Letter by Prof. Jack Ponton in Southern Reporter, 2 March 2017, posted in the "Winds of Justice" website and reproduced by permission.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the original letter, see the Southern Reporter website.
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