Why All The Hoo-hah About Wind Farms?

wind turbines

The other Sunday evening I was flicking through the channels on TV and I saw a piece on Countryfile about wind warms and how some people (including many in rural communitites) seemed to be opposed to them. The next day I happened to stumble upon an interesting article by Will Self about how wind turbines are no less of a manmade feature than much of the landscape we wrongly think of as “natural”.

Since it seems that the BBC is doing its best to highlight the debate I thought I’d chime in with my thoughts.

Now, I grew up on the very edge of a town in Buckinghamshire and from my family home I could look out across a valley on the other side of which were lush green fields and a fairly big wooded area. So while I now live the city life, I have my roots (if you excuse the pun) in the country.

I also consider myself to be a realist and I think most people will admit that we, as an island nation, should be making the most of the windy and wavy conditions we seem to be “blessed” with to generate our own power.

Sure, I may not live near a proposed wind warm site but I think I’d be ok with one if I did; I don’t see them as ugly or oppressive – I actually agree with Mr Self and his view that they are fairly beautiful and eye-catching structures that add to the view of the countryside.

The cynics like to point out that because wind turbines do not work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they are inefficient and that we should be looking into other technologies such as tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal but I feel obliged to mention that wave power (25%) has a lower load factor than wind (25% – 40%) while hydro (30% – 50%) is only marginally better – full stats here. This effectively nullifies the argument of efficiency.

In The News…

Those in favour of these non-wind renewables have had a mixed week with the government dropping plans for the £30bn Severn Barrage while announcing yesterday that more financial help will be given to wave and tidal stream power generation.

The announcement also said that subsidies for offshore wind would be removed more slowly than previously planned while onshore subsidies will fall from 2013. Some groups have expressed concern over this decision:

“Any changes need to be carefully balanced as the proposed onshore reduction would have a disproportionate impact on small community-based wind energy projects, as they don’t enjoy the economies of scale which larger projects can harness.”

- Maria McCaffrey, chief executive of RenewableUK

I agree that this cut in subsidies is not great news for community-owned wind turbines so I would encourage the government to make exceptions for genuine co-op style projects. I might even invest in one myself at some point in the near future as I believe we should be doing as much as possible to encourage the generation of clean, sustainable energy.

There are also potential (though not guaranteed) returns on any investment and many will offer full repayment in the long term although this could be 25 years or more.


Personally I welcome more wind farms, more tidal and wave energy and anything else we can do to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

One of the major benefits of generating as much power as possible from clean, sustainable sources is that we can have a greater level of energy security meaning we rely less on importing foreign supplies of fossil fuels.

I think this will become far more important over the next 20 years or so as resources are stretched and politics come into play as producing countries try to squeeze every last penny out of any deal.

We have already seen instances of interruptions to supply such as that in 2009 when a Russian energy company restricted gas supplies through Ukraine causing fears of a big freeze in Western Europe.

And another thing, while clean energy may be a bit more expensive than traditional means of power right now, as gas and oil prices rise over the next decade, there will come a tipping point when renewables look like the best option.

But I think we need to prepare today for what will inevitably happen tomorrow. We can’t be slow on the uptake of wind energy or any other clean supply for that matter so if more wind farms are genuinely necessary (and I believe they are) then we should all accept their presence and quit complaining.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Update

A friend of mine posted an excellent point on the GreenSteve Facebook page regarding soil disturbance from wind turbines, a fact that I have never even considered before but apparently the Scottish Government are investigating it. If you look at point 4.11 of this report it says that they are looking into the trade-offs when utilizing carbon saving technologies on carbon rich soil such as peat which may release carbon during both the building and operation of a turbine. Their findings will shed light on the precise carbon savings from wind farms, particularly those being built or proposed for the windy Scottish countryside.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


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