A number of blogs and sites seem to repeat a claim 14,000 ABANDONED WIND TURBINES LITTER THE UNITED STATES, and in particular:

The towering symbols of a fading religion, over 14,000 wind turbines, abandoned, rusting, slowly decaying. When it is time to clean up after a failed idea, no green environmentalists are to be found. Wind was free, natural, harnessing Earth’s bounty for the benefit of all mankind, sounded like a good idea. Wind turbines, like solar panels, break down. They produce less energy before they break down than the energy it took to make them. The wind does not blow all the time, or even most of the time. When it is not blowing, they require full-time backup from conventional power plants.

In contrast, a number of blogs have attempted to debunk this statement, including stating:

So, 14,000 permanently inactive wind turbines world-wide is gross hyperbole at roughly four times the worst case scenario, and becomes close to an order of magnitude of inflation when compared to a likely scenario.

Is there any evidence in support of the claim that 14,000 wind turbines have been abandoned in the USA?

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    The number of turbines that are breaking down is not nearly as relevant as the proportion to the total number that exist. May 12, 2016 at 14:12
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    The original claim is from this 2010 article americanthinker.com/articles/2010/02/wind_energys_ghosts_1.html The author is referring to the 15,000 wind turbines installed in California between 1981 and 1986. It seems they are being replaced in an approximately 30:1 ratio with larger turbines. earthtechling.com/2015/12/…
    – DavePhD
    May 12, 2016 at 14:49
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    I am confused that one statement says 14,000 "litter the US", another says that 14,000 worldwide is "gross hyperbole", yet we know of 14,000 in just one state (California). These terms are not in any sort of coherence. How can people get their claims so badly wrong?
    – user29285
    May 13, 2016 at 16:26
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    Do 100 W wind turbines on a home rooftop count?
    – Nick T
    May 14, 2016 at 1:32
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    @NickT The original quote was: "Thousands of abandoned wind turbines littered the landscape of wind energy's California 'big three' locations -- Altamont Pass, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio -- considered among the world's best wind sites...California's wind farms -- then comprising about 80% of the world's wind generation capacity -- ceased to generate much more quickly than Kamaoa. In the best wind spots on earth, over 14,000 turbines were simply abandoned." So, no, only the ones installed in California in those 3 locations in the 1980s count in the original article.
    – DavePhD
    May 18, 2016 at 11:49

1 Answer 1


The origin of this claim is Andrew Walden's 2010 article Wind Energy's Ghosts.

He is specifically referring to the wind turbines installed in California between 1981 and 1986 in three locations: Altamont, Tehachapi, and San Gorgonio. The article says 15,000 wind turbines were installed there in this time period.

An American Wind Energy Association report Repowering California Wind Power Plants, May 1993 confirms that by 1991 there were 16,873 wind turbines in Californina:






(The wind industry uses the term "repowering" for decommissioning existing turbines and constructing new ones within the same wind farm. The 1993 reference is a plan to decommission 15587 of the 16,873 turbines)

So what is the current condition of these original wind turbines?

Already by 21 June 1999 there was a LA Times article Wind Farms Enter a New Generation:

The new windmills are slowly replacing ones less than half as tall that over the last 15 years have rooted like so many row crops along Interstate 10, just east of the San Gorgonio Pass.

The transition to the new wind turbines, which measure 296 feet tall from the ground to the tip of a rotor blade, is prompted by the 1996 deregulation of the state's electricity industry, which has forced wind farms to become more efficient. The $500,000 machines, with their 75-foot-long, 12,000-pound blades, spin more slowly but turn larger generators, creating about 15 times more electricity than their earliest predecessors.

Because their size requires more elbow room, fewer of the taller windmills are being erected to replace the smaller ones. At their peak in the late 1980s, nearly 4,000 wind turbines, 80 to 125 feet tall, dotted the area; eventually, the number will be reduced to the hundreds, operators predict.

So already by 1999 the 4000 at San Gorgonio Pass were being replaced.

A much more recent article, referring to Altamont pass, California Wind Farms Swap Out Turbines To Save Birds, says

They have applied for a permit to replace all of their obsolete equipment for newer state-of-the-art wind turbines that will be much less of a danger to birds. They notified the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service in October that they will be shutting down operations of all their older turbines over the winter.

