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Quotes Thomas Homer-Dixon as saying a windmill will "never generate as much energy as was invested building it."

Facebook posts on Thursday, April 11th, 2019 in a Facebook post

No, a professor didn't say a windmill will 'never generate' the energy invested in building it

The subject of windmills seems to be pretty popular these days.

It started with the president when he made the Mostly False statement in March that wind turbine-powered electricity stops when the wind does. A month later, Trump waded in further to make the Pants on Fire claim that windmills cause cancer.

Now, we have a meme roaming social media that claims Canadian author and professor Thomas Homer-Dixon said that windmills will "never" generate as much energy as was expended to build the structures.

The full quote:

"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." "A windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it."

The meme was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It actually dates back to 2015, but continues to surface on social media.

No, Homer-Dixon did not say or write this. The phrase is a partial quote cherry-picked from a chapter written by earth scientist David Hughes in the 2009 book "Carbon Shift: How Peak Oil and the Climate Crisis Will Change Canada (and Our Lives)," a book Homer-Dixon edited.

Here is the full passage:

"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."

The meme does get a part of the quote right, but it strategically leaves out large swaths of information in order to give people the impression that all windmills never expend the amount of energy that was invested in it, which is not accurate. The meme’s omitted section explains that, while poorly placed windmills may never generate enough energy payback, a good wind site could generate it in three years or less.

Homer-Dixon, who served as the founding director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and is currently a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, even called out the meme in a May 2018 post on his website.

"It’s worth noting that it would be pointless to put wind turbines in poor locations, and it’s trivial, or meaningless, to say that a turbine would never pay back its embedded energy in a poor location," Homer-Dixon wrote in the post. "So, 1) I didn’t write the text, 2) the text itself is selectively quoted, and 3) the argument it makes, taken in isolation, is meaningless. Three strikes."

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Quotes Thomas Homer-Dixon as saying a windmill will "never generate as much energy as was invested building it."
Thursday, April 11, 2019