Cook Computing

Some Myths About Wind Farms

October 16, 2005 Written by Charles Cook

I'm a member of the Ramblers Association in the UK, an organisation which does good work protecting the interests of walkers in England, Scotland, and Wales. The latest newsletter from my local area group contains an article describing some myths about wind farms, a source of energy which the goverment is promoting via massive subsidies. I'll include the myths here as a starting point for further investigation:

Myth 1: They are efficient - wrong. They operate efficiently only when there is a constant wind speed of 30mph and most wind speeds are well below that. Turbines do not work at speeds below 11mph and are shut down for safety above 55mph. Consequently the efficiency of windfarms is about 25%. Power stations, including nuclear, are from 65 to 80% efficient.

Myth 2: Windpower is cheap - definitely wrong. Wind is free but production costs are high, largely due to the inefficiency factor. Developers want to errect new wind farms because government subsidies for construction and operation mean that windpower producers receive over 3 times the market price for their electricty (and all suppliers are obliged by law to buy it).

Myth 3: Windpower is "green" and saves carbon dioxide emissions - not proportionate to the amount of electricity produced. Conventional power stations still have to spin their turbines and produce carbon dioxide, in case there is insufficient wind for wind turbines.

Myth 4: A few turbines will replace conventional power stations - very wrong. Over 2000 of the latest 400 foot high turbines would be needed to replace Ferrybridge power station alone. End on, they would stretch for 280 miles!

Myth 5: Windpower can replace nuclear power stations - wrong. From 13 nuclear power stations 25% of UK electricity is generated. Electricity imported from France is 75% nuclear generated. Nuclear power does not produce any carbon emissions at all, though of course the nuclear waste issue is either a worry problem , or easily contained, depending on whom you listen to .

The government has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under its Kyoto agreement. One figure, for example, suggests 10% of energy from windpower. To achieve that, 23,000 wind turbines are required, yet they would only reduce carbon dioxide by less than 3% in the UK and 0.02% globally, and these figures do not take into account of the worldwide constantly increasing demand for energy. Government figures suggest that UK demand will have increased by 25% in the next 15 years.

Now, I don't know how accurate these figures are - I need to look into this in more detail - but the government emphasis on windpower as a means of addressing greenhouse gas emissions seems to be me to be nothing more than environmental posturing. If global warming really is the hugely serious threat to our planet that environmentalists suggest, then surely the risks of nuclear power fade into insignificance. I'm sure the windpower policy will be abandoned in a few years but by then huge areas of wild and beautiful countryside will have been devastated because of the government subsidies.

Also, from a strategic point of view, unless we start constructing a new generation of nuclear power stations, in a few years we will become even more dependent on foreign energy sources, for example, Russian gas and French electricity. National security is far more important in my opinion than reducing greenhouse gas emissions by irrelevant amounts.