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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case Against Windfarms
 

Country Guardian
Great Britain
May 2000

 

Country Guardian's Policy on Windfarms A. The Case For Wind "Farms" Examined
B. The Scale Of Development Required
C. The Problem Of Intermittency
D. Landscape Quality Of Wind "Farm" Sites
E. Beauties Or Beasts?
F. Wind Turbines Offshore?
G. The Noise Factor
H. Television Interference
I. Wider Environmental Consequences
J. Safety
K. Tourism, Jobs, House Prices
L. The Effect On Birds
M. Public Opinion
N. Why The New Phenomenon Of Windfarms?
O. Government Policy
P. European Union Policy
Q. Kyoto
R. Wind 'Farms' And The Planning System
S. The Futility Of Supply-Side Solutions
T. How Can Electricity Needs Be Met?
U. The Value Of Landscape
V. Conclusion
 

Country Guardian's Policy on Windfarms

Country Guardian believes that the development of commercial wind power that has taken place with government support since 1990 is misguided, ineffective and neither environmentally nor socially benign.

We accept that wind energy has a role and that the countryside has always changed and will always change but we argue that the environmental and social cost of the development of commercial wind energy is quite out of proportion to any benefit in the form of reduced emissions. The industrialisation of our least developed landscapes, irreversible ecological damage, loss of amenity and the social division of communities is too high a price for an insignificant and unreliable contribution to our energy supply and a small and uncertain saving of pollution. 

Wind power can be a very useful method of generation for households, farms, estates and small communities sited away from the grid. Turbines may be acceptable where they are not in conflict with the scale and character of the local environment but they must not blight the lives of those living nearby with noise and flicker or endanger residents or visitors either on foot or horse; they must not create economic disadvantage through reduced property values or damage the tourist industry or the local economy; and they must not divide communities. 

The Countryside Act of 1968 states:
 

In the exercise of their functions relating to land under any enactment every minister, government department and public body shall have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside.


While government and local policy is supportive of renewable energy this act imposes a statutory duty to ensure that there is no undue adverse impact on the countryside.

Country Guardian argues that it is perfectly possible to reconcile a sustainable approach to energy generation and consumption while conserving our wilderness and the rural landscape in general - indeed that it is the right of the people of Britain to enjoy both clean and safe energy generation and an un-degraded countryside.

 

A. The Case For Wind "Farms" Examined

No-one claims that wind turbines produce electricity more cheaply or more efficiently than conventional power stations. Being unpredictable and uncontrollable the wind is a difficult energy source to work with. Merchant ships are not powered by sail; airlines do not use hot air balloons.

Those who advocate wind "farms" base their arguments on three propositions:

1) that they produce energy without the problems associated with nuclear power - risk of accident, problems of waste storage;

2) that they do not deplete fossil fuels, which are finite;

3) that they produce energy without harmful emissions - C02, SO2 and Nitrogen Oxides, gases associated with global warming and acid rain.


For these arguments to be valid it is clear that wind "farms", if developed in sufficient numbers, must significantly reduce emissions, must close a nuclear power station or must measurably slow the depletion of other fuels which will soon be exhausted.
 

Wind Power vs. Nuclear Power

The nuclear question is straightforward, at least in relation to wind. John Redwood, when as Welsh Secretary he gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Wind Energy, was asked specifically if the development of wind technology would close a nuclear power station. He confirmed that existing nuclear power stations would continue to the end of their working lives regardless of wind "farms". The present government has not changed this position. Indeed, wind power can never close a power station of any sort, because when the wind does not blow wind turbines produce no electricity and need a back up from a power station matching their capacity if there is not to be a power cut.

Far from reducing our dependence on nuclear, the percentage of electricity provided by nuclear power stations has grown during the last decade when wind turbines have been constructed in large numbers. In 1990 there were no wind "farms" and 20% of our electricity came from nuclear; in 1997 we had more than 700 turbines and 30% of our electricity came from nuclear. There is no possibility of wind and other renewables making up a 30% shortfall in our generation of electricity. A European Commission report published in April 2000 indicated that over the next 20 years at least 85 new nuclear power stations will have to be built in Europe, including four in the UK, if targets on emissions of CO2 are to be met, since nuclear generation produces no emissions and current nuclear plant is ageing. The report advises that existing nuclear plant should operate for forty years, despite having an envisaged working life of only 25 - 30 years. When the current nuclear power stations close, they will be replaced either by gas stations (CCGTs) or by modern nuclear plants. That will be a thorny political debate, but it will be one in which the wind industry plays no part since, as the report concludes, renewables will not be able to meet the shortfall.

Since Chernobyl no one has been able to ignore nuclear risks and recent problems at Sellafield have underlined them. It is dishonest of the wind industry to use these risks to frighten people into accepting wind turbines in unsuitable locations, since turbines can form no part of the solution. It is important to remember the words of Ian Mays, when he was, as chairman of the British Wind Energy Association, giving evidence to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Wind Energy: "The future can only be renewables and nuclear in some sort of combination" (30.03.1994). And let us not forget what Dr. David Lindley of National Wind Power said in evidence to the House of Lords on 18th February 1988: “We all work for companies which are involved in some way in the construction of nuclear power stations, so we are hardly anti-nuclear.”


Fossil Fuel Depletion

Fossil fuels are certainly finite resources. The question is whether they are in such short supply as to cause us concern. A Club of Rome report in 1972 predicted they would run out by 1990. 

The Director General of the UK Petroleum Industry wrote to The Times in late 1999: "Current known reserves-to-production ratios range from about 50 years for oil and gas to over 200 years for coal." He suggested, too, that undiscovered fields of oil and gas, tar shales and oil sands will extend the availability, albeit with higher extraction costs.

Reserves of coal will probably never be exhausted, because: “coal became obsolete, with huge and useless British and world reserves” (Dr. A. McFarquar of Cambridge University to The Times in 1999). These stocks, however, along with uranium reserves, will assure continuity of electricity supply.

The authoritative House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee reported (Energy Policy -June 1998): “We see no grounds for major concern over the very diverse countries of origin of supplies of gas, nor the prospects of prices being driven unnaturally high by cartel ... There are no reasons either on grounds of security of supply or of confidence in long term availability to resist the growing use of gas.” Don Huberts who heads Shell Hydrogen, a division of Royal Dutch Shell is convinced that new energy sources will soon begin to replace fossil fuels. He wrote in The Economist: “The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones and the oil age will not end because the world runs out of oil.”

Apart from conventional gas reserves, hydrates (compressed methane) found in immense quantities on the ocean floor are alone sufficient to power the world for another millennium. The problem at the moment is how to recover them without releasing the gas once the pressure is off, but a Japanese company is currently planning to drill down to a known deposit 40 miles off Japan's Pacific coast.

The conclusion we must draw is that there is at least no rush to plaster our landscape with huge turbines. An unpredictable and intermittent energy source like wind can never supply more than about 10% of our electricity without causing major disruption to the system as it cuts in and out. If in fifty years it is clear that even this marginal quantity of electricity is vital, then at least wind turbines have the virtue that they can be erected very quickly. 

CO2 Emissions and Global Warming 

The burning of fossil fuels is a major source of CO2 emissions, which have risen dramatically over the last twenty five years and been linked by many scientists to global warming. Estimates vary about how much the world will warm over the next century, about what the effects will be and about the extent to which human activity rather than natural cyclical effects are the cause of climate change. According to The New Scientist there is broad agreement that the global average temperature will rise by 1.5 degrees by 2100. It is a welcome phenomenon that governments are beginning to look at the issue and to form policies that head off potential dangers.

There is a risk, however, that governments will avoid the more difficult political decisions. If we accept that global warming is a major threat to humankind, why did the UK government impose a moratorium on the move to relatively clean gas-fired power stations and recently offer a large cash subsidy to the coal industry? Why has it avoided measures to deal with traffic growth (emissions from cars are our fastest growing source of CO2 and air travel is becoming a serious contributor)? Why is insulation material subject to VAT at 17.5% while energy consumption (our gas and electricity bills) is subject to VAT at only 5%. And while nuclear power is highly unpopular and carries obvious risks, it generates 30% of our electricity and produces virtually no CO2 - so why do we hear so little discussion of what is to replace our current nuclear power stations as they reach the end of their working life within the next ten to twenty years?

