Faculty of Building Journal, October 2000
The proliferation of commercial wind farms is a serious current and long term threat to the countryside, the range of life forms and the ways of life that it supports. The reality of the wind industry is a far cry from the superficially attractive concept of electricity generated by windpower. Country Guardian (the national campaign to oppose electricity generation by wind in unsuitable locations and to promote energy conservation) believes that investing in commercial wind power according to the Governments policy to reduce CO2 emissions is misguided, ineffective and neither environmentally nor socially benign.
The organisation accepts that the countryside and the landscape have always changed and will continue to do so but is also are concerned about the type, extent and pace of change. Good planning is about balance. The irreparable ecological damage, loss of amenity and the distressing divisions within communities caused by commercial wind turbines far outweigh any benefit their insignificant and unreliable contribution to our energy needs may bring with their correspondingly small and uncertain pollution savings. The significant damage to the countryside and huge financial burden cannot possibly be justified.
It is the impact of these installations and their side-effects that are opposed - not wind energy itself. Wind power can be a particularly useful method of electricity generation for households, farms, estates and small communities sited away from the national electricity grid. Installations may be acceptable if they :-
a) do not detract from the natural scale and character of the local and neighbouring environments.
b) do not endanger people living nearby, or those visiting the adjacent countryside, either on foot or horse.
c) do not blight the lives of people living nearby with noise, flicker and moving shadows.
d) do not create divisions amongst local people.
e) do not lead to people becoming economically disadvantaged through reduced property values.
f) do not disadvantage the local economy and tourist industry.
Government and Local policy should be supportive of renewable energy but always provided that it does not create undue adverse impact on the countryside. 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."
This Act of Parliament carries great statutory weight and must remain the guiding principle in matters affecting the countryside.
Policy on renewable electricity generation must not be decided by developers anxious to make money from Government or European Commission subsidies and grants. The countryside is far too precious to be a football of political ideologies.
Country Guardian is not a "NIMBY" ("Not In My Backyard") organisation in the sense as used by the advocates of commercial wind farms The stigma carried by such a label (implying self-interest above all else) is a very effective and frequently used technique for suppressing questions from people who quite legitimately and understandably are anxious to know why gigantic industrial structures are suddenly appearing all over the land and in their "back yards". The mindless accusation of "NIMBYism" is contemptible - it seeks to denigrate our basic instincts to preserve our environment in exchange for abstractions like the global environment or a green future.
The informed public are now aware that these gigantic industrial wind machines are little more than symbols, or a salve to the green and essentially urban conscience of those who feel powerless to control the many excesses of our wasteful, polluting society. Country Guardian shares those concerns but is dismayed at the way in which they are exploited by those who are able to manipulate public sympathies. Conservation of energy coupled with restraint in use should be the first priority. It is the logical and common-sense answer to our energy problems, along with improving the technology to clean up our fossil fuelled power stations. The development of clean energy should not entail being stampeded into the irreversible ruination of our fast-diminishing countryside.
Country Guardian is by no means the only organisation to express deep concern about commercial windpower. Over the past 10-12 years many well-known organisations and experts have expressed similar reservations. In 1997 the Countryside Commission said:
"We do not feel it makes sense to tackle one environmental problem by creating another"
The Financial Times (20th May 1999) reported that "The National Trust, the conservation charity,....denounced the "false hopes and flawed solutions" offered by many "green energy" schemes, such as wind farms and wood -fuelled power stations. "We shall not be seduced by what appears to be 'green' renewable energy solutions which will make little real difference to fossil use," the National Trust said. The charity added that it was particularly concerned about wind energy."
Developers claim that wind power makes a significant contribution to offsetting polluting emissions from fossil-fuelled power stations and thereby reduce the effects of global warming. Professor Ian Fells of Newcastle University, a world expert on energy, submitted evidence to the House of Commons, Trade and Industry Committee, Energy Policy, in June 1998, that the [then] worlds total output of wind energy was less than 5% of the UKs requirement for electricity. This would mean if all the tens of thousands of wind turbines in the world could somehow have been centred on the UK we would still have had to back up their unreliable output with an equal amount of conventional, reliable power.
