CLAIM

Rep. Joe Barton said "wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down, which would cause the temperature to go up."

RATING

WHAT'S TRUE

During a Congressional subcommittee hearing, Rep. Barton made reference to wind's being a "finite resource"

WHAT'S FALSE

When Barton referenced wind's being a "finite resource," he was quoting from a paper written by an academic that questioned whether increased use of wind turbines might have unintended environmental consequences

ORIGIN

On 26 February 2009, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas made comments during the course of a Congressional subcommittee hearing on renewable energy in which he maintained a strong stance favoring fossil fuels over alternative energy sources. One quote attributed to him during that hearing has since become the focus of popular internet memes: “Wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down, which would cause the temperature to go up.”

Perhaps due to the contextual relevance of the comment (in the course of an otherwise unremarkable Congressional hearing), the quote has been routinely attributed to Barton in varying forms ever since. The remarks were not made on a television program or during the course of an interview, and in the ensuing years they have circulated with little question over whether Barton actually spoke those words, or in what context he might have said them.

As it turns out, the quote is not an accurate reflection of Barton’s statement during the hearing in question. The Texas congressman prefaced his remarks by citing a paper written by Professor Jay Apt, executive director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center:

Before I ask my questions, I am going to read a paragraph from Dr. Apt’s statement or paper that he wrote because we are here debating a renewable energy standard because we think that there is a theory that manmade emissions, primarily from fossil fuels like coal, which reduce amounts of CO2, are causing climate change, i.e., the temperature to rise, and one of the solutions being proposed is an RES that is going to rely fairly heavily on wind power, which obviously doesn’t create CO2.

I am going to read a paragraph which is if true very ironic, and this is from Dr. Apt’s paper and I quote: “Wind energy is a finite resource. At large scale, slowing down the wind by using its energy to turn turbines has environmental consequences. A group of researchers at Princeton University,” which is in New Jersey, parenthetically “found that wind farms may change the mixing of air near the surface, drying the soil near the site. At planetary scales, David Keith, who was then at Carnegie Mellon, and coworkers found that if wind supplied 10 percent of expected global electricity demand in 2100, which is a number of years off, the resulting change in the earth’s atmospheric energy might cause some regions of the world to experience temperature change of approximately 1 degree Centigrade,” which I think is about 1-1/2 degrees or 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it is hotter to areas where it is cooler. That is what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I am not saying that is going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale — I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something. You can’t transfer that heat and the heat goes up. It is just something to think about.

The purported quote has since circulated on the Internet intermittently; however, the meme is not quite an accurate representation of Barton’s remarks, as it excludes the context that Barton was quoting someone else when he mentioned that “wind energy is a finite resource” and stated that “slowing down the wind by using its energy to turn turbines has environmental consequences.” He did summarize those points in his own words at the end of his statement and averred that they “made sense,” but he also posited them as speculative hypotheticals, saying it would be “ironic” if they occurred, and proclaiming that “I am not saying that is going to happen.”

House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.   “Hearing on ‘Renewable Energy: Complementary Policies for Climate Legislation.”
    26 February 2009.

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