A government fearful of taking the politically difficult decisions on energy may be tempted to hide behind some green window-dressing, and this in our view is what the encouragement of wind “farms” has been since the early 1990s. According to the government's consultation paper New and Renewable Energy - prospects for the 21st Century (March 1999) it is "working towards a target of renewable energy providing 10% of UK electricity supplies ... by 2010." This "could lead to a reduction of 5 million tonnes in UK carbon emissions." Since UK Carbon emissions are projected to total 168 million tonnes of carbon by then, the renewables programme could lead to a reduction of just under 3%. Not all the renewable energy is to come from wind. Other sources are hydro, energy crops, waste incineration and other biomass. The projection is that wind will contribute between 2.1% and 4.4% of UK electricity supplies, according to the constraints put on the development of wind "farms". Thus, using the government's figures, wind farms could lead to a reduction of between 1.05 and 2.2 million tonnes of carbon per year - between 0.6% and 1.3% of UK emissions - between 0.004% and 0.009% of global CO2 emissions. Clearly that will have no effect whatsoever on global warming or climate change. 


Wind Turbines and Carbon Dioxide - a case study

A large turbine in Gloucestershire saves less than the amount of CO2 produced by just one articulated lorry.

At Nympsfield in Gloucestershire a single 500 kW gearless Enercon turbine was commissioned in Dec. 1996. Its annual output is about 1.11 million kWh (Tilting at Windmills BBC 2, 2.2.99). Since the turbine generates not only during the day, when it might displace oil- or coal-fired generation, but also at night when mainly nuclear and gas generation are operating, it is logical to assume that it displaces a mix of fuels, rather than only coal or oil. Department of Trade and Industry figures indicate that the 1995 generating fuel mix produced an average of 620g. of CO2 per unit of electricity generated. Thus we can calculate that the Nympsfield turbine saved about 688 tonnes each year, or 0.078 tonnes per hour.

An articulated lorry travelling at 50 mph along a motorway produces 0.08 tonnes of CO2 per hour. Given the uncontrolled growth of road traffic, the erecting of turbines is a futile exercise. How many turbines would we have to build each year to merely to keep pace with traffic growth?

 

B. The Scale Of Development Required 

The wind industry argues that 10% of our electricity could be generated by wind turbines. Even if only a smaller proportion is produced by wind - say 4.4% as envisaged by the government paper New and Renewable Energy - there are those who would regard the contribution to the fight against air pollution (however infinitesimal in global terms) as worthwhile. Country Guardian argues that the environmental costs of developing wind energy on this scale hugely outweigh the derisory savings in emissions.

The core of the problem is tiny output of even the biggest wind "turbine", the prominence of the sites necessary if they are to fulfill even their very limited generating potential and the huge numbers required in consequence to generate even modest amounts of electricity.

The machine is more accurately called an airscrew generator. Real turbines - water, steam or gas - have three characteristics in common: They are encased, the casing being vital to their operation; they operate at very high numbers of revolutions per minute; and they produce enormous amounts of electricity in relation to their size. The wind "turbine" is set to produce power at low to moderate wind speeds, when the output is a trickle. As the wind strengthens and real power becomes available, they have to be shut down or they will blow over.

Official figures for wind turbine output in the UK in 1998 confirm that their average output is about 25% of their theoretical capacity. A 200 ft high wind turbine of 500 kW capacity will on average produce 125 kW - enough to boil 50 electric kettles. The biggest turbines currently operating have a theoretical capacity of 1.5 MW, which is likely to give them an average output of under 400 kW.

The two biggest wind "farms" in Europe are close to each other in Powys, at Llandinam and Carno. Between them, they have 159 turbines and cover thousands of acres. Together they take a year to produce less than four days' output from a single 2000 MW conventional power station. Together, they have an output averaging 20 MW (in winter, UK demand peaks at about 53,000 MW.

The number of turbines needed to produce a given amount of power depends on the size of the turbine and the wind speed of its site, so estimates vary. UK annual electricity consumption is about 300,000 million units (300 TWh). 10% of consumption is 30 TWh and 4.4% is 13.2 TWh.

In 1997, 550 wind turbines in Britain produced 505 million units. Extrapolating from that, we would need 14,400 turbines to produce 4.4% of our electricity and 32,700 to produce 10%. Allowing that the turbines now being produced have significantly higher outputs, the required units might be produced by 10,000 or 22,700 machines.

Wind Power Monthly reported in January 2000 that the installed capacity of turbines on a world-wide basis at the end of 1999 was 12,455 MW. That represents the theoretical maximum output of nearly 40,000 turbines, erected over 30 years! If we remember that the average output of a wind turbine is only 25% of its capacity, all the world's wind machines are on average producing 3,100 MW or 27 TWh per year: just 9% of the consumption of one very small country like the UK and less than the output of a single British power station like Drax. When it is remembered that this derisory achievement was only possible with governments around the world encouraging the construction of turbines with subsidies or tax credits, it can clearly be seen that at best wind energy is an irrelevant side-show, while at worst it may deceive consumers into believing that something worthwhile is being done to combat emissions.

 

C. The Problem of Intermittency

Wind is an intermittent source of power and the only form of energy generation which we cannot control. If there is no wind, there is no generation; if there is too much wind the turbines must be shut down or they will be blown over. At the moment UK turbines generate only an insignificant trickle - less than 100 MW on average from nearly 50 wind "farms", towards an average demand of about 43,000 MW, so that their intermittent supply causes no problems for consumers - indeed those who manage supply simply ignore their existence.

If ever the wind industry gets its way, however, and builds the 22,700 turbines necessary to produce 10% of our supply, there would be major implications. For example, on January 7th 1997 demand in the UK peaked at 53,000 MW. The British Isles were covered by an area of high pressure and there was no wind. Had we been relying on wind to provide 5,300 MW at that point, there would have been widespread power cuts and 10% of the population would have been without electricity on a cold winter evening.

Of course, that kind of disaster would never be permitted in a modern industrial state, and so enough fossil fuel generating capacity would always be kept on stand-by ("inning reserve") to supply the shortfall if the wind dropped: any emissions savings will thus be reduced and of course no power station could ever close because of the major development of wind energy. Wind "farms" constitute an increase in energy supply, not a replacement - an extra environmental cost to add to that of nuclear and fossil fuel.

 

D. Landscape Quality of Wind "Farm" Sites

Guy Roots, counsel for the wind farm developers at the Public Enquiry into the Kirkby Moor wind "farm" in the Furness Peninsula of the South Lake District, said: It tends to be the higher parts of the country which are technically suitable for wind farms. These are too often prominent, scenically beautiful sites, and that causes a dilemma.”

The map of Designated Areas - National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest etc. - overlaps almost exactly the map of high wind speed sites. Although the authoritative report by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on Wind Energy advised that wind "farms" should be sited neither within Designated Areas nor where they would be clearly visible from such areas there is in practice no restraint over where developers may seek to erect wind turbines. They tend to target areas with the highest wind speed because these will guarantee the greatest output and the highest return. In addition, the system of subsidy which operated throughout the 1990s, the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO), invited competitive tenders from developers on the basis of cost per unit of electricity generated, with no reference to environmental acceptability, so that the system itself tended to produce applications in sites which were environmentally damaging.

The result is that wind developments have threatened much of our very finest landscape: at Corston and Cilciffeth, both on the borders of the Pembrokeshire National Park; on the Black Hill, Herefordshire (SSSI, Area of Great Landscape Value, 200 metres from Brecon Beacons National Park); the Denbigh Moors (SSSI, less than 2 miles from Snowdonia National Park); Ingham Farms, less than 1 mile from the Norfolk Broads National Park, and many others. If these landscapes, which are some of the finest in Europe, are threatened, how much more so are undesignated landscapes like the notably beautiful Radnorshire hills, whose lack of designation is a puzzling anomaly, or those isolated hills in otherwise degraded landscapes which are treasured for their amenity value by those who live near them.

That no area can be considered so beautiful as to be sacrosanct is proved by a current proposal to build 50 turbines near the village of Rookhope in the Wear Valley, entirely within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The turbines are each 300 feet high, almost as tall as St Paul's Cathedral, and will be visible from twenty miles' distance. The proposal conflicts with the Local Plan, the Structure Plan and even the government's guidelines for wind development, but the developers, National Wind Power, appear determined to proceed despite massive opposition. Incredibly, even the parent company, National Power, rejected the site seven years ago on the grounds that the AONB status of the landscape made it too sensitive for wind turbines, while the important peat soil structure would be profoundly damaged by construction work.