In his comment on the HC194-I, Report and Proceedings of the (ETRA) Committee, Vol.1, Session 1998-1999, Vol. 171-II. expert Professor M.A Laughton, FEng, of London University wrote "Nowhere can I find any mention of reservations expressed by either knowledgeable organisations or those who wish to protect the environment. Instead the Committee urges the Government to even greater efforts to produce a wholly unworkable electricity supply system to the ruination of the landscape."
Edward Luscombe, C.Eng., B.Sc. (Eng.), MIEE says "To us these windfarms are a disaster in the countryside, we know their effect on global warming is pathetically tiny, but to the Government they are seen as proof positive to a gullible populace that something really is being done to reduce CO2 emissions."
"Prof. David Bellamy writing in the Mid-Wales Journal on Friday July 18th 1997, claimed the turbines did not make much electricity and were a blot on the landscape. . . . . . ."they are not environmentally friendly."
Philip Stott, Professor of Biogeography, University of London, in a Teletext of 8th of December 1997 expressed similar sentiments:- "Climate will continue to change catastrophically, gradually and unpredictably, whatever happens at the Kyoto conference. We fool ourselves by thinking that we can "halt" climate change by fiddling with one or two politically selected variables".
Repeatedly one hears the phrase that wind energy is "better than nuclear" from people who are well-motivated but either uninformed or misinformed. The idea that weather-dependent wind farms could cause the closure of huge nuclear power stations is a myth which is fostered by the proponents of commercial wind farms in order to discredit their opponents. Of course, wind power does not replace nuclear or conventional power stations: it may displace some of their power for those periods when the wind happens to be blowing between the cut-in and cut-out speeds of approximately 11mph and 55mph respectively.
However much we dislike nuclear power it is a fact that we obtain 25% - 30% of our electricity from this source and if we cease to use it we shall have to burn more fossil fuel producing more CO2 where there was none before. The dash for gas and nuclear power have enabled the UK to achieve its target for 2000. Commercial wind turbines attract huge subsidies so it is no wonder that the developers are trying to persuade the government to alter the planning system and deprive the public of their democratic right to refuse to have these gigantic, inefficient industrial machines invading and spoiling the countryside and their lives. The wind industry is run by business men, so naturally their main aim is to make money - as much as possible. They are not environmentalists nor are they green.
Country Guardian is frequently informed by councillors and planning officers that the developers seek to libel our organisation as being funded by the nuclear industry. This is simply not true.
The following statements indicate quite the reverse.
Dr. David Lindley of National Wind Power, when speaking in the House of Lords in 1998 said, "It should be said, first of all, so nobody thinks we are anti-nuclear, it so happens we all work for companies which are involved in some way in the construction of nuclear power stations so we are hardly anti-nuclear".
Dr. Ian Mays, when Chairman of the British Wind Energy Association and submitting evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee in March 1994 said "The future, I believe, can only be renewables and nuclear in some sort of combination."
The publics real-life experience of commercial wind farms is being expressed all over the UK in the form of rejection after rejection of planning applications. The Government Inspector, David Lavender, in 1999, dismissed National Wind Powers Appeal to put the largest wind farm in England on Barningham High Moor. Summing up he said:- ". . . it seems to me that the individual contribution to energy generation needs from High Moor would be insignificant and unreliable, and that pollution savings would be both correspondingly small and uncertain."
He concluded that he could find:". . . nothing to persuade me that the desirability of exploiting a clean, renewable energy resource at this prominent skyline site outweighs other important policy considerations, which include avoiding damage to attractive areas of landscape."
The following points may help to illustrate how the Inspector could reach such a decision :-
1) "A five-fold increase in wind turbines would only replace1/1000th of the fossil fuel use in the UK." (National Trust. "A Call for the Wild", May 1999)
2) Government figures for windpower (UK), year ending June 1998, show an average 26.7% output of capacity from a total installed capacity of 318 MW. Result - about 85 MW of an intermittent supply of electricity (dependent on back-up) from nearly 750 wind turbines. This would not be enough to run the QE2 at maximum power.The QE2 generates 90MW when operating at maximum power - "sufficient to light up the whole of Southampton" (Captain Carr). The supply is reliable.
