Blowing the myths away
Jack Poynton
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Letter by Prof. Jack Ponton in Southern Reporter, 2 March 2017, posted in the "Winds of Justice" website and reproduced by permission.

We believe that your readers deserve to know the truth about wind power, so have set out some popular myths and given the facts which show the actuality.

Myth 1: Onshore wind is the UK’s cheapest form of new power generation, so we should use it to keep people’s electricity bills low.

It’s not cheap for consumers because we subsidise wind farm developers through our utility bills, and taxpayers pick up the tab for grid expansion and back-up power.

Myth 2: Scotland has abundant wind – about 25% of Europe’s wind resources.

There is little point in having 25% of something that no one will pay for – unlike oil companies which pay royalties to the government, wind companies claim subsidies.

Myth 3: Wind power helps Scotland to meet its targets for carbon emissions and renewable electricity generation.

We all want to save the planet, but we need to be realistic. Scotland’s CO2 emissions are barely 0.15% of the world total, so even eliminating them will have a minute impact. Meantime, the fixation on producing ever more electricity from wind comes at a very high price – it makes our businesses less competitive, puts jobs at risk and tips more people into fuel poverty.

Myth 4: Scotland reaps huge financial benefits from investment and jobs created by the economic activity of wind farms.

Only a very small proportion of each wind farm’s total “investment” benefits Scotland. The turbine (the most expensive bit) is invariably imported, the blades are nearly all imported, and the pillars and steel work are often imported. Most jobs in the renewables industry are in planning and installing new facilities. Once a wind farm is operational, what little maintenance it requires tends to be carried out by people with skills and experience from outwith the area. The £millions invested by developers with one hand looks much less impressive when they use the other to rake in £millions of subsidies and constraint payments (when turbines have to be shut down to avoid overloading the grid).

Myth 5: Most people (71%) think wind power/renewable energy is great (Public Attitudes Tracking Survey), so there is no problem building more wind farms.

Most people don’t live near huge, industrial-scale wind turbines and so have little idea of how devastating they can be to those who do, or the impact such massive structures can have on the value of people’s property, which may represent most of a family’s life savings. Flicker and noise from nearby wind farms can, literally, destroy peoples’ lives. The hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete and hardcore trucked into our countryside to support and connect wind turbines has a huge carbon footprint, degrades the environment and is likely to remain forever.

Myth 6: Wind is important in Scotland’s energy mix, so we should be increasing wind generation and decreasing our reliance on other forms of power.

When the wind is blowing, wind can indeed substitute for other energy sources, but there are many times when there is not enough – or even no wind – to generate sufficient electricity to meet demand. So we still need the same amount of conventional – hydro, coal, gas, nuclear – generating capacity on stand-by.

Myth 7: Wind provides Scotland with energy security because the wind is always there, unlike oil and gas, much of which comes from the most unstable parts of the world. The wind does not always blow – or blow hard enough, and neither can we store more than a fraction of any surplus wind power. So, to keep the lights on, we still need many of our conventional power stations. Fortunately, much of our gas now comes from Norway – not known for its instability.

Myth 8: Scotland will make money by exporting surplus electricity to England and beyond, maintaining its status as an energy-exporting country.

The Green Dream. Sadly, the only people who make money out of wind energy in Scotland are those companies, often foreign, building or operating wind turbines. Denmark may have the largest proportion of wind power in Europe, but it has the highest electricity prices – and it loses money. Why? Because when the wind is blowing in Denmark, it is almost always blowing in neighbouring Sweden and Germany, so they are not prepared to pay much for Denmark’s surplus power. When Denmark has little or no wind, it has to import expensive electricity from further away. Electricity is much more expensive to move long distances than oil or gas – the Beauly-Denny power line cost £600m, twice the cost of a supertanker, yet has just a 100th of a tanker’s power-carrying capacity.

Myth 9: Wind power is better than nuclear as a low-carbon electricity source.

Wind power is intermittent, whereas nuclear power is constant. In the Borders, we have lived – many of us never even thinking about it – with Torness on our doorstep for 30 years. There have been no fatalities at those nuclear plants which meet western standards for design and operation, and it is the only low-carbon source of dependable power generation as it emits no CO2.

Myth 10: Local communities can participate in community-led schemes, or receive money from nearby wind farms, which benefits the people closest to wind farms.

Major wind farm developments almost always divide rather than benefit communities, which are often spread over a wide geographical area. The closer people live to a wind farm, the more likely their homes and businesses may be seriously affected by turbine noise and visual impact, while people living further away, but part of the same rural community, may be completely unaffected. Relationships within and between communities may be poisoned for years over relatively small sums of money – even if the development never gains planning consent.

Jack Ponton
(vice-chairman, Borders Network of Conservation Groups)

For the original letter, see the Southern Reporter website. www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk

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