If between ten thousand and twenty-two thousand of these huge machines are to be built in such locations as those which have been proposed to date there will be hardly any part of our most valued landscape which is not blighted. Apart from the turbines themselves, many miles of transmission lines and hundreds of pylons would have to constructed because the sites are remote from the grid.

It is no wonder that in 1996 the Countryside Commission, which was then the government's landscape watchdog, warned that England's scenic countryside is in danger of becoming a "windfarm wilderness." It noted that nearly 150 turbines were being sited in or adjacent to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and that a further nine wind "farms" were targeted on Heritage Coasts, Areas of Great landscape Value and the immediate vicinity of National Parks. The Commission's brief was only to deal with England. The UK picture as a whole is even bleaker.

Recently, the wind industry has responded to concerns such as these by proposing that half the turbines proposed for the UK could be sited offshore. This question is dealt with in section F.

 

E. Beauties or Beasts? 

Aesthetic judgements are subjective and there may be as many who find a wind turbine beautiful as there are who find it ugly. That is not the issue: a wind "farm" is an industrial site of vast proportions and a turbine is a huge and noisy machine - 300 feet high or even more, the height of a 30 storey office block. A 30 storey building by a leading architect might be very beautiful, but on planning grounds would be unacceptable in a small village or on top of the fells in the Lake District.

Supporters of the technology as committed as Friends of the Earth argue that they should be excluded from Designated Areas like national Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites Of Special Scientific Interest. Jonathan Porritt, another supporter, wrote in The Daily Telegraph: "The modern wind turbine is a mighty intrusive beast. It's not into nestling, blending in or any of those clichés so beloved of rural romantics."

Wind Power Monthly, the magazine for the wind industry and wind enthusiasts, has recognised that the reason for the growing unpopularity of wind power is that a heavy industry has tricked its way into unspoiled countryside in "green" disguise. The editor wrote (September 1998): "Too often the public has felt duped into envisioning fairy tale wind "parks" in the countryside. The reality has been an abrupt awakening. Wind power stations are no parks." She went on to point out that in Denmark turbines are treated within the planning process in the same way as motorways, industrial buildings, railways and pig farms!

 

F. Wind Turbines Offshore?

In its scenarios for renewable energy by the year 2010 in New and Renewable Energy - Prospects for the 21st Century the Department of Trade and Industry suggests that between 60 and 70% of wind-generated electricity could come from turbines sited offshore. Much larger turbines are envisaged at sea than on land - Enercon are developing a turbine with an installed capacity of 5 MW, 190 metres high - and they are likely to have a greater capacity factor because of more dependable wind speeds. We speculate that to meet the offshore wind target envisaged in New and Renewable Energy will require between 3,800 and 4,500 turbines.

From the latest information available (see Section O - Government Policy) it is not clear where the finance for this ambitious target in a pioneering field might come from. Nor is there an agreed map of areas for wind development offshore - this must certainly be a requirement to get through the maze of planning issues before work in the Crown Agents' seas can start.

The whole sea is not available for wind turbine development. Water depth has to be less than 40 m and the sea bed nearly flat. Shipping lanes, military zones, pipelines, helicopter flight paths between gas and oil rigs and the coast, and fishing grounds are expected to be no-go areas. Uneconomically long distances to grid connections and the absence of local port facilities would also be constraints.

The Countryside Agency has recommended the DTI to ensure that our coastline is not damaged by the scale, location or cumulative impact of turbines, and that special care should be taken with the visual impact of the lighting of wind stations at sea since they will have to be illuminated at night. It would like to see mandatory controls of distance from shore: 3 - 5 km off industrial coasts; 10 - 20 km off National Parks, AONBs or Heritage coasts; out-of-bounds in largely undeveloped estuaries.

Unfortunately, developers are likely to be interested in sites within 5 km of coasts, where the water is shallowest, the wind speeds the most favourable and the cable connections the shortest. The Energy Technology Support Unit (a DTI agency) has estimated that nearly half of off-shore turbines will be within 10 km (6.25 miles) of the coast, with fewer than 18% beyond the 20 km line. Three British off-shore projects are in preparation: Blyth Harbour, north of Newcastle, 1 km offshore; Scroby Sands, 3 km off Great Yarmouth; Gunfleet Sands, 5 km off Clacton-on-Sea. The Crown Estate has granted permits for wind measuring masts in the Solway Firth, off Rhyl in N Wales, off Swansea, in the Thames Estuary at Kentish Flats and at Ingoldmells Point north of Skegness.

How acceptable from an environmental point of view wind turbines at sea turn out to be will depend on how close to the coast they are sited, how scrupulously the developers avoid coasts of special beauty and how carefully cable landing sites and pylons to carry cable to grid connections are sited. Some people will be glad if pressure on our uplands is reduced, but others will be dismayed by the industrial intrusion into the majesty of the seascape. Electricity from turbines at sea will certainly be more expensive and not much less unpredictable than that from land-based machines.

 

G. The Noise Factor

The noise from a wind turbine comes from both the mechanical gearing and from the aerodynamic properties of the rotating blades. The former can to a degree be controlled and insulated and some makes of turbine are quieter than others.

The more intrusive noise comes from the effects of the blade moving through the air and the industry has had virtually no success in controlling this. Indeed, it has probably not tried seriously to do so. The web site of the VESTAS turbine manufacturer is revealing: "The new design allows the blades to cut so aggressively through the wind that the kilowatt counter runs as much as 17 - 19% faster than even its highly competitive predecessor. Development work on this turbine has focused on one factor: profitability." [Country Guardian's italics - and it should be noted that these are the latest machines, a fact which undermines the industry's claim that only the early machines created significant noise levels. Theses turbines were erected at Ireleth in Cumbria and in 1999 The Westmorland Gazette reported: "Barrow's chief environmental health officer said the council was taking action against the noise nuisance."]

The larger the turbine, the greater the air mass moving the blades and the higher the noise level. The noise is a penetrating, low-frequency 'thump' each time a blade passes the turbine tower - reminiscent of the reverberating bass notes of a discotheque at a neighbour's noisy party, which can be heard and felt even when the rest of the music cannot be distinguished, or of a helicopter in the distance.

That noise from wind turbines is one of the major environmental costs of the technology is suggested by the fact that 10% of PPG 22 (the government's Planning Policy Guidance note dealing with renewable energy) is devoted to the issue and by the fact that the Department of Trade and Industry spends more of its budget researching noise from wind turbines than on all other environmental noise problems. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee recognised the magnitude of the problem in its report on wind energy. "For existing windfarms we are satisfied that there are cases of individuals being subject to near-continuous noise during the operation of the turbines, at levels which do not constitute a statutory nuisance or exceed planning conditions, but which are clearly disturbing and unpleasant and may have some psychological effects."

The genuine difficulty that developers face is that noise levels cannot be predicted in advance. The Energy Technology Support Unit has reported (Assessment and Prediction of Wind Turbine Noise -1993): "At present there is no established method for the prediction of wind turbine noise and basic understanding of wind turbine noise is low. Not enough is known of the basic mechanisms which control the noise radiation process to allow the development of detailed prediction methods."

Despite the weight of evidence the wind industry has a history of dismissing the noise problem, particularly when it is "consulting" the population of an area targeted for a wind development or presenting information in support of an application or fighting an appeal. Windcluster, the developing company for the wind turbines sited in South Cumbria between the villages of Askam, Marton and Ireleth wrote a letter to householders about their plans in advance of the application. It reads in part: "The design and control systems will ensure that there will be no noise nuisance." (March 1995). By 1999, the local paper The Westmorland Gazette was reporting about this windfarm: "Environmental Health officers agree turbines contravene noise nuisance laws."

The developers at the Llandinam wind "farm", constructed in 1992, have been unable to solve the noise problem and complaints continue. At least one householder has succeeded in having his Council Tax reduced on the basis that the noise from the turbines has sufficiently reduced the value of his property for it to be placed in a lower band. The chairman of the firm which built the wind "farm", Tim Kirby of Ecogen, was quoted in The Guardian (11.03.94) as saying: "Our acoustic consultants got it wrong. Their calculations didn't apply to this sort of terrain." His firm had previously issued a statement which read: "It is important that we at Ecogen apologise formally for giving the local people the impression that the windfarm will be [sic] inaudible. The blunt truth is that we were wrong and we recognise now that no operating windfarm can be considered to be inaudible." (22.02.93).

