and 170 tons of coking coal, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. A windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it. If you support “The Green New Deal”, you’re an idiot. Sorry, not sorry.”

Examples of the misleading statement are viewable ( here ), ( here ), and ( here ).

The meme is based on a passage from ‘Climate Shift,’ a book of essays about how Canada will adapt to climate change published in 2009 edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon and Nick Garrison ( here ).

It misses out key parts of the passage, stripping it of context and changing its meaning. The author says a windmill can generate as much energy as was used to make it in less than three years, as long as it is in a good position. ( )

The paragraph from the book in full reads: “The concept of net energy must also be applied to renewable sources of energy, such as windmills and photovoltaics. A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. The question is: how long must a windmill generate energy before it creates more energy than it took to build it? At a good wind site, the energy payback day could be in three years or less; in a poor location, energy payback may be never. That is, a windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”

Hughes told Reuters that his comments had been taken out of context and that the passage relates to capacity factory, which is the “amount of electricity a wind mill actually generates compared to the amount it would generate if it was running at 100% of its rated Generating Capacity”.

“Not every location has adequate windspeeds to generate much electricity, no matter how many wind mills you put up,” he added.

The co-editor of the book, Thomas Homer-Dixon, released a blog post in 2018 about how the passage had been misquoted and shared without context online ( here ).

A study published in 2010 which reviewed more 100 studies concluded that the average operating wind farm would produce 20 times more energy than was required to build it ( here ).


Misleading. The original passage does not say that wind turbines will never create the same energy needed to build them. Rather, the author argued that it is necessary to build wind turbines in areas where they will generate sufficient energy.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .