The following is a list of the key issues relating to wind farms with a brief explanation of each.
1. Wind energy is inefficient.
In simple terms the problem with wind is that it is fickle, intermittent, it doesn’t blow constantly.
Developers present their case for a wind farm based on capacity, i.e. what they are capable of producing, as if this was what they actually produce. This grossly exaggerates their output; they generally operate at some 25% of capacity. This is because of the intermittent nature of wind.
The stupidity of the situation is that because wind is variable it needs conventional backup in the form of a spinning reserve for when the wind does not blow. This means we have the farcical situation of building more wind farms, which require us to build more conventional power stations and these do emit CO2, nuclear being the exception.
Wind turbines do not generate in light or very strong winds. Below 8-10 mph wind speed they do not generate and cut out for safety reasons above 56 mph. Maximum generation is reached around 30 mph. 75% of UK winds are below 18mph. Thus onshore turbines usually produce only 18 to 26% of their potential electricity (called the ‘load factor’) depending on the site. The figure for offshore sites is only marginally better despite early optimistic statements to the contrary.
Can’t wind replace nuclear? No. Nuclear power stations produce constant power (known as ‘base-load’) essential for our Western life-style for 24/7 all the year round. Wind is an unreliable ‘bit player’ on the energy scene. It would take 1,500 wind turbines spread over 20 square kilometres to produce the same electricity as a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power station – even then it could not provide base load.
2. Wind energy is cheap.
It is not. It is prohibitively expensive. The wind farm owner sells the electricity produced to the electricity companies/suppliers who, in turn, sell it on to you. Feeding electricity into the grid is complex and costly and the bill is paid by you.
Although the government would deny providing a costly subsidy to onshore wind energy developers, the scheme whereby developers reap their rewards is a clever indirect device that comes in the form of Renewables Obligation Certificates. Under this scheme, developers earn two to three times the sum of conventional electricity. Currently owners of wind turbines earn an additional £49 for every megawatt hour they produce and twice that sum for offshore wind. The ROCs are sold to the electricity suppliers at this inflated priced. This is paid for unknowingly through your household bills. According to Ofgem this cost customers over £1.2 billion in 2009/10 thus adding to domestic and industry costs.
A clever twist is that electricity suppliers are locked into an agreement to purchase a proportion of their electricity from renewable sources, if they don’t reach their renewables target they are fined heavily.
3. CO2 emissions.
Electricity produced from wind is carbon dioxide free at the point where the turbine generates it. However, there is significant carbon dioxide produced during manufacture, installation and decommissioning. According to the wind industry this CO2 is paid back within months. Importantly, the CO2 produced by the fossil fuel backup needed for when the wind does not blow is not included in the CO2 reduction figures quoted in planning applications. In summary, the figures quoted do not tell the full story and underestimate the real position in relation to CO2 reduction.
The figure used by DEFRA, BERR (DTI), Ofgem, the Carbon Trust, and Government is 0.43 tons per megawatt hour. The use of the figure 0.43t/MWh for calculating the lifetime savings of a wind farm is supported by the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA has upheld several complaints from the public against developers for providing misleading information to the public.
4 Concrete bases.
Each turbine foundation requires in the region of 500 to 1,000 tonnes of concrete and aggregate plus steel. Service roads too require materials. Concrete manufacture is one of the biggest sources of man-made CO2 emissions (between 3% and 7%).
The rotor tips of a wind turbine travel at speeds over 150 mph and at such speeds noise is generated.
As part of a planning application submission developers are required to assess the audible range of noise at various locations around a development but rarely does this contain assessments for low frequency noise and vibration. These are generally not acknowledged to be a problem by developers. It is their contention that residents living more than 500 metres away from the turbines will not experience noise problems. This is not borne out in practice where local councils have received numerous noise complaints.
The standard guidance for developers is the hopelessly out-of-date ETSU-R-1997 guidelines. These were formulated in 1996 when turbines were much smaller than today and are generally not considered fit for purpose in relation to modern turbines.
Despite supposedly producing a review of newer and larger turbines, the UK government sanctioned editing of the report so that reduced noise limit recommendations were edited out. This slight of hand was only discovered by the Den Brook wind farm campaign requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act.
So nothing in the noise sphere has moved on and the old guidelines still pertain at the expense of nearby residents.
6 Shadow flicker
Shadow flicker arises when the sun is shining behind a turbine as its blades rotate. A shadow is cast as the blades rotate which is turned on and off with the motion of the blades. Inside a house, the effect is similar to lights dimming and brightening as the shadow passes round the walls of the room.
Developers will argue that turbines can be programmed to shut-down when flicker is likely to occur; however, doing so reduces the power output and consequent profit to the developer so it is not the preferred option. The preferred ‘solution’, proposed by developers, is to offer to install curtains or blinds in affected properties.
7 Property values.
Unlike in Denmark, in the UK there is no requirement for compensation to be paid for loss of residential amenity and consequent loss of property value. In the UK it is the developer and landowner who pocket a profit, whilst nearby residents lose money. In Denmark, the developer has a duty to pay compensation for loss of property value arising from the proximity of a wind turbine.
There is growing evidence from solicitors and estate agents that wind turbines reduce the value of nearby properties. They also reduce the number of property sales once a proposal is mooted – we have our own evidence that the proposal for wind turbines around Creetown effectively halted a sale (see TW312 website).
The most famous and oft quoted case in the UK concerned the new owners of a property in the south lakes, Cumbria, who successfully sued the sellers for not disclosing their knowledge of an approved wind farm due to be erected in the vicinity. The judge awarded £20,000 for loss of value on the property.
8. Don’t wind farms generate jobs?
No. Studies from Spain and the UK show that whilst there may be some local jobs in the 6-18 month construction phase, there is a net loss of jobs at a rate of 2 to 3 for every ‘green’ job created, slightly less of a loss in Scotland. Maintenance generates few jobs as wind farms are often unmanned and the service engineers are employed across a batch of wind farms. The huge sums paid to support the wind energy industry is depriving other renewable technologies of vital funding and displacing jobs in other industries which have high electricity costs.
9. Wind farms will boost the local economy.
Not generally true as at present the most costly expenditure is on turbine manufacture and the sourcing of raw materials and the major manufacturing bases are in Europe and the raw materials are drawn from a variety of World sources.
10. Doesn’t the local community receive a pot of money?
Yes. But wait a moment. Residents have already paid for the electricity produced through hidden costs in their electricity bills. Work it out. If as Nigel Lawson (former UK Chancellor) says the hidden costs to families is £200 per year then what the community is getting is a relatively small proportion paid back to them of their own money.
The most recent windfarm application contained an offer of a financial contribution of £50,000 annually to communities within a 10km radius of the site, the money to be retained by them and doled out on application for suitable projects. Following the Dumfries and Galloway Council formula this would have resulted in £20,000 for region wide energy efficiency projects and £30,000 for three community councils, which together had a total population of approximately 4,000 residents, or 1,739 households. Based on 1,739 households, each paying £200 per annum hidden in their electricity bills, the cost to the total group of households was £347,800! Do you think this is a bargain, together you pay £347,800 and receive back £30,000?
According to Dr Benny Peiser, Director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the hidden cost to householders is £100 per year, if so the 1,739 households would be paying a total of £173,900 which when offset against £30,000 community benefit looks a decidedly poor return and to take an even more modest example, if the cost to households is just £50 per annum, the sum paid by households totals £86,950 making the return of £30,000 still rather weak.
Even if the community received all of the £50,000 the figures paid at the various rates, £347,800, £173,900 and £86,950 are still poor by comparison.
Of course, how much is received in community benefit is not really the point. The point is that community benefit is a payment against losses. For very little CO2 savings and inefficient and expensively subsidised electricity, the community’s assets in terms of landscape, wildlife and habitat, tourism and recreational interests and residential amenity are being whittled away.
Not our finest hour