Those living close to wind "farms" find the noise levels completely unacceptable and are enraged that assurances about noise given in advance turn out to be worthless. One unhappy neighbour wrote about his experiences to The Daily Telegraph (21.10.93). "The impact of wind farms on landscape may be significant, but noise is more relevant to those of us living next to this new industry. My home nestles on the north-western slope of Mynach Bach, Ceredigion, below the 20 turbine windfarm owned by National Windpower. We live 350 metres from the nearest turbine and about 750 metres from six or seven others. The "thwump" of the blades and the grinding gears is driving us to distraction. My kitchen chimney amplifies these noises sickeningly. Since commissioning in July the house has frequently vibrated with sickening soundwaves. At night, these disrupt sleep even when all the windows are closed ... For my family and those in a similar plight ... there is a distressing human cost for this supposedly 'environmentally friendly' electricity. For us, this is no brave, new, clean energy but a rapacious industrial giant." (letter from C. Kerkham)

The residents of Marton, Ireleth and Askam formed their own action group after the construction of turbines near their villages, to seek redress. It is worth visiting their web site for a first hand account of the horrors of living near a wind "farm." On the subject of noise they write: "Standing 1000 metres downwind of the turbines is enough for most people to realise that they would not like to live within this distance of a turbine. The sound is invasive enough to penetrate the walls and double glazing of a house of modern construction and still be clearly audible inside. In our area there are houses that are a lot closer than this to the turbines, a few hundred metres in some cases. For these properties the wind direction is immaterial and the noise is constant and during summer nights it was not possible for the occupants to sleep with the window open due to the noise... Those of us who are unfortunate enough to be closest to the turbines are experiencing a barrage of background noise pollution that is actually making some of those worst affected physically ill."

Noise is recognised as a significant cause of stress and stress-related illness in modern society. It is worth recalling that the Americans considered using low-frequency noise as a battlefield weapon in the 1950s! Certainly, health problems have been reported by those living near wind "farms" at Llandinam, Llangwyryfon and Ireleth.

While the visibility of wind turbines may reduce the value of a property, their noise will render it unsaleable.

 

H. Television Interference

That wind turbines can disrupt TV reception was noted in 1994 when the BBC and the Independent Television Commission recommended the Department of the Environment to compel wind farm developers to restore reception where wind "farms" caused interference. In the same year The New Scientist accused the government of ignoring the recommendation and leaving viewers at the mercy of developers.

The Cambrian News reported (23.1.97) that the residents of the Rheidol Valley in Mid Wales experienced such bad TV interference that their televisions were impossible to view from the moment the turbines of the Cwm Rheidol wind "farm" were built.

Effectively turbines cause a reception shadow of up to 10 km when they stand between a TV transmitter and dwellings with TV aerials., pointing through the wind turbines towards the transmitter. Viewers in such locations will have their signal scattered, causing loss of detail, loss of colour or buzz on sound.

In addition, viewers situated to the side of turbines may experience periodic reflections from the blades, giving rise to "ghosting" and flicker as the blades rotate.

Significant interference is unlikely more than 10 km "downstream" of the turbines or beyond 500 m elsewhere around the wind "farm". It should be noted, however, that a New Scientist report in 1994 said that there were 50 main TV transmitters serving a series of relay stations which cover the country. A wind turbine disrupting signals in any location could cause interference all down the chain.

Developers can sort out most of the problems if they are prepared to spend enough money. Millhouse Green wind "farm" on Royd Moor in the Barnsley area, started to cause TV reception problems as soon as its first turbines were erected in 1994. For more than two years locals suffered first a total loss of reception and then poor reception as adjustments to aerials and retuning took place. Finally, a new relay station was built. Fortunately for locals, a council member had raised the risk of TV interference at the point when the developers, Yorkshire Water, were seeking planning permission. At first they denied that there would be a problem, but a clause was written into the planning agreement whereby they had to finance remedial work if it proved necessary.

Such an agreement is vital since possible solutions have problems and drawbacks involved: a new relay station will only help if there are enough frequencies available (digital carriers and Channel 5 have taken up many); retuning to another transmitter may mean loss of local news and programmes. Victims of this problem have found that the cheapest, rather than the most effective, options are tried first and that time and energy are needed to achieve a solution.

Turbines also disrupt microwave communications links and for this reason the Swedish armed forces blocked 15 wind "farms" in Norrtalje and have argued against wind developments on the coast between Stockholm and Uppland.

 

I. Wider Environmental Consequences

Wind" farms" are such a recent phenomenon that it is hard to be certain of their long-term ecological impact. However, the Flaight Hill Opposition Group at Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, commissioned an hydrologist and a number of engineers to examine the neighbouring Ovenden Moor wind "farm". They found that the erection of turbines 200 feet high had cracked the bedrock of this upland moorland and diverted natural watercourses. Around the turbines and along the cable trenches the thin layers of peat were drying out rapidly and it is likely that these sections of peat bog will simply blow away. Moreover, tracks to and between turbines have acted as dams and formed deep pools of peat "soup" - fetid surface water which cannot run or drain away. There is certain to be a knock-on effect on flora, insects and birds which depended on the ecological status quo before the turbines were built.

The hole excavated for a turbine's foundation has a volume equivalent to a 25m swimming bath. The extracted material has to be put somewhere else. The hole is filled with sand, aggregate and cement which has to come from somewhere else and has to be transported by heavy lorries. Several miles of service roads and cable trenches need to be constructed at a large wind "farm" site. If the site is at any distance from the grid, there will be pylons and overhead transmission lines to form the necessary connection. Wind enthusiasts admit that they need huge quantities of concrete for foundations and roads and are on record as claiming that many jobs are created or safe-guarded thereby. Yet the concrete industry is the biggest man-made source of CO2 on the planet - about 7% of the world's total. Wind turbines produce significant amounts of CO2 - they merely do it in advance. If the emissions created during manufacture and erection are averaged over the units of electricity generated during the lifetime of a turbine, the CO2 cost is 50g per unit (Algemeen Dagblad - Netherlands - 8.2.2000). What was once inaccessible upland becomes accessible for more intensive agriculture. Applications for further development can use the argument that the landscape is already degraded by wind turbines: this has happened in an application for a landfill site at Llanidloes in Powys, where the Llandinam turbines have been cited in the landscape assessment.

Dr. John Hedger at the Institute of Biological Sciences at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, has written: "Wind energy is not as clean as its proponents would have us believe. It is an industrial development and as such causes degradation of the environments where turbines are sited. The result is a loss of habitat for wildlife. The proposed environmental benefits of windfarming...will only come from the very large-scale use of turbines. One environmental problem will simply be replaced by another."

Paul Gipe, the California-based wind enthusiast, has recently taken the American wind industry to task for ignoring the serious problem of soil erosion found at wind "farm" sites.

 

J. Safety

Blades weigh up to 1.5 tonnes and their tips are travelling at more than 180 mph. When they have broken off they have planed up to 400 metres. On 9 Dec. 1993 parts of a blade were thrown 400 m at Cemmaes in Wales. At Tarifa, Spain, blades broke off on two occasions in Nov. 1995 - the first in gusty, high winds, the second in only light wind (report, Windpower Monthly, Dec. 1995).

In an article written in January 1996 Professor Otfried Wolfrum, professor of applied geodesy at Darmstadt University, wrote of a significant number of blade failures in Germany, detailing four particularly severe ones where fragments of blade weighing up to half a tonne were thrown up to 280 m. "From the experience in Germany, where presently of all European countries the greatest number of turbines is installed, it appears that this technology is by no means safe...particularly with the large new models, with rated capacities of 500 kW and more, problems arise since the rotor blades are heavier and have to be manufactured manually."

The civic authorities in Palm Springs, USA, as early as the late 1980s made developers move turbines to a distance of half a mile from the highway for safety reasons.

Apart from the danger of blades becoming detached or disintegrating, there is a risk that lumps of ice can form on them in still cold weather and then be thrown significant distances when the wind gets up and the blades begin to move. This danger is specifically recognised in the government's planning guidance document PPG 22. "In those areas where icing of blades does occur, fragments of ice might be released from the blades when the machine is started." Professor Wolfrum wrote on this subject: "Some ice layers 150mm thick have been detected and their mass has been as high as 20 - 23 kg/m (proceedings BORKAS 11Helsinki 1994, p219)" He demonstrated that these fragments could travel up to 550 m and land with impact speeds of 170 mph. It is hardly surprising that during the winter, the management company erects "Falling Ice" warning notices at the Ovenden Moor wind "farm" in Yorkshire.

