JR Max Wheel
5 March 2010
UKIP’s MEP leader, Nigel Farage could hardly be accused of diplomatic niceties, even before his blast against the Eurocrats. In the latest UKIP party political broadcast Farage appeared before a wind farm as a latter-day Don Quijote inviting locals on Romney Marsh to give their views on wind power and the manner in which these turbines have been installed and financed. Even allowing for the usual Nimbyism and a populist backlash, there is a serious point at stake struggling to get out in this argument about renewable energy.
Farage criticised the economics, a failure to consult local communities and the way in which the public have been “sold” the idea of wind power as an essential contribution to UK energy policy. The renewable energy argument is hedged about with feelings of public guilt- and a generalised concern about price, energy security, and being green. He is right to be concerned, irrespective of whether you are a UKIP supporter or a Green party member, the economics of wind power is highly questionable, and I suspect the British public have been sold a story that is misleading and at worst downright deception. Behind this are the BWEA, now re-badged as RenewableUK and the Department of Energy & Climate Change. A visit to their website is instructive: http://www.bwea.com/. They now also embrace wave and tidal power but they began as promoters of wind energy. The UK is now littered with some 2,757 turbines with an installed capacity of MW 4,113, there are a further MW 9,000 mired in the planning process. This is all in the name of reducing our Co2 emissions by 2020 by a third and to stand by our commitments to international treaties to do so.
Most UK wind farms to date have been built with turbines of outputs of 1-2MW, when the wind is blowing and not too strongly!
New turbines are being introduced with somewhat higher outputs of MW3-4, although this is still low output, the capacity has to treble to reach the target for onshore wind. Offshore wind is also a key contributor- end 2009 there is a little under 1GW [1000MW] installed and a further 800MW underway. We are still a long way for achieving the offshore goal of 33 GW
The polarisation of the debate is summarised here:
The UK has the best wind resources in Europe.
Sustainable Development Commission
Wind farms will devastate the countryside pointlessly.
The economics. This is based on the cost of generation based on existing technologies plus the incidence of wind. The period of cold weather from December 2009 to January/February 2010 contained many wind free days-hence resulting in minimal contribution.
Professor Mackay’s excellent analysis “Without hot air” should be compulsory reading for all.
He states that if we covered say 10% of the country with wind farms and assuming that the average output was based on 2MW per turbine [20 KWh/day per person], this would equate to half the power used by driving a fossil fuel car 50km a day. This is no way sufficient. Even taller towers would only increase power by about 30%. Load factors are at best some 30+% and even that is optimstic.
To understand the cost it needs to be measured in terms of Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs). The standardized price for ROCs (2007figures) is £45 per MWh Onshore wind requires £69-89/MWh and offshore approx £92/MWh. This is a huge amount of subsidy.
It gets worse. The cost of maintenance of offshore wind is huge and ongoing akin to maintaining oil rigs in the North Sea due to operating in a hostile marine environment.
This also does not take into account that the UK is short of skilled engineers to cope with a project of this size. The financing arrangements on the previous BWEA site – before the glossy make-over had not been updated since 2002, It pointed out that the methodology was anything but clear and that the Government had failed to provide the necessary framework so that the investment conditions were anything but conducive to mobilising private capital or if Government funded that there was a proper value for money estimate of such spending.
The BWEA has tirelessly campaigned for wind power and pushed this agenda when the real costs and benefits have been largely hidden from the public. The arrival of higher energy bills as a result of misconceived policy decisions may well end up on your or my doorstep.
A further observation- the producers of the turbines are mostly foreign companies Vestas [Denmark] and Gamesa [Spain] being two of the most advanced suppliers.
Whatever the case, it will require extensive backup to carry base load demand, whether this be nuclear, clean(er) coal via Carbon Capture and Storage or fossil fuels like gas. This does not mean that wind has no role to play but that it needs clarification as to real cost and it needs to gain proper public support. Anecdotal evidence suggests that farmers are being approached with offers of £20,000 to permit a wind turbine to be erected; the developer however will pocket some £300,000/year in pure profit. How so? Assuming construction costs of say £2m– 2008 figures from the Times newspaper the operator pushes power into the grid receiving £500,000 of which £300,000 is subsidy! The cost per bill could run to £60 per bill according to Ofgem. This is not a sensible way to run an energy policy, so Farage is correct in his attack. I personally dislike these towers, despite many who apparently don’t. It is not just that the public need to be consulted on where they are put, they seriously need to have the economics explained to them.
Prof. Mackay ebook “Without Hot Air” Cambridge 2009
Sunday Times article- 27/1/2008