Concerning the final location, Tehachapi Pass, Wikipedia says:

The first set of wind turbines installed were of American made Storm Master brand, however they failed.

Also, Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project vol. 3 says:

During the late 1990s, wind power plant owners started repowering their existing turbines by removing the older turbines and replacing them with newer models.

So Andrew Walden's claim that 14,000 turbines have been abandoned is essentially true, the 15,000 wind turbines from the early to mid 1980s have been or are being replaced, with a much small number of much larger capacity turbines.

The other link in the OP, labeled "a number of fact-checking blogs" links to an American Wind Energy Association website, it is not a general fact check blog. It seems to be looking at the number of permanently inoperative wind turbines still in place.

The version in the OP (unlike Andrew Walden's original article) is saying that the 14,000 are left to litter the landscape (as opposed to being removed). This part isn't true. For example there is a 1997 article discussing removal costs of turbines and towers in San Gorgonio.

However, it seems that it was more true in 1989, as Western Tanger July-August 1989 states:

Les Reid, former National Director of the Sierra Club, criticized the DEIR for ignoring the issue of wind farm abandonment. "The abandoned wind farms in Tehachapi, San Gorgonio and Altamont demonstrate that the claimed benefits of wind farms are often illusory," said Reid. "Travelers passing through wind farm areas are confronted with rusting and lifeless wind machines, and the governmental agencies which granted the permits for the projects have had difficulty forcing the wind developers to remove this blight on the landscape," Reid stated.

Further confirmation that the 14,000 turbines were never simultaneous abandoned yet still standing is given by a 2012 interview with Paul Gipe:

In the late 1980s there were as many as 3,000 of the 14,000 wind turbines installed in California that were in various states of disrepair. For the most part, there were no laws or regulations that specifically required the operators to remove these turbines. They became eyesores. These junk turbines as I called them joined the burned out hulks of abandoned automobiles, the discarded sofas, trash and urban detritus that littered the peri-urban fringe where most of these turbines were located.

Fortunately, over the years nearly all those turbines have been removed and of the 11,000 wind turbines in California today only some 500 remain derelict.

Overall, the truth is the 14,000 1980s California wind turbines have been decommissioned. In the late 1980s there was a problem of dysfunctional wind turbines just standing there, at the worst 3,000 simultaneously. But by 2012 there were only about 500 in such condition.

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    Good edit, but I think you should lead by addressing the claim in the question, not the claim in the article you link to. May 12, 2016 at 16:40
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    This is an illuminating answer. If I can shed some light on my expectations when posting the question: The essential claim is that 14,000 windmills have been built, remain standing, but are no longer used. The implication is that wind energy is not worthwhile, at least in part because of the leftover pollution ("littering") their structures leave after their useful energy-generating life. I feel to mark an answer correct one ought to show how many wind turbines stand but no longer generate energy (either from the pool of the 14,000 referenced, or otherwise). May 12, 2016 at 18:43
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    Thanks @DavePhD – I was wondering if that were the case. Partial decommission might make the analysis more complex. I guess that may be the gist of the original claim – whether the cost of removing wind turbines exceeds their lifetime value. In the case of abandonment + littering, I feel that if the bulk of the structure of 14,000 turbines (i.e. not necessarily including the blades) remained standing, then the original claim would be at least partly true. I suspect the truth is probably somewhat shy of that, but I would only be speculating. May 12, 2016 at 18:54
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    Is it just me, or does it seem strange when people write things like "10,000 gallons (37,854 liters)"? This makes the entire document suspect to me, as they apparently know nothing about "significant figures" when doing math. This is like when I discovered that 98.6F is actually 37C. Not 37.0, just 37. Here we have been worshiping 98.SIX! for decades and it was based on a very approximate figure all along. This is when I become skeptical of ALL claims and any reasoning and think I should just leave people to their fate.
    – user29285
    May 13, 2016 at 17:26
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    @DavePhD Cars usually end up in salvage yards, not as litter and certainly not in landfills. Those are highly regulated as to what is allowed.
    – user34514
    Jun 19, 2016 at 19:41

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