In April 2000, three UK wind "farms" were closed for safety reasons, apparently because of metal fatigue in the turbine towers. The sites in question are at Cold Northcott in Cornwall and Cemmaes and Llangwyryfon in Wales.

The Countryside Agency has called for turbines to be sited away from bridleways - a distance of three times the height of the turbines normally and four times the height of the turbines near National Trails (height to blade tip) - because noise and flicker can startle horses and endanger their riders and because of risk from thrown ice. The British Horse Society has expressed similar concerns.

 

K. Tourism, Jobs, House Prices

The main adverse impact that wind "farm" development is likely to have on the economy of an area relates to tourism. We have already shown that in the UK the best wind speed sites are in the areas with the finest landscapes. Wind developers are therefore targeting those areas where the tourist trade consists of those seeking peace, quiet and unspoiled countryside. A National Tourist Board survey shows that 90% of British holiday makers who go to the countryside do so to enjoy it for its own sake and seek no further attractions like theme parks.

A survey by the University of Leiden in Holland in the late 1980s found that the majority of those questioned felt that a landscape lost its interest as turbines accumulated in it.

Although the first wind "farms" in Cornwall attracted tourist visits from those already in the area for other purposes, the attraction was one of novelty and visitor numbers have dropped with each succeeding year. Clearly, if developers succeed in erecting thousands of turbines, novelty value will be lost and those seeking rural peace will head for areas not degraded by turbines - for example National parks, where visitor numbers already cause a problem. There is anecdotal evidence (letters to the press from locals) that visitor numbers have fallen by 40% in areas of Denmark developed for wind energy. The North Devon Tourist Development Manager opposed two local wind "farm" projects fearing the effects "on existing tourism operators." The Welsh Tourist Board's policy on wind turbines reads: "The Board endorses the policies of the Countryside Council for Wales which oppose the introduction of commercial wind turbines and wind turbine power stations in primary designated areas (i.e. National Parks, AONBs, Heritage Coasts and Marine, National and International Nature Reserves). We consider that elsewhere proposals should be considered on their merits, the effects upon tourism being a material issue for consideration." Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council rejected a wind "farm" at Carlesgill partly because of its likely effect on tourism (rejection later overturned on appeal).

If wind "farms" threaten to destroy jobs in the tourist industry, they create few if any compensating jobs elsewhere. A typical wind "farm" would employ a single maintenance operative. The largest wind "farm" in Europe has three full-time employees. At the Bryn Titli wind "farm" in Wales even the construction site workers were Danish - erecting Danish turbines. Every turbine to be used in the projects currently on the drawing board is of foreign manufacture. Dazzling creative accounting is used by the wind industry to arrive at employment figures "relating to" wind, but the simple truth is that if the subsidies going into renewables were diverted to energy conservation, thousands of jobs would be created at a stroke, and far more emissions would be saved. Connah's Quay gas-fired power station created or secured 8,000 jobs, and all of the 500 contractors and consultants were based in the UK.

The only benefit to an area is the site rent (£1,000 - £2000 per annum per turbine) paid to a handful of landowners. The benefit could easily be outweighed by a decline in tourist numbers. It should be noted that with holiday cottages and caravan sites, tourism has become an important element of farm diversification. What one farmer gains another may lose. This is one of the reasons that communities have found themselves torn apart by the wind issue.

In terms of the impact on house values there can be no doubt. A partner in Durrants, the Mayfair and East Anglia chartered surveying firm, wrote (May 1998): "I can confirm that the outlook from a property does have a major bearing on its value and if this outlook is tarnished by a wind turbine or any similar structure, the values would be significantly decreased." International property consultants FPD Savills wrote in May 1998: "Any structure that can be viewed as an intrusion into the countryside such as electricity pylons or wind turbines will have a detrimental effect [on property values]. Usually, it will not only effect the value but also saleability which is not necessarily the same thing. Generally speaking, the higher the value of the property the greater the blight will be ... As you go up the value scale, buyers generally become more discerning and the value of a farmhouse may be affected by as much as 30% if it is in close proximity to the wind turbine. Those houses that are within earshot are likely to be affected worst of all."

A chartered surveyor from Cumbria, Mr R.D. Wolstenholme, has written to Open View of his experience: "I am a chartered surveyor and recently sold my house at Lambrigg. I found that the proposed windfarm there (with all the implications for the additional ones adjoining) had a devastating effect on the value of my property. Three local agents all valued it at about £295,000 and during the first few weeks on the market we had three offers at around £280,000. Each accepted offer fell through as soon as it became apparent that the proposals at Lambrigg, Firbank and Whinfell would all overlook the property. After being on the market for six months, and no less than nine failed sales, we eventually succeeded in selling to someone who wasn't bothered about them, but at a knock-down price of £250,000."

In Denmark, the National Association of Neighbours of Wind Turbines say that most estate agents estimate a 25 - 30 % fall in property value when turbines are put up nearby.

 

L. The Effect on Birds

Planning Policy Guidance 22 (PPG 22) which deals with planning considerations relating to the development of renewables states: "Evidence suggests that the risk of collision with moving turbine blades is minimal both for migrating birds and for local habitats." The simple fact is, however, that turbine blades have killed birds in large numbers, which is not surprising when it is remembered that turbine blades weigh up to 1.5 tonnes and their tips are travelling at 180 mph.

At Tarifa in Spain significant numbers of birds of 13 species protected under European Union law have been killed by turbines (Windpower monthly 2.2.94).

The wind turbines in Altamont Pass in California have on average killed 200-300 Redtail Hawks and 40-60 Golden Eagles each year, while it is estimated that 7000 migrating birds a year are killed at other wind turbine sites in Southern California.(California Energy Commission).

The Times reported in May 1999 that Scottish Power was to invest two million pounds creating a new grouse moor away from a proposed wind "farm" to encourage a pair of Golden Eagles to hunt where they would not be at risk from turbine blades.

At Largie, Kintyre, Scotland, the inspectors at the Scottish Office overturned a planning consent for wind turbines at an Inquiry in November 1998 because of danger to the population of White-Fronted Geese.

In December 1999 English Nature objected to the erection of wind turbines near the Ouse Washes and the Nene Washes in East Anglia because of a number of potential hazards for wildfowl, including habitat loss and degradation, indirect disturbance from noise, potential for mortality due to collision with wind turbines, effect on nocturnal patterns of movement and danger to birds during periods of poor visibility and severe weather.

English Nature in making the above objection cited studies by Winkelman and Karlsson which respectively recorded 0.54 collisions per turbine per day during the heaviest period of diurnal migration at Oosterbierum in the Netherlands, and 49 dead birds at one turbine during one night of migration at Nasudden in Sweden.

Two European Union directives, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive, apply to proposed developments which are likely to have a significant effect on designated habitat and breeding sites. These directives have been transposed into UK law by Regulations 48, 49 and 54 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c) Regulations 1994. They would appear to constrain wind "farm" development around such sites. In Holland, 49 new bird sanctuaries have been designated in February 2000 and these are proving a major impediment to plans for turbines.

 

M. Public Opinion

The wind industry constantly claims that surveys demonstrate that 70% of the population are in favour of the technology. The surveys they refer to, however, are of a general nature: they do not ask whether a wind farm on a specific site would be a good idea and it is obviously possible to support the idea of wind energy in principle while rejecting it as an option in a particularly fine landscape or on an Site of Special Scientific Interest. The industry uses general approval to support its plans to industrialise even the most sensitive locations.

Where surveys have been site-specific the results are very different. For example, a referendum of the residents of Brora and Helmsdale in Sutherland was undertaken in the summer of 1996 by the Electoral Reform Society. To the question: 'Do you want wind turbine towers to be built on the coastal hills of East Sutherland between Brora and the Ord of Caithness, now or in the future?' 68% said No (2179 ballot papers dispatched, 1609 returned, 509 Yes, 1098 No, 2 invalid). Polls in Montgomeryshire have shown similar results.