3) Statistics, based on ETSU figures for year ending June 1998, show the average capacity of output from all the wind farms in Wales (nearly 350 wind turbines) at 24.4% of their total 143 MW of installed capacity. Result - 35 MW of an unreliable, intermittent supply of electricity - less than half of the 90MW of reliable electricity needed to operate the liner QE2 on maximum power.
4) In 1997, in a nationwide press release, the Wind Energy Industry proclaimed that in 1996 a "record" 505 million units of electricity were produced from over 550 wind turbines. To put this apparently impressive figure into perspective it should be explained that this was 0.15% of the UKs total supply for 1996. Moreover, the average annual increase of supply in electricity from 1992 - 1997 (and since the advent of wind farms) has been 2.4%. So, just to meet that average annual increase in supply would have required a 16- fold rise in wind power . No conventional power stations could close as a constant, reliable equivalent of back-up supply must be available at all times.
5) The Anglesey Aluminium Metal Ltd needs 220MW of constant, uninterrupted, reliable power. The unreliable, average output of 22 wind farms the size of Carno, Wales (reputedly the largest one in Europe) would merely match the needs of Aluminium Metal Ltd. Owing to the unpredictable, intermittent nature of the wind it can never replace the reliable, constant 220 MW of conventional power necessary for the functioning of the factory. Deprived of electricity for over 6 hours the plant would be damaged to such an extent that it would be uneconomic to re-open it.The factory supports 630 jobs and about twice that number in associated jobs.
6) "Connahs Quay gas-fired power station which can power half the homes and factories of Wales...........and Powergens other CCGT plant has reduced its CO2 emissions by 11 million tonnes a year - a third of the UKs target for CO2 reduction. The project created or secured 8,000 jobs and all of the 500 contractors and consultants were based in the UK." (DTI Press Release 4/7/97)
7) The Baglan 500 MW gas-fired power station, the "most efficient and and cleanest of its kind in the world", will cover about15 acres and produce 500 MW of reliable power. The Carno wind farm - spread over about 1500 acres - produces an average tiny intermittent, unreliable trickle of 10 MW of electricity.This is delivered to the National Grid by 24 kilometres of new overhead line across previously uncluttered countryside. No wonder that Matt Ridley says natural gas is "a less environmentally damaging way to generate electricity than wind power." (Daily Telegraph,26/4/99)
8) The following statistics are based on the "best performance" (1.8MW, rated as "excellent" by the EU!) of the Cemaes wind farm to date - i.e 25% of capacity. On that basis the six 400 kW wind turbine extension proposed will produce an intermittent, unreliable5,256,000 units p.a. Drax power station can produce 4,000,000 units in one hour.Therefore Drax could produce the annual output of the proposed Cemaes "B" extension in less than one and a half hours.The total 25 - year life output of the Cemaes "B" extension could reproduced by Drax in about one and a half days.
"The Scientist [Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York] who alerted the world to the consequences of the greenhouse effect admits today that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was not the main cause of rapid warming of the Earth in recent decades.Today, he argues that warming over the past century was not mostly driven by carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, but by other gases, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons . . . . . . " (DailyTelegraph, 17th August,2000)
Country Guardian does not claim to be able to solve our energy problems but it would be folly to sacrifice our heritage and few remaining precious landscapes for a scientific theory which is still being debated by scientists worldwide. If Britains landscape should sacrifice its wildness and tranquillity, which is appreciated by people here and across the world, it must only be in the event of a national emergency. Even during the great oil crisis of the early 1970s our upland landscapes were not sacrificed - wind power was considered but rejected as having three outstanding defects - its environmental damage, unreliability and minute output of electricity . Nothing has changed since then.The tranquillity of the countryside is an important component of sustainable development. How does this square with the extensive scale of on-shore wind energy proposed in the Governments renewable energy programme? We have inherited the timeless beauty of these landscapes from our forebears and we recognise our duty to safeguard their peace and serenity for future generations. If we proceed with the present policy for on-shore commercial wind farms future generations will be amazed that we overwhelmed the landscape with such a pointless and destructive response to the challenge of reducing pollution in our atmosphere. Informed, as they will be, with the true facts, I doubt if they will forgive us.
Angela Kelly, Chairman, Country Guardian.
(Article re-printed here by courtesy of the Faculty of Building)