One of the very difficult things about discussing renewable energy and new energy efficient technologies is that for some reason there is a whole new set of rules, for how we the public, judge these new technologies. The excavation and processing of Oil, Gas, and Coal for power can and are having devastating effects on the world we live in. Alternative methods are imperative, but to some, wind turbines are not the answer. Here are the arguments why…
Firstly and surprisingly the most repeated and perhaps powerful argument against wind turbines is their aesthetic. Now, obviously this a fair point to raise because whether or not a turbine is attractive is totally objective. But, when you compare a wind turbine to an electricity pylon you will find it difficult to argue that the pylon is more attractive than the wind turbine, same goes for a telecom mast, or a coal burning power station and these are dotted generously around the English countryside. Donald Trump recently was quoted, in reference to a proposed wind farm in Scotland, near his new luxury golf course, hotel and spa, as saying that wind turbines are ‘ugly monstrosities’. He has even gone on to prepare a lawsuit against the proposed wind farm.
Mr. Trump is entitled to his opinion, as is anyone and it is his right to express that opinion. But what he thinks is ugly and what others think is ugly might differ…
So, in a day and age where we appear to be such a prolific, rational, well informed race. Is this really a valid reason for wasting a clean, infinite resource?
The truth about noise created by wind turbines is that, yes, they make noise. How much noise is often greatly exaggerated. Having stood within 10 metres of a turbine mast myself, I found that the blowing wind and the motorway, over 150m away were far louder than the whisper of the turbine blades. As Wind Turbine manufacturers will not be given permission to install wind turbines within 300m of any home this should not pose a problem. 300 metres away the average wind turbine is no louder than a ticking watch in a quiet room. However, I would recommend if there is a turbine near you, go have a listen, find out for yourself. The official sound levels are available to view below.
Inefficient, only work when its windy
A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed. Over the course of a year, it will typically generate about 30% of the theoretical maximum output. This is known as its load factor. The load factor of conventional power stations is on average 50% . A modern wind turbine will generate enough electricity to meet the demands of more than a thousand homes over the course of a year.
In response to the complaint of back up power being needed for wind turbines, all forms of power generation require back up and no energy technology can be relied upon 100%. The UK’s transmission system already operates with enough back-up to manage the instantaneous loss of a large power station. Variations in the output from wind farms are barely noticeable over and above the normal fluctuation in supply and demand, seen when the nation’s workforce goes home, or if lightning brings down a high-voltage transmission line. Therefore, at present there is no need for additional back-up because of wind energy.
Criticism of the current National Grid however, is valid. It is an out of date, inefficient delivery system, resulting in significant losses of power and is in need of an upgrade.
In my own research of Shadow Flicker I have found that it is generally considered to be something that happens in a very small number of cases when the planning and installation was not carried out properly. In the UK, planning permission will take around 6 months and can cost over £20,000, this is attributed to the very careful and considered surveying required to make sure that the Wind Turbine will not impact negatively on its surrounding environment and those who live within it. One of these considerations is shadow flicker. There have been unfortunate instances where this has not been done, mainly in the U.S. This in any case is unacceptable. However, it is not a reason to dismiss an entire method of clean power generation. Just as we would not object to Airplanes being in service because one single plane crashed. (Revise analogy)
Cost Too Much
Some people believe the government is wasting taxpayers money on wind energy subsidies. You could ask, are we spending enough? Certainly not in relation to the amount the government are subsidising Fossil Fuels. The UK government spent £0.7b towards on and off-shore wind farms in 2010 and £1.4b on renewables in total. This was dwarfed by the £3.6b in tax breaks enjoyed by the fossil fuel companies who are regularly turning over billions of pounds worth of profit and are actually having the exact opposite effect on the climate that Renewable energy is supposed to help fix.
The RSPB stated in its 2004 information leaflet ‘Wind farms and birds’ that “in the UK, we have not so far witnessed any major adverse effects on birds associated with wind farms”. Wind farms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment and work closely with organisations such as Natural England and the RSPB to ensure that wind turbine design and layout does not interfere with sensitive species or wildlife designated sites. Also, when you look at the amount of birds killed by motor traffic and tall buildings, any impact on local birds is exceptionally minimal. Moreover, a recent report published in the journal ‘Nature’ confirmed that the greatest threat to bird populations in the UK is climate change. This is a very typical example of how the bigger picture is being completely ignored by a short-sighted few.
They interfere with TV, radar and aviation
The switch over to digital tv signals has meant the level interference from wind turbines is close to zero. When it comes to radar and aviation, developers are constantly in close communication with local airports and the MOD. The radar problem is quickly becoming a non-issue and in most cases is simply an economical one. There is radar technology available now that will completely disregard wind turbines and most aerodromes can use simple mitigation methods to avoid any issues, just like they do with tall buildings.
Negatively impact on tourism and house values
This is obviously a serious consideration for a country where the majority of the population own their homes and where tourism is a great contributor to the economy. So, what to do about it?
Firstly, house prices. There are a small group of people who have assumed, because they deemed it a possibility and it fits in with their negative views of wind turbines, that they are at liberty to spread their opinion as if it is fact. There are another group of people who are actually specifically qualified in the housing market. This group, The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, carried out a report on whether the actual impact of wind turbines on house prices is comparable to the concern of house prices being effected. Although they acknowledged, that the wind turbines are relatively new and that they could not be 100% sure, they see no reason to believe that wind turbines will effect the price of homes.
Tourism is very important to the UK and if Wind Turbines were to impact on this, it would be a real concern. Lets remember that to find an answer or create a valid opinion on any subject, unbiased research must take place. The Scottish Government published a report on the economic impacts of wind farms on scottish tourism. This comprehensive research concluded that if there was an impact it was minimal and did not outweigh the benefit that was being brought by wind farms in the first place.
Perhaps, there could even be potential for wind farms to improve tourism. I would be one of many people who would enjoy seeing a wind farm enhance a beautiful landscape and hearing about how the UK is at the forefront of the worlds efforts to harness clean wind energy. Wishful thinking? I hope not.
Yes there are problems with Wind Energy, it is not a perfect solution. However, if we looked at the exact same issues that people have with wind energy and compared them to the problems seen with Fossil Fuels and to a degree, nuclear, we would see how flimsy these objections really are and that they are mainly voiced by a fortunate few who have very little regard for the masses of people it could benefit. Not just now but for generations to come.
We must not forget as well as a social and moral obligation to live responsibly within this world we share. There are more imminent legal obligations this country has. Specifically, delivering cuts in emissions by 2020. Installing a new renewable energy system is only part of it, but an important part none the less. That shouldn’t be dismissed based on false objections and matters of opinion based on weak, unscientific, biased information. No perfect solution to the climate/energy crisis is on the horizon. So, we have to work together to do the best we can with what we have available to us. The UK has 40% of Europe’s entire wind resource and with these abundant resources we could be and should be a world leader in renewable energy generation.
Lastly, I would like to apologise to anyone reading this if they thought that it would be a completely unbiased appraisal of the arguments, for and against wind turbines. I am already sold on the efficacy of wind turbines thanks to my own thorough research. I, along with the majority of the scientific community believe that the benefits greatly outweigh very minimal costs.
Wind Turbines, I’m a big fan!…