Opinion surveys are useful tools for pressure groups but not a sensible basis for sound planning, since they are often snapshots of ill-informed opinion. For example one of the motoring organisations conducted a poll in 1994 which found that 84% favoured more road building as an answer to congestion. Traffic surveys have demonstrated that new road building increases car use and in the medium to long term leads to equal and then increased congestion. Similarly, respondents to surveys about wind can be shown to be ill-informed, believing that wind-generated electricity is cheap or even free, or that wind "farms" are an alternative to nuclear power stations.

Informed opinion is very much more critical of wind power development. Planning committees, advised by professional planning officers who have objectively to evaluate every aspect of a proposal, have rejected more than 80% of wind turbine applications, those applications which were successful generally being for small numbers of turbines. Inspectors at appeal have usually upheld the planning refusals. The government gave licences for 2400 MW of wind power under the last three rounds of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation and the Scottish Renewables Obligation; by March 2000, only 200 MW had got through the planning process because well informed planners and inspectors considered the environmental impacts too big and the clean energy benefits too small to allow the rest.

A milestone decision has been that relating to Barningham High Moor in County Durham. The local planning committee on two occasions rejected National Wind Power's plans for turbines on a site of national archaeological importance overlooking the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At appeal, the government's inspector did in effect a cost/benefit analysis and judged that "Demonstrable harm would be caused to the appearance of the landscape and to the enjoyment of users of the National Park ... Conversely, the amount of energy generated would be small and the pollution savings correspondingly few."

The National Trust, on 19 May 1999, issued a statement denouncing the "false hopes and flawed solutions" offered by many "green energy" schemes, particularly wind farms. "In a world where commercial decisions are dominated by the global market place, wildness is too easily under-valued. In the present context of concern over climate change and the drive for clean energy, we are offered a new resource - wind power. We have to be certain that, if we exploit the wind, loss of the wild is not too high a price to pay." (A call for the Wild - National Trust, 1999).

The National Trust and the Countryside Commission (now The Countryside Agency) joined forces to urge the government to recognise that wind "farms" are industrial and commercial developments and to keep them out of undegraded landscapes. The Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales has demanded an end to further wind development within the Principality. The Council for the Protection of Rural England has criticised the government for giving the lion's share of renewables contracts to wind farms in the 4th round of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation because of the visual damage to landscape which these developments cause. The Ramblers Association, the Countryside Council for Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland and the Council for National Parks have all condemned the way in which wind power is being developed.

Former leader of the Labour Party Neil Kinnock wrote in 1994: "My long-established view is that wind-generated power is an expensive form of energy. It can only provide a very small fraction of the output required to meet total energy needs and it unavoidably makes an unacceptable intrusion into the landscape."

In 1998 the House of Commons Trade and Industry Committee reported (Energy Policy): "...the very different environmental problems that the development of renewable sources of energy can entail cannot be overlooked. The environmental impacts of wind power projects have become increasingly apparent during the 1990s." The committee cited visual and aural impact and damage to soil structure from the construction process.

In September 1994 the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons cast doubts on the economic viability of wind-generated electricity: "We consider that it is very doubtful that the relatively modest increases in new electrical generation justify the large sums spent."

In 1998 the Norwegian Government commissioned a report on the experience of wind energy in Denmark in order to inform its own decisions on developing the technology. It noted: "serious environmental effects, insufficient production [and] high production costs."

Perhaps the most authoritative critique of wind-generation of electricity to date is the Darmstadt Manifesto on the exploitation of wind energy in Germany. Its authority derives from its signatories - over 100 leading academics in fields including Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, Physics, Medicine, Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering and Thermodynamic Science, as well as Land Management, Agricultural Science and Geography. Germany has now more than 7,000 wind turbines and development continues apace under a government in which the Green Party is a partner. Faced with this assault on what the authors call "cultural landscapes" and fearing that young people are "growing up into a world in which natural landscapes are breaking up into tragic remnants" the manifesto undertakes a cost/benefit analysis of wind energy. They write that despite the proliferation of turbines in Germany "less than 1% of the electricity needed is produced or only slightly more than one-thousandth of the total energy produced." Equally, "the contribution made by the use of wind energy to the avoidance of greenhouse gases is somewhere between one and two thousandths. Wind energy is therefore of no significance whatever either in the statistics for energy or for those of pollutants and greenhouse gases."

They draw attention to the fact that total energy consumption in Germany is growing about seventy times faster than the production of wind energy. "Wind energy is running a race which is already lost in an economic order orientated towards growth." Not only does investment in wind (with its low energy yield and high costs) divert capital pointlessly from much more important environmental protection measures, but by creating the false perception that a decisive contribution is being made to a clean environment and a guaranteed supply of energy, it allows consumers to feel exonerated from the duty of making energy savings.

 

N. Why the New Phenomenon of Windfarms?

Not because of the innate soundness or economic sense of the technology - after all, the air screw generator has been available for more than a hundred years - but because in 1990 the Conservative government introduced subsidy for wind "farms" through the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation, and, a few years later, through the Scottish Renewables Order. A Department of Trade and Industry statement (24.8.94) confirmed that "All wind energy developments throughout the world are subsidised in one form or another." Although the guaranteed price per unit of wind-generated electricity varied from one round of NFFO and SRO to another, wind energy supplied in the UK over the last ten years has not been cheap, let alone free. It has cost anything from 116% to 440% of the price of conventionally generated electricity. Under the new arrangements announced by the government this year, the effective price for wind energy will be 4.3p per unit as compared with a base load price of only 2.3p per unit.

A naive customer of SWEB wrote to the company in 1994 asking for a reduction in his electricity bill since he lived next door to the wind turbines at Cold Northcott, which generated cheap electricity. The Tariffs and Supplies manager replied: "Your electricity charges would be significantly more expensive if they reflected the full cost of supplying electricity from the wind turbines nearby. These wind turbines are heavily subsidised by coal, gas, and oil-fired generation with a levy on electricity prices which the government introduced and which supports most generation from renewable sources." (Letter, 28.3.94)

The Electricity Regulator Stephen Littlechild, in his submission to the government's consultation on renewables, wrote in 1998: "The government is presently carrying out a review of what would be necessary and practicable to achieve 10 % of the United Kingdom's electricity needs from renewables by the year 2010. Such a target might be achieved by continuing NFFO support for some technologies, including onshore wind, offshore wind and energy crops. However, the cost of meeting the target in these ways might amount to some £11 - £15 billion, requiring a levy rate of between 6 and 8 per cent over 15 years. It is for consideration whether the benefits of renewable energy justify incurring costs on such a scale."

With such huge sums on offer, it is not surprising that developers have climbed on board. In the main, they are the privatised utilities and other multi-national companies. The big names in wind energy development have been Scottish Power, Manweb, SWALEC and National Wind Power, a subsidiary of National Power. They are not "green" companies, and their other activities often add to atmospheric pollution larger amounts of noxious gases than their wind "farms" save. In April 1995 Scottish Power proposed to double its coal burn at three of its power stations by 2000. That proposal would lead to a further 3 million tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. National Power, owner of National Wind Power, fought hard for consent to burn orimulsion, one of the dirtiest known fuels, at its Pembrokeshire power station. Had it succeeded, SO2 emissions would have dwarfed any SO2 savings from UK wind turbines. No doubt these large companies believe that their wind "farm" activities provide good public relations, but the truth is that they are in the wind business for profit, not concern for the environment. In November 1993 Wind Power Monthly, the magazine of the wind industry and wind enthusiasts, described Britain's wind industry as being "an industry in search of fast bucks today and never mind tomorrow." Nothing has changed since then.

 

O. Government Policy

Government policy on wind and other renewable energy sources is set out in New and Renewable Energy - prospects for the 21st Century (Conclusions in Response to the Public Consultation.) This followed a manifesto commitment to a strong drive to develop new and renewable energy sources.

The government has a ten year strategy to ensure, through a rising series of targets, that 10% of UK electricity is generated from renewable sources by 2010. These sources are diverse and include hydro, on- and off-shore wind, energy crops, waste incineration, landfill gas and other biomass.

The Utilities Bill, now going through Parliament, provides the statutory powers for obliging all electricity suppliers in England and Wales and - separately - Scotland to supply specific proportions of their electricity each year from renewable sources, based on the quantity of electricity they supplied the previous year. 2% of UK supply is said already to come from renewables. The government expects the obligation to rise to 5% by 2003 and to 10% by 2010, and to apply until 2025. If suppliers fail to fulfill their obligation to buy the appropriate proportion of their electricity from renewable generators, they may instead buy green energy certificates from those with a surplus of renewable energy or exercise a 'buy-out' option by paying a penalty each year instead of supplying 'green' electricity. The DTI has indicated that the penalty will be 2 pence per unit.

The penalty price effectively sets a price cap for renewables at 4.3 pence per unit, since the pool or base load price for electricity is about 2.3 pence per unit. In other words, a supplier failing to meet its obligation to provide 10% of its electricity from renewables would make up the shortfall by buying from conventional generators at 2.3p and paying a further 2p in penalty. If renewables cost more than 4.3 p per unit, it is cheaper for the supplier to buy conventional electricity and pay the penalty. Curiously, the revenue from the penalty goes back to the suppliers, though the money may be repaid to them in proportion to the amount of green energy they have supplied. This has yet to be decided.

The 4.3p per unit price cap makes significant off-shore wind development unlikely, since the associated costs of off-shore generation - construction difficulties, maintenance, cabling, grid connections - will put the price above that level. The government is said to be considering supplementary support for off-shore wind.

Another feature of the newly announced policy is that renewables are to be exempt from a new tax known as the Climate Change Levy (CCL) which is to come into force in April 2001 adding 0.43 p per unit to the business use of electricity from fossil or nuclear fuel generation.

Finally, all UK regions will be required to prepare renewable energy assessments of their resources and set regional renewable energy production targets (see Windfarms and the Planning System below).

 

P. European Union Policy

The European Commission has been trying for some time to implement a directive on renewable energy. Two proposals had to be abandoned after opposition from member states, industry and environmental groups. Finally on 10 May 2000 the Commission announced its proposals.

The draft law aims to double the proportion of 'green' energy from 6% to 12 % of primary energy supply by increasing the share of renewably generated electricity from 14% to 22% by 2010. Non-binding "indicative" national targets will be set to ensure that the EU overall target is met. Member states will have to report annually on their progress and the Commission will propose mandatory targets if national goals are inconsistent with the EU target. For the UK, the Commission's target is 10% by 2010. Member states will have to "reduce regulatory barriers" which are seen as hampering renewables development - including establishing a fast track through planning procedures. What the E U calls "regulatory barriers" were formerly known as hard-won safeguards for the precious asset of undegraded landscape - safeguards which, by-and-large, have worked and have defeated one inappropriate wind "farm" proposal after another.

Doubtless the finalisation of this directive will be delayed as governments argue about their share of the burden. It must be remembered too that there are renewables other than wind, though many of them have a major environmental cost attached just as wind does. Nonetheless, if there is not to be an unconsidered and unregulated growth in the deployment of wind turbines thanks to an E U directive, countryside organisations and individuals must lobby their MEP, the government and their MP.

 

Q. Kyoto

At the summit conference in Japan two years ago the industrialised world agreed to reduce emissions by 5% by 2010, but even that target has run into problems. By December 1999 only 16 nations had ratified the protocol. The US, which has 5% of the world's population and produces 20% of its pollution, shows little sign of co-operating with the target. Meantime, countries like India and China in their race to industrialise are massively increasing their coal-burn. Kyoto does not affect the UK because we will achieve more stringent targets anyway, thanks to our "dash for gas", but it throws into stark relief the futility of our covering our wilderness areas with ineffective turbines while major polluters squander the infinitesimal savings we make.

 

R. Wind 'Farms' And The Planning System

Because wind energy is uneconomic, its development depends on subsidy. Wind developers have had to jump two hurdles before erecting a wind "farm" - first to secure a contract from the DTI which provided a guaranteed market and a premium price for the electricity generated, and secondly to secure planning consent. The award of a contract gave no preferential treatment under the planning system.

In clarification, Minister for Planning Richard Caborn wrote in June 1998: "...wind energy developments are subject to exactly the same planning controls as any other form of development ... The government wants to encourage the development of clean and renewable energy where that is economically attractive and environmentally acceptable."

National policy for renewable energy is already part of the planning process through various government guidance notes to planning authorities: Planning Policy Guidance Note 22, Renewable Energy; Planning Guidance (Wales) Planning Policy First Revision April 1999; Planning Guidance (Wales) Technical Advice Note (Wales) 8 Renewable Energy; National Planning Policy Guideline 6 Renewable Energy (Scotland); Planning Advice Note 45 Renewable Energy Technologies. Planning authorities must have regard to these guidelines in drawing up their Local Development Plans, to which recent legislation has given pre-eminence. But the Countryside Act 1968 imposes a responsibility to preserve the countryside and local government has become increasingly aware of the tourist and amenity value of undegraded landscape. Thus Local Development Plans have tended to restrict industrial development to specific areas, usually those already industrialised. This makes life difficult for wind developers who seeks sites precluded by the local plan. They are required to find "substantive material reasons" why restrictions should be set aside. The only plausible reason might be the reduction in fossil fuel pollution, but the reduction achieved by even the largest wind "farms" is so minuscule as to be in no sense substantive.

The early wind "farm" proposals which had won DTI contracts under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation tended to get planning permission without much difficulty, partly because PPG22 indicated that renewable energy developments were in the national interest. However, contracts for wind farms were awarded on the basis of competitive price tender; the better the wind speed of the site chosen, the cheaper the wind-generated electricity. The best wind speed sites tend also to be the best landscapes, so as successive rounds of NFFO pushed the price down, developers were constrained to choose almost exclusively fine landscapes for their proposed wind farms. Planning committees became more reluctant to pass the proposals. The government gave licences for 2400 MW of wind power under the last three rounds of the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation and the Scottish Renewables Obligation; by March 2000, only 200 MW had got through the planning process because well informed planners and inspectors considered the environmental impacts too big and the clean energy benefits too small to allow the rest.

The wind industry began to howl in frustration and demand that wind be given a fast track through the system.

The government's new policy, announced in February 2000, is to require all UK regions to prepare renewable energy assessments of their resources and set regional renewable energy production targets. The government hopes that this will provide a strategic approach to renewables development to replace the haphazard scramble for sites which the NFFO system generated. The assessments and targets should provide a framework for development plans which will help to determine decisions on individual energy projects. Whether the assessments and targets turn out to be a constraint or a facilitating measure for wind developers remains to be seen, but until the new system is in place we must assume that the current system prevails. There are still a significant number of NFFO and SRO projects which have yet to go through the planning process.

 

S. The Futility of Supply-Side Solutions

We cannot reduce emissions while our consumption of energy grows. The C02 released during the manufacture of wind turbines and the construction of a wind "farm" gives an average C02 cost of 50 g per unit generated over the lifetime of a turbine (cf. 400 g for gas-generated electricity, 7 g for nuclear). In Germany, with 7,000 turbines, energy consumption is growing seventy times faster than the production of wind energy as living standards rise in former East Germany. So, Germany is unlikely to meet its C02 reduction targets, according to the Institute for Economic Research DIW (report ENDS Daily 10.2.00). But the German Interministerial Working Group on Climate Protection reported in April that "Domestic energy efficiency has the greatest potential to achieve desired reductions in greenhouse gas emissions." (report ENDS Daily 13.4.00)

America and Europe are profligate in their use of energy. America has approximately 5% of the world's population and is responsible for about 20% of its energy consumption. In the UK we use 5 times more electricity than we did 50 years ago, and consumption rises continually - since 1992 by about 10% every four years. To TVs, fridges, cookers and washing machines we have added as standard freezers, micro-waves, video players, computers, mobile telephones which need recharging, fax machines, answering machines, set-top decoder boxes for digital TVs, a range of power tools for house and garden and more and more. Often these goods are duplicated - how many households have more than one TV, more than one mobile phone?

Electricity generation is only one source of greenhouse gas emissions - and probably accounts for about one-third of them in the UK. Traffic growth on the roads and in the air are the fastest growing sources of such emissions. How many families run two or three cars? How many of us fly to distant destinations on cut-price air tickets? Each year, 110,000,000 million people fly from airports in the South East of England. At Heathrow there are flight movements every 90 seconds throughout the day.

The comforts that the First World takes for granted are, reasonably enough, coveted by poorer countries and globalisation is leading to a growth in the economies of formerly poor countries which will allow their populations to acquire the same goods as the rich and consume energy in the same profligate way. Between 1990 and 2000 ten of the poorer countries of Asia and Latin America have doubled their standard of living. Their populations total 1.5 billion people. It is unthinkable that the countries of America and Europe should deny energy use to others while continuing to abuse energy themselves. And it is ludicrous to imagine that the teletubby technology of the wind turbine is going to supply the needs of the world. In England growth in electricity use each year is about 12.5 times the production of all of our wind turbines; we would have to build more than 7,000 turbines a year to keep pace with growth in demand.

What is shocking is how much of our energy use is wasted, how little attention the government gives to conserving energy and how growth in consumption is tacitly encouraged. About 30% of our electricity consumption and about 40% of our energy consumption is in the home and of this 60% is wasted (Sunday Times, 23 April 2000). Keeping TVs, stereos and other appliances on stand-by consumes the electricity output of two average-sized power stations. If each household replaced the conventional electric bulb most used with a low energy bulb, another power station could shut and 1.5 million tonnes of C02 could be saved.

The last government calculated (Energy Paper 58, HMSO 1989) that an immediate, self-financing reduction in energy consumption of 30% could be achieved by better management or investment in energy saving measures.

And yet in this key area, shockingly little is done. With privatisation and de-regulation energy prices have fallen significantly in real terms. VAT is charged on electricity and gas bills at 5%. On insulation materials it is charged at 17.5%.

Road traffic is the fastest-growing UK source of CO2 emissions. The government signally fails to tackle this problem. It has backed away from road-use pricing. For the first time since 1992, in an effort to appease motorists who complain about fuel prices rising above the rate of inflation, it has tied petrol duty increases to inflation. The Chancellor is introducing instead (March 2001) a graduated road tax, where the most polluting cars pay more than relatively clean ones, though the measure will only apply to new cars. A Daihatsu Kuore will be taxed at £100 per year. A Rolls Royce will be taxed at £180 per year. Since a new Rolls Royce costs £250,000 few potential owners are likely to be put off by the tax hike. But a Rolls Royce travelling at 60 mph emits 0.044 tonnes of CO2 in an hour - half the C02 saved in an hour by a 500kW turbine.

We are forced to draw the conclusion that the government does not regard greenhouse gases and global warming as a very serious problem - certainly not serious enough to offend voters by making energy use expensive or taxing personal transport. Instead it puts up turbines which, statistically, do nothing significant to tackle the problem, but which are highly visible and, as they will note from the wind industry's opinion polls, popular with 70% of the voters. The danger is, of course, that the naive consumer will see the turbines, consider the problem solved and turn up the thermostat to enjoy his cheap power to the full.

Wind Turbines vs. Energy Saving - a case study* 

·         There are 1,628,000 houses in the UK with pitched roof and no roof insulation.

·         3780 kWh of energy are lost by each such house each year.

·         Insulation to 1990 Building Regulations standard would save 3375 kWh p.a.

·         The annual output of a 750 kW turbine is 1.64 m units.

·         Insulating 485 houses would save that amount of energy each year.

·         New funding arrangements will give wind energy a subsidy of 2p per unit.

·         The annual subsidy of the turbine will be £32,850.

·         The cost of insulation is a one-off £122 per house, say £60,000 for 485 houses.

·         Over the 100 year life of the houses, the energy saving cost averages £600 pa.


Saving pollution by insulation is 55 times more cost-effective than saving it by wind turbines!
* Source: Pilkington Insulation, UK Mineral Wool Association
[Ed. Note: 1 £ ≈ US$1.55]

 

T. How can Electricity Needs be Met?

Even if we reduce our electricity consumption by as much as 50% and tackle emissions from road and air traffic there will still be a need to generate electricity, reliably and in large quantities. Wind cannot take a significant role. The most environmentally-friendly solution at the moment would seem to be Combined Cycle Gas Turbine generation. The Baglan CCGT will produce 500 MW of reliable power and cover 15 acres. Carno wind "farm", said to be the largest in Europe, sprawls over 1500 acres and produces an average output of 10 MW. Baglan will be the most efficient and cleanest of its kind in the world.

Power Gen's portfolio of CCGT plant has reduced the company's emissions by 11,000,000 tons of C02 a year already - one third of the UK's target for C02 reduction. That is the equivalent of the CO2 savings of 16,000 wind turbines of 500 kW installed capacity. Moreover, it is perfectly possible to capture 90% of the CO2 created during the gas-fired generation of electricity and pump it into exhausted natural gas fields. According to the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (18.02.00) that would cost an additional 3 Dutch cents per unit and would make gas generation not only cheaper than wind generation, but also cleaner, once the CO2 created during the manufacture and construction of a wind "farm" is taken into account.

Gas-fired generation raises a further interesting possibility - that of replacing the national grid of power transmission lines with a grid of gas pipelines feeding local CCGTs, reducing both transmission loss and the visual intrusion of pylons.

There are serious questions to be answered: what happens when the nuclear plants have to close and we lose a virtually CO2-free 30% of our generation? How is the developing world going to meet its generation targets? With dirty local coal? With nuclear? Erecting a few thousand wind turbines in Britain is simply fiddling while the world burns, and, as we and others have suggested elsewhere, the appearance of these machines develops the dangerous perception among the badly informed that the problem is being addressed and that they need do nothing.

 

U. The Value of Landscape

Until 1991 and the arrival of wind "farms" in our countryside, few voices questioned the importance of wild, unindustrialised landscape as a national asset - proprietors of quarries, developers of open-cast mines were blinded by a concern for profit, but anyone with a concern for the environment sought to preserve wilderness areas both from a desire to protect their fragile eco-systems and from a recognition of their capacity to enrich human life through spiritual and poetic inspiration and through self-sufficient adventure.

Since then, however, the issue of the wind turbine has led a section of the "green" movement to dismiss landscape as a middle-class or NIMBY concern, because there is no possibility of large numbers of 300 foot high machines with rotating blades being absorbed into the landscape without dominating it and giving it an industrialised aspect. Jonathan Porritt's view is typical: "The modern wind turbine is a mighty intrusive beast. It's not into nestling, blending in or any of those other clichés beloved of rural romantics."

The founder of the National Parks movement, John Muir, wrote: "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken over-civilised people are beginning to find that wilderness is a necessity and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life."

If we are to throw away this non-renewable but spiritually renewing resource it must only be for a benefit of very great significance. 10,000 of the very largest turbines covering our uplands might reduce UK carbon dioxide emissions by 2-3% and global emissions by 0.05%. Even that tiny gain would be squandered in a very few years of unrestrained growth in electricity consumption.

It would be folly and a criminal neglect of our duty to future generations to industrialise our last wild places temporarily to reduce global CO2 emissions to 99.95% of their current levels when there are more effective strategies left neglected.

 

V. Conclusion

The British government and governments around the world face very tough decisions in the next two decades if they conclude that serious action is required to tackle the emission of so-called 'greenhouse' gases. A number of scientists are speculating that emissions will have to be cut by 60% (the Kyoto Protocol called for 5%) to have any effect on global warming (Costing the Earth BBC Radio 4 11 May 2000). At the same time, nuclear power stations of the existing generation will reach the end of their working lives in about 2010: they currently provide about 30% of UK electricity without emissions.

There will have to be steep rises in energy prices for consumers who, since privatisation and deregulation, have become used to ever-cheaper energy.

There will have to be draconian restrictions on private car use and the end of cheap air travel - these are the two fastest growing sources of CO2 emission.

Either a new generation of nuclear power stations has to be foisted on an unwilling public or a reliable, non-intermittent energy source has to be found to replace them and provide nearly a third of our supply: what is it to be?

Country Guardian argues that tinkering at the edges of the problem by supporting a technology like wind, which is unpredictable, intermittent and dependent on machines whose output is derisory, is a dangerous distraction and a piece of 'green' window dressing designed to allow the government to avoid the problem.

It is pointless to address difficulties caused by a profligate use of energy by creating another polluting source of energy supply. It is unacceptable that our last great landscapes should be heavily industrialised in a futile political gesture. Wilderness is a non-renewable resource crucial to the sanity of a pressurised and overcrowded world. It must not be sacrificed for a derisory and largely illusory contribution to clean energy supply when there are far more effective and cost effective strategies.

Country Guardian owes thanks to many people for the contributions which they have made to this paper. If we single out for particular gratitude Ted Luscombe, John Dodds and the late Geoffrey Ratcliff it does not in any sense diminish the help of the others.
__________
With special "thank you" to The Country Guardian
See original at < http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/windfarms/case.htm